Action idea: write a letter to your high school

Inspired by some people on social media, I decided to write a letter to the administration of my Catholic high school in Portland, Oregon. It is a bit nervewracking considering the internalized misogyny and homophobia being at that school cultivated for me, but it feels important to speak out. Below is the letter I sent (with some specifics rescinded). I welcome anyone to use this letter as a template for your own!

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Dear staff and administration of ________,

I am a graduate of the ______ class of 2007. My education and experiences at ________ helped spark my interest in social justice, leading me to my current work in communications and care work. I am also queer and transgender, two important components of my identity that did not feel safe to explore in my time at______ . With gendered dress codes, “faggot” as the all-purpose insult among my peers, and no clear stance against homophobia and transphobia stated by the administration,______ was not a safe space for me. I feel that I, too, likely engaged in hurtful attitudes and behaviors toward non-normative students, due to internalized misogyny and homophobia. I have heard that there are now several more openly gay kids at______ than there were when I was a student, and I am hopeful______ is taking measures to be more actively inclusive. I am grateful for community and care I found in the drama department and classes led by nurturing teachers including ______ and ______.

The current presidential administration’s rescinding of protection for trans and gender non-conforming students is heartwrenching and violent. Around 42% of transgender people attempt suicide in their lifetime (compared to 5% of the general population), so when it comes to how transgender youth are treated at school, this is quite literally a matter of life and death.

I am writing to urge you to create a sensitivity training program among staff and students at ______ . I would like to know about the availability of single-stall bathrooms (in classroom buildings and athletic facilities) and hear about plans to increase the availability of these. I want to know how you will protect trans and gender non-conforming kids, and remind you that just because not all of your LGBTQ students aren’t out doesn’t mean they aren’t there. How are you going to address the behavior of those who violate a safe environment for young members of the LBGTQ+ community?

I look forward to hearing from you and am rooting for your community as a space where all students can fully discover and become who they are.

Sincerely,

Freddie (he/him/his)
Class of 2007

“If we didn’t inherit a land-based home, then how do we create that in this lifetime?” Eliana on home.

the following is an interview with my partner eliana as part of my home project. eliana gave this interview at the very end of our three-month-long roadtrip. it was a year ago we set off on this trip, and two years ago this month when we became partners in adventure, love, and making home. eliana is an organizer, activist, doula, herbalist, among other things, and i’m not even a little bit sorry for loving on them in this public way! content note: the following conversation discusses ancestral trauma and colonization.


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Who are you and where are we?

My name is Eliana and we’re currently at Fancyland, a queer artist and activist retreat center in northern California.

Do you have a place you consider your home of origin?

Thinking about my home of origin brings up a lot of different things. Being on this roadtrip for the past few months and being in so many different places, I’ve had a felt sense that my home of origin is in California, in the Bay Area, as the place I grew up and have spent the majority of my life. Thinking about ancestry and where I come from in my actual origin stories feels really different. Both of my parents moved to California in their lifetime so it’s not like I have even one or two generations of history in California, let alone the historic and ongoing legacies of imperialism, colonization, and migration patterns that have really changed the landscape of this country.

It’s a loaded question and one that I’m thinking about a lot in terms of where do I really come from. When people ask me, ‘where are you from?’ I think it’s so much more complicated than where was I born or where did I grow up. For me it’s about a history in eastern Europe of Jews migrating because of being persecuted. Relatively speaking, that’s a recent history, and I don’t even know where my family of origin came from before that. It’s an ongoing search and discovery to uncover my own origin story and the origin stories of the people whose land I’m on and occupying.

In what ways do your origin stories and histories impact your current search for home?

I used to think about the connection between my ancestors’ patterns of migrations and my own lifetime of moving — the relationship between those two things was fascinating to me when I was starting to learn about my family history. I have this inclination to move a lot and never really feel at home. When I delve deeper into that realm I realize that it is so in my bones and in my blood that for so many generations, my family was constantly moving and searching for home and trying to feel safe. Even though that’s not an experience that I have lived in my life — a real physical threat to my safety being the motivating factor for moving — I feel like there’s something in me that is very nomadic. I feel a constant impulse towards moving.

At the same time, I don’t want to just live out of my ancestral trauma or current struggle for a sense of belonging. I want to heal and find ways of feeling safe and at home that are generative and accountable to the indigenous people and stories of the land I am on.

What do you think that looks like?

It looks like digging roots in deep and not giving up or letting go when things get hard. Trusting that even in moments of tension or struggle where my stability might feel threatened, that I’m at home in my body. It looks like community and political organizing that ensures we all have access to healing and home.

When you are at home in your body, how does that feel? What is that like?

Being at home in my body feels like my face is relaxed and my muscles are just sort of hanging off my bones. There’s a sense of the neurological response of ‘rest and digest.’ I’m not in fight or flight, I’m not clenched or defending myself or pushing out into the world. It’s very much a settling in and relaxation and also an openness and vulnerability. I feel very at home in my body when I’m naked, by myself, in the bathtub, or with loved ones. I feel very at home in my body when I can see my whole body and hold myself. The different ways I’m able to connect to the wholeness of who I am makes me feel at home. Feeling the length between my feet and my head, the width between my shoulders, and just filling out the different dimensions of my body is really grounding and makes me feel at home.

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What does it feel like to be at home in the space around you?

Being at home in the space around me has a lot to do with building history with the space around me. Going back to the question of my home of origin, that’s why the Bay Area feels that way and why I feel at home there. I have history there, and I have that connection to being in the place around me. I know how to get around, I run into people, I have a sense of community. I think that’s something that can be inherited when people have long histories of land-based community that are really grounded in a particular place. I also think it can be built for those of us who don’t have histories of being land-based. That ties into the question, what does it mean to be a Jew living in diaspora, or any kind of diasporic identity? If we didn’t inherit a land-based home, then how do we create that in this lifetime? That feels like a really exciting challenge to build that history and build that community wherever I am. To find and create home that doesn’t perpetuate cycles of ethnic cleansing and colonization but instead is part of creating anti-oppressive, regenerative cultures that honor our relationships to each other and to the land. To know that I can build off of my own traditions and legacies that are connected to a piece of land, that help me feel that sense of place and belonging and home.

Tell me about your tangible goals and intentions around building that.

I’ve had a vision for a long time of co-creating a land-based community and having some sort of queer land project or farm or collective. I’ve used different words to describe it over the years. I’m getting to a point in my life where I’m really ready to make that happen. I’m looking into all of the different components that are important to me in making that happen. The people who are involved is obviously a huge component, like building and creating and sustaining family, including my family of origin, my chosen family, and my community. I want to bring those people into my visions in in an intentional way, and more importantly create a collective vision together. I have my own vision of queer sanctuary and a space for healing and fueling social justice movements, and also, so much of my vision will be shaped by whoever is involved in making that collective vision together. I don’t know. I’m feeling like it’s hard to get into tangible things from big ideas.

What are your next steps into turning big ideas into tangible things?

On this roadtrip, visiting different land projects and collectives was a powerful next step. I’ve been reflecting and seeing that a lot of the intentions I set and a lot of what I needed to do has happened on this trip and will continue to happen as I process and digest all of the information I’ve gathered from people and places I’ve visited. Following this trip, I’m looking forward to moving onto my friends’ farm that they just bought in Oroville, California. It’s already a working farm and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. There’s potential for collectivizing. I feel a sense of hope and possibility. I’ll learn so much just from living there, and whatever form it might take, that feels like a good next step. The potential of that physical place being one that I could begin a collective process of visioning and strategizing and developing a structure is really exciting to me.

When I have a deep and intimate relationship to the people and plants and animals around me and am building history over time in that place, that’s when I’ll feel at home.

Tell me about how being on the road has impacted your sense of home — everything from moving around so much and not having a literal, physical space to call home, and also visiting different homes and talking to a lot of different people about the visions they’re in the process of creating?

Being on the road for three months definitely challenged my ideas of what being at home really means. It was hard in a lot of ways to not have a physical space that was mine, that was home. In some ways I do feel like the car became that. Collecting little trinkets and stones from places we went and having those things in the car and seeing that altar be built gave me a sense of home. And realizing, yeah, I really can make home in so many ways with pretty limited resources. Finding the things that make me feel comfortable and building those in more really supported me being able to sustain myself on this trip. Getting to places and having a door to close made a big difference.

On the flip side, constantly being in motion was challenging. Some years ago, I was traveling for the same amount of time but only stayed in two or three different places in the course of three months. I was able to make home in each place I was and have a little altar next to my bed and things like that. On this trip, moving on anywhere from every day to once a week at the most, was a lot of uprooting. It was really exhausting. I can’t imagine living a whole life like that. I always knew how important it was to me to have a stable home to come back to. Not having it on this trip was hard. There’s no ways for me to touch base with myself. It’s so much harder to settle in and just get into the rhythm of, ‘I’m in my space, I’m safe, no one’s coming in, no one needs anything from me right now, I’m not on my way somewhere or arriving from somewhere, I’m just here.’ That feeling of being in my room and being at home is so deeply restorative. It feels like not that much to ask. It feels really basic to want to be in a space, not be bothered, not have to go anywhere, and just be present with myself. That feels like a human need and a human right, to safe and secure housing and to care for ourselves and each other in that way. This trip has worn on me in not having that and I’m really looking forward to settling in and having more downtime.

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me and eliana’s last day at the farm in the sierra foothills

In what ways are you seeking home, and in what ways have you found home?

Even though home is tied to a physical space for me so much of the time, I do feel like the physicality of home has and will change. The seeking and finding home has less to do with seeking and finding a physical home and more about opening my eyes to all of the ways that I do have home, particularly in relationship to other people.

I have a deep knowing that I’ll never be without a home, and that there’s so many people who would hold me and host me and show up for me in that way. I mean, whatever, maybe not. Maybe I can’t say I’ll never be without a home. The apocalypse could happen, you know. things happen. (laughs) I just feel like I have such a loving family and community, and my relationship to you — my partner, Freddie — is a huge way that I’m both seeking home and feel like I’ve found home. That was also really clear on the road. There’s so much more work to be done in building this relationship that we have and making it be one that is a source of grounding and home. And in times where I was struggling or felt homesick or felt unsafe in any varying degrees, I could really call on that relationship and just feel held in it, and loved, and that made all the difference to feel at home in my heart and in my body.

healing in nature & relationships as resistance

between periods of nonstop rain, we’ve begun to have warm, sunny days of thawing out, and it feels like springtime is emerging. it feels good to be living in sonoma county, both for the healing properties of the redwoods and ocean, and for the proximity to my loved ones and community in the bay. oroville, the town eli and i just moved from, has been in the news lately due to a recent evacuation order and fears of flooding from the dilapidated spillway of the oroville dam. i have been thinking of our friends at the farm tons. they are safely positioned above the dam, but taking serious precautions to prepare for an emergency, just in case. it’s so intense to think about the thousands of mostly poor and working class residents dealing with the uncertain safety and stability of their homes, at the same time the newly appointed leaders of the executive branch are ferociously denying the impact of climate change.

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a panoramic photo from the sonoma coast

i have begun my work as an in home support person for a couple of different folks in the area. the duties include everything from housekeeping to running errands to more creative endeavors, and it feels like unique and important work. over the years i continue to find a lot of power and strength in relationship building across lines of identity, ability, and oppression. i don’t mean for that to sound lofty or self-important. it’s not glamorous work by any means and i don’t kid myself that the support i offer is some all-encompassing solution to these folks’ problems. but as i’ve written before… enacting structural change feels super daunting most of the time, while relationship building both helps me step into my own power and transform, and has the potential to do the same for others as well. so, it’s work i’m learning a lot from. i am grateful and humbled to be doing it.

while my process for finding my place in this moment and movement of resistance feels slow, it is in motion. i am trying to balance showing up for action with finding ways to contribute and support grassroots efforts in more sustained ways. i would like to share the inspiration, excitement, and even hope i felt while joining with many hundreds of others at SFO a little while ago to shut down the airport and demand that the people detained due to the xenophobic, islamophobic travel ban be released.

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brooke anderson photography

first of all, it was amazing to see the airport filled with resistance, as airports are places i associate closely with heavy security, policing, and being on one’s best behavior. not to mention the ways that protesting in an airport makes things so much more accessible for families with kids, disabled folks, and elders — there are ample bathrooms, water, food, electrical outlets, and physically accessible means of getting around. there is lots of good information and resources floating around about the necessity of making movement work accessible, please do yourself a favor and read some if that’s not already an integral part of your work! i’ve found sins invalid and the icarus project to be great resources on this front.

one amazing thing about being a part of the SFO shutdown and protest was seeing the wide swaths of people who seemed totally willing to participate in civil disobedience and direct action under the leadership of AROC (arab resource and organizing center) with support from APTP (anti-police terror project). like many others i have my critiques about culture/politics around the women’s marches, but was so pleased and excited to see folks in their “pussy hats” ready and willing to lock arms and stand their ground to prevent police and angry passengers alike from passing through. it made me feel hopeful — perhaps in spite of the very valid critiques around inclusivity (particularly in relationship to race and people who don’t identify as women), the mass mobilization the women’s march provided can really lead to a popular movement of inclusive, effective resistance in this era of a fascist regime. alicia garza wrote a great piece related to this called, “our cynicism will not build a movement. collaboration will.” here’s a short excerpt:

“Hundreds of thousands of people are trying to figure out what it means to join a movement. If we demonstrate that to be a part of a movement, you must believe that people cannot change, that transformation is not possible, that it’s more important to be right than to be connected and interdependent, we will not win…

I remember who I was before I gave my life to the movement. Someone was patient with me. Someone saw that I had something to contribute. Someone stuck with me. Someone did the work to increase my commitment. Someone taught me how to be accountable. Someone opened my eyes to the root causes of the problems we face. Someone pushed me to call forward my vision for the future. Someone trained me to bring other people who are looking for a movement into one.”

one moment i witnessed: a line of about 15 riot police approached a small group of folks banded together to block an airport escalator, and ask them to move. they refused, and someone from APTP told the riot cops to leave. after a few moments, the riot cops turned walked away. i have never seen that happen before. it was powerful. (view democracy now’s coverage of the SFO protests here.)

thanks to the folks at protests and online who have pointed out the fundamental error in the sentiment, “we are all immigrants.” we are not all immigrants. notably, native people and black folks whose ancestors were brought here forcibly as slaves are not immigrants. i am a white settler, the descendent of great grandparents who immigrated from ireland to turtle island (aka the U.S.), which was stolen from indigeneous people. there is power in unity, but it is equally important and powerful to highlight the difference in our histories and experiences — and how if anything, that should serve to strengthen the collectivity in our struggles.

btw — i’ve done some re-organizing of my small monthly donations to include AROC. please do the same if you can, even $5-10 a month makes a difference for grassroots organizations. even better, seek out a muslim/arab led organizing group in your community, if you are not in the bay area.

on a personal note, i celebrate two years in my loving partnership with eliana this month, and am so grateful for the exploration, support, laughter, transformation, and love our relationship continues to bring me! this might be a little embarrassing for them to read. but rad, queer love is resistance and i am proud and grateful to be in it!

“love is an action, never simply a feeling.” (bell hooks)

til next time,

xo freddie

ps – !!!!!!!!

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“i have three hearts”

“There’s something beautiful about places that are a lot of people’s home.”

the following is an interview with my friend margot as part of my home project. i met margot on my roadtrip with eli. we stayed with her for a week, making music, pitching in at soul fire farm and the watershed center, and scheming for margot’s then-upcoming chicken project, linke fligl (‘left wing’ in yiddish!). margot did her own project on ‘home’ after a house she was living in burned down in 2014. listen to margot singing a lovely folk song about home with friendscontent note: the following conversation discusses general trauma around fire / physical loss of home, and ancestral trauma. 

12654302_898571673146_9210887163455600702_nWho are you and where in the world are we?

My name is Margot, and we are in Millerton, New York.

Do you have a place you’d consider a home of origin?

That’s a question I am continuously trying to answer. I grew up in Elgin, Illinois, an hour from Chicago. My parents grew up there, a lot of my grandparents grew up there. It’s where my great grandpa came when he left Lithuania and he started a synagogue there. I’m technically very rooted there, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like a home of origin. At the end of the day, it’s a suburban neighborhood, lacking many of the values and types of community I hold dearly.

Jews are diasporic people. I’m a queer radical Jew. Where’s the home of the queer radical Jews? It was New York City, for a while. That’s where the queer radical Jews have held it down in recent decades. More recently I’ve been like, oh what if New York City is my home? It’s the place where I feel most connected to the history, in some ways.

My understanding of diaspora is there’s no physical origin of home. How does that tie in to a physical location?

It’s both that I manage to build home wherever I am, and it feels important to feel oriented to some location. Otherwise it feels like I’m just kind of constantly moving around and trying to find that. I need a north star. I need to understand why I’m in upstate new york. Otherwise I feel like I’ll always be wondering and lost. Maybe that means I need to do a lot of work rooting, in that sense of diaspora and finding home in myself. But I think that can only go so far. It feels important to really commit to community and people.

Can you tell me about the current ways you’re building home where you are now? img_1006

Something that feels exciting to me is that this physical home has the possibility to feel like home to a lot of people. Before living here I was living at Isabella Freedman Center. That’s a place that I continue to feel very much at home. There’s something beautiful about places that are a lot of people’s home, places people continue to come back to. There’s something powerful in everyone knowing, this is the place we go. That leads to such beautiful magic and intersections of different kinds of people. In this day and age where there’s so much scheduling and overbooking and planning, there’s something magical about being able to have a kind of space in which that connection organically happens.

As much as it’s about having a space that feels like home, whenever I move into a place I immediately make it feel like home. When I was at Isabella Freedman I lived in this cabin for a month and I immediately put down a carpet and put up artwork. People would walk in and assume I was there for years when I had just moved in. But that’s only so important. When I lived in the Bay everyone came to the home of these two women who didn’t have a lot of money, and their house wasn’t the nicest or most amazingly decorated, but it was home. You walked in and you could feel this was a place people wanted to be and came back to. Creating the sense of home through the way the space feels can only go so far.

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margot tending to the chickens at linke fligl. photo by zahara zahav.

I wonder if you could talk to me about the experience you had where your home burned down in a fire.

That was a big opportunity to rethink home. The space I was living in that burned down felt like home more than any other space I’d ever been in. I loved the space, I loved where it was, I loved having people there, I loved being on my own there. It was the first space I’d been in where I loved being alone, and didn’t feel lonely. It was just my home, my space. When there was a fire and it burned down, I could feel it in my core. This complete disorientation of not knowing left from right. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to exist. It was intense. It brought up a lot of what felt like ancestral things. Like, oh , I know this feeling. Maybe I haven’t felt it personally before but this is in my bones, this feeling of losing home in a traumatic way.

When it burned down I was in a somatics course in Seattle. The answer that came to me now feels obvious. I realized home is in my body, home is in relationships. I knew that theoretically but it was an embodied sense. People really came through for me, both emotionally and to fill my life up with beautiful things. I just felt really held and cared for. Once I was able to recognize that I was like, oh yeah, it’s okay. I still can feel at home and I don’t need that physical place even though there’s obviously a lot of grief and loss in losing that. Something opened in me. I had gotten so attached to that physical place that it could have been detrimental. I could have stayed there for years. It gave me the opportunity to move on and start this new journey, which has a lot more potential for a long-term building of collective home.

I can see how that would contribute to your feelings of diaspora. Do you mind talking a little bit about your healing process through that loss and rebuilding? 

I was lucky because I was in a somatics course at the time and surrounded by people who had been trained in somatics. I was able to let myself feel a lot of grief, which is something I usually don’t do. I was able to let myself cry for a week straight. When I came back, inched myself back into it little by little. My friends had taken all the little things that had survived and spread it all out in the arts and crafts room. The first thing I did when I got back was to go in there and connect with those things. That was the only time I was actually able to grieve once I was back. I had done so much grieving before I got back, by the time I got back I was kind of done. It was like there was no more left.

There were lots of beautiful moments and opportunities for ritual. The first time I went back to the house, I brought some people from the community with me and we did some rituals. What was also intense was the building stayed there for eight months after the fire and I had to walk by it every day. There was a numbing out that happened to that place. My body just couldn’t handle having to feel things about it every time.

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photo from margot’s blog.

I also did an art installation. I put out an ask for people to respond to the prompt ‘home is’. People sent back all sorts of things. Sukkot was coming, which is this Jewish holiday where you’re celebrating in a temporary home. I wanted to create a space that reflected that everything is kind of temporary. The building was basically to the ground. There was one wall standing. I took paint and wrote on the wall, “Home is…” and collaged art out of pieces of wood from the fire. I’d never done an art installation. It just felt natural to interact with it in that way and reclaim it as beautiful. It went from this burned down dilapidated building to this beautiful art project. It was cool to transform it back into something that felt life giving.

In what ways are you seeking and making home, and in what ways have you found home?

Over the last three years, really grounding in Jewish community, and specifically, radical queer Jewish community… I have this general sense of feeling at home wherever I am that feels really different than before I was connected to that community.   Home feels like all of the places we come together, the songs we sing, the prayers we create.  What feels hard and what I’m really longing for is just to have that in a more consistent way here. It feels like a struggle sometimes to continue to be in deep relationship with folks who don’t live in the same place. I really want to shift to having relationships be more in person than not.

 

what’s going on? j20 and beyond

waking up at four a.m. to pounding rain and dramatic thunder and lightning was a bit cliche for what felt like the doomsday of a certain neo-fascist’s presidential inauguration. miraculously the storm cleared in time for the people to gather in the streets of san francisco and far beyond, all around the globe. i am deeply honored to have been able to stand with resilient and inspiring activists and community members to take a stand not just against the new u.s. administration, but against the country’s legacy of white supremacy, colonialism, and violence that made it possible.

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blocking off the parking garage entrance for 555 california street, the second tallest building in san francisco, 30% of which is owned by the new president. photo by brooke anderson photography.

the atmosphere throughout the day felt strangely celebratory, in spite of the terrible event we were there to protest. but i realize that is is imperative for people and communities overlooked and oppressed by those in power to gather to celebrate survival, resistance, and our commitment to love and support one another. i’m not talking about feel-good “love trumps hate” stuff. i’m talking about standing together in the face of danger to defend the lives of the most vulnerable against a regime which is only becoming more hostile to us all. i’m talking about acknowledging the labor and struggles that are invisibilized and diminished by white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. i’m talking about fighting for each other like we were family. all of us — with different identities and experiences of race, gender, class, and ability — need each other to thrive. we need to lift each other up to win.

we did some singing in the streets today and although i’m exhausted i was inspired to record this cover of “what’s up” by the four non-blondes. please note i am still learning how to use my voice, both literally (thanks T) and in a woo-woo sense…

i know today is just the beginning of this particular regime of violence. i’m seeing lots of loved ones and strangers who have never hit the streets before now, out and about and planning to keep at it. i sometimes bristle at seeing messaging that doesn’t feel quite right, or feel annoyed at someone’s shock to learn about police violence and state repression. but i, too, am learning every day. it takes all kinds. one thing i remain resolute about is my firm belief in the importance of taking leadership from populations most likely to be impacted by discrimination and violence — black and brown folks, muslims, transgender women of color, immigrants and refugees, and disabled folks, to name a few.

that said, i have to speak out about one thing and i hope that folks newer to attending protests will consider it: it’s okay if you don’t want to be around window smashing, and it’s okay if you disagree with it as a tactic (though, it’s worth learning why many consider it strategic in certain situations). but, do not conflate property damage with violence. think about who defines violence and who gets criminalized. i repeat — it’s okay if you don’t approve of window smashing, and if you don’t want to be at risk for experiencing police violence, it’s a rather good idea to find an exit strategy  if that starts happening. but, do not take photos of property destruction, do not ‘snitch,’ do not do anything that incriminates people (this includes posting on social media, which we know law enforcement relies on for policing). if you’re committed to observing and stopping violence, learn some principles of copwatch and turn your camera on the police.

we’ve got a long and hearty fight ahead. please join me in seeking to be humble and open to learning and strategizing how we can resist oppression and defend all communities at risk.

shoutout to everyone i have been fortunate enough to learn from, in relationships and in action and in writings and by example. i am gratefully indebted to you.

xoxo freddie

ps – would very much welcome articles/additional resources that are more in-depth explanations of how/when property damage may be considered a strategic protest tactic. i know i’ve read ’em, but i can’t find them now. thanks!

“What even does it mean to try to survive in places where people are telling us we don’t belong?” Brawny on home.

the following is an interview with my friend brawny, as part of my home project. believe it or not, i met brawny on instagram after a friend found their #freddiemercorgi hashtag, and eli and i stayed with them in decatur, georgia. content note: the following conversation discusses general trauma around grief, loss, and queerness, as well as white supremacy and colonization.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-8-50-23-amWho are you and where are we?

My name is Jillian, or Brawny, and we are in Decatur, Georgia.

Is there a place you consider a home of origin?

Probably Shorewood, Wisconsin.

What sights, sounds, smells jump to your visceral memory when you think of Shorewood?

I think of water. Big bodies of water. I lived about a block and a half away from Lake Michigan. Going to the lake was really my first process of working through my emotions on a tangible, physical level. Almost every single day after middle school or high school I’d just walk to the lake. I spent a lot of time crying and looking at Lake Michigan. It was so cold, just this sharp bitterness. Your senses are almost sharpened when it’s that cold. The sun hits the snow and colors seem brighter. It’s just like whenever I go somewhere that cold I feel a sense of home, and feel more alive in this way.

Since I’ve lived there I’ve lived predominantly in the southeast. The mugginess and all that is so distinct. The texture of the air really quantifies different types of home to me.

If I could get a little bit woo, which I know you’re down with…

Let’s go all the way.

IMG_0563.jpgWhat does home feel like in your body and soul?

I’ve been processing a lot with the feeling of emptiness and loss. Feeling like I’ve lost so much of who and what was home to me very recently. I feel it in a wholeness. Like if my body was a pitcher, how full am I with water? Is it up to my kneecaps, or up to my chin?

I’ve had a lot of experiences lately with myself about gain and loss at the same time. What I’ve found is what so many queer folks have found about coming into your identity as a queer person in the world, as a radical person in the world, the painful reality of losing so many people in your life. The ways in which people are still holding on to the “who” they thought you were instead of embrace the current you.

I’ve had a lot of understanding the imperfection of my upbringing, and trying to come to terms with the love that my parents were able to give me was incomplete and imperfect. It’s what they could give. It’s not that they were bad people or it was bad love. It was just realizing in myself I need and deserve more. I’m coming into that and realizing that my concept of whole-ness is shifting. Being a female-assigned-at-birth person and being perceived as predominantly female in the world, you’re taught how little space you’re allowed to take up. I’m in a process of reclaiming and the love and respect and all the good things in the world that I need. I got a long way to go. But I’ve learned a lot about giving that to myself, which I did not have when I thought I had wholeness.

It sounds like there’s a lot of grief and joy at the same time.

Yeah, and it’s also coming into politics. When I think of home, I think a lot about my political home. That’s really where I’ve found so much healing from my own trauma and found the words to explain what is going on in the world — being like, okay I’m not the only one seeing this. I’m not out of my mind to see the systematic oppression that exists for myself and my comrades. I’ve got my political home, and learned that, too, is imperfect. Right now, home, for me, is figuring out the healthy balance of conflict and struggle and love and respect.

1960905_377363125773455_52311822735008645_oWhen you talk about your political home, what are you talking about?

I’m mostly talking about specific groups and specific ‘who’s.’ The people that I’m closest to right now are people that I’ve done political work with. Girls Rock Charleston is definitely a political home where we all kinda came up together and created this organization off the ground. Just the like-minded people talking about like-minded goals, and just the feeling of coming home, where you get to come in and immediately take off your pants. It’s like, political home is where we get to come and don’t have to be sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to deconstruct someone’s racist comment, or be misgendered by your friend.

Can you describe the home and world that you and your comrades seek to create?

My political people are my home and we’re thinking about who we’re gonna be when we grow up, and how to actually decolonize our life. We think a lot about communally raising babies, and the dreamy stuff like that. You get some land and you get off the grid. We’ve always been thinking about the ways in which the nuclear heteronormative family has failed us, so what can we create to not fuck up our kids as much as we were fucked up? That’s on a small level.

In a grander scheme of things, decolonizing the world, and all that means. Breaking down white supremacy and the heteropatriarchy in every single space that we can while knowing that it’s probably not gonna be in our lifetime. What does it mean to continue working with that on an interpersonal level, at the very least? That’s the kind of world I want to live in.

I’m curious to hear about your thoughts and feelings about forging home in something tangible, like a land project off the grid, when we are talking about indigenous land, and trying to address colonization and de-colonoize our lives. Have you gotten anywhere on that? Because it’s something I feel pretty overwhelmed in thinking about.

Yeah, I think about that so much. A friend of mine in Charleston was really invested in making what he called a ‘cool space,’ but how to not gentrify by making this sort of space. Most of us are working class — people working in food/bev, or working in non-profit movement work which pays very little, so what would it mean to be able to have a piece of land? What does it even mean to own a piece of land? I don’t know how to completely decolonize, except for like, go back to the Czech Republic where my people are from, and create a habitable community outside of Prague. Maybe that is the answer. I really don’t know. As a white person,  I think a lot about trying to live as intentionally as possible and actively invest in what it means to leverage and give up my privilege, instead of just being like, “I have privilege, that sucks, but aren’t I a great guy to say I have privilege?”

And this concept of identifying and being a white person but also knowing white isn’t a race. What does it mean to reclaim where you’re from as a white person? The way in which whiteness and the privilege that we benefit from creates this vacuum of culture which then leads to appropriation. What does it mean to actually fill yourself up with where you’re from in this way that doesn’t center your white experience, to the people around you at least?

I think one answer is reparations, in any way. What does it mean to give back this land? Of course you can’t undo the terrors and the horrors that were enacted by our ancestors, but I just can’t subscribe to so many white people’s tendency to throwing up their hands and being like, ‘we didn’t do this, what do you expect us to do?’ Because it is our burden to bear. When white people think about being intentional people and giving back to people of color can get in this whole white savior complex as well. I like to focus on the more spiritual piece of decolonizing and understanding that in every system of power and oppression, the group in power is spiritually bankrupt in ‘having’ this in this way. So many white people, even in movement work, don’t understand the spiritual burden of white supremacy on them. I think a lot about breaking that down.

Thanks for getting into that, it’s a really layered question.

I basically just said a bunch of words that amount to, ‘I don’t know.’ But I’m interested in knowing and I’m interested in struggling. I think that’s an important piece. What I admire in people doing this work is the transparency and willingness to fail, and failing and showing up and knowing it’s not gonna be beautiful but it’s just trying the best you fucking can.

12087256_10204969369826315_8122654721586557946_oI’m gonna shift and ask about — obviously you have a special relationship with your dog, and I wanted to ask if your relationship with your dog has impacted or helped create or had any kind of interaction with your relationship with home?

Yeah, a lot. My dog Freddie Mercorgi is very much home, in all the definitions of home. Like the Hallmark card, sunset picture, talking about home, that’s me and Fred. But she also really helped me with taking back feeling good in my physical space of home. Growing up I had very chaotic parents. My home was always a mess and my parents were prone to outbursts so I never really felt good bringing people over. I didn’t spend a lot of time at home. I’d go to the library, I’d go cry at the lake. The fact that I have this dog at home waiting for me has really brought me back to the safety and comfort and being welcome and excited to come home. I got her when I was 24, and the 24 years before that I never had a reason to come home in that way.

Well, she’s a perfect angel baby.
You talked a little bit about the world you envision and the space you kind of stride toward in your political home. And I wonder if you could also talk about the home you’ve envisioned for yourself in a more physical sense. It seems like you’re in transition and I wonder what you see when you’re in a more — I don’t know if grounded’s the right word, but in a place where you’re like, yes this is where I wanna be.

I don’t have a lot of depth into that for myself. Lately I’ve just been fascinated with this concept of home ownership. A few hours ago when I was driving home, I was looking at these houses and thinking, wow, it would be amazing to feel rooted and feel investment in a particular space, both a specific home and a city. I also think about the exhaustion of capitalism and the money that I pay for rent just disappearing. It’s too hard to think about.

Most of my relationships are tremendously intimate and platonic. I don’t have a lot of partners. I spend most of my time being single and in that I’ve really been able to reconstruct romance and polyamory and the ways in which we can connect with one another that doesn’t involve prioritizing romantic and sexual partnerships. Whenever I envision myself being an actual grown up, I envision collective living.

Can you paint me a picture of dreamlife, or the thing you want to struggle for in making home, even if you don’t know where that would be, or how?

I don’t know what my dream home looks like. I’m in this process of completely deconstructing my life. It seems like I’ve lost so much. In this way that doesn’t take loss as an exclusively bad thing. I have let go of so many things to shift what I’m looking for. I was just thinking about how I have a lot of desire that’s just not directed. I’ve been struggling with deep depression and this feeling of desire is new and exciting in this way that I don’t wake up and just go through the day and go to sleep. It’s funny having this desire without any sort of direction. But definitely creating a home and knowing what that looks like is something that’s on the way. I desire to know what that is, even. I’m at square negative two.

In what ways do you seek and make home, and in what ways have you found home?

I’ve definitely found home in Freddie, and in a few pieces in my life. One of them is my groupchat that has been named in my iPhone as ‘Cry Club’ with Salter and Cole. Cole actually texted me and Salter. They were listening to an interview with Janet Mock and she said — her eloquence is beyond me, I can’t, so I’m gonna completely butcher the quote — she was talking about home being people you come to completely empty so they could fill you up. I felt that so much.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-8-44-29-am
one of brawny’s embroidery pieces.

I’ve found home in creation. I’ve found home in my weird fiber art things. I’ve realized I am very self conscious of calling myself an artist. I had drinks with this older butch the other day and she was going through my instagram and pointing out pictures and being like, ‘this makes you an artist.’ It kinda reminded me of the first time I was called femme. It was not by myself, it was by a butch who was like, hey, you’re a femme. Okay butches, you can tell me who I am, but give me a break, so I can be the one to say it.

Even though I hate working in food/bev, I like the process of making coffee and using my hands all day. That’s a way I’ve found home in my body.

I’m really seeking a home where I feel both useful and fulfilled. I’ve had a lot of trouble in my past with codependent relationships, and the way I’ve given so much of myself to situations and relationships where I’ve not sustained me or filled me. So I’m looking for about where can I come to be filled up, and where can I too fill other people, places, and things up, like the Janet Mock quote. Sustainability is a big word when it comes to home. I’ve been thinking of all the tag phrases of being a millennial, and doing political queer work, especially in the south. How can we be sustainable when we’re trying to chisel a life out of the bible belt for us? What even does it mean that we’re trying to survive in places where people are telling us we don’t belong? What does sustainable living look like? Even in doing collective liberatory work, what does sustainable living look like when you’re always in the battle?  I’ve been thinking a lot about that — what’s the answer to sustainability and anti-capitalist self-care and preventing burnout.

courage is a heart word

i’m in the thick of moving, yet have been intending to write a end/beginning of year post for the past week or so, so here i am.

“You cannot, you cannot use someone else’s fire. You can only use your own. And in order to do that, you must first be willing to believe that you have it.”

— I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde

i was inspired by my friend marion to write a political accountability journal. marion writes: “every single one of us needs to enter 2017 as an activist. YES, YOU. ESPECIALLY YOU. IT IS NOT GUARANTEED THAT ANYONE ELSE WILL DO THIS WORK INSTEAD OF YOU SO IT IS UP TO YOU. and me. Please do this ESPECIALLY if you are a person with privilege and you’ve been feeling helpless hopeless sad complacent pessimistic. Consider choosing the same date each month to reflect back on what you’ve done and what your goals for the next month will be!” she posed some questions:

  • what do i believe in? what do i want to fight for?
  • what will my resistance look like?
  • what valuable skills do i have to offer?
  • how will i consistently go outside my comfort zone (because staying in it clearly isn’t working)? what sorts of activism make me uncomfortable, and why? how can I step into that discomfort?
  • which organizations will i join?
  • what will i initiate? how will i bring my people together with purpose? what community do i want to build?
  • what books will i read? how will i keep myself on track with my reading (internet articles do not count)?
  • where will i put my money?
  • how will i encounter feelings of helplessness or burnout? how will i resist slipping back to my comfort zone?
  • what privileges do i have? am i white? cis? male? able-bodied? educated? straight? employed? socially well-connected? etc? how will i acknowledge and check these privileges and simultaneously use them to weaken systems of unearned advantage?
  • how will I hold myself accountable?
  • who else will hold me accountable?
  • what is my plan to take care of myself so I can keep doing this work?

trump’s inauguration is imminent, and extremely basic rights and safety of muslims, immigrants, black folks, people of color, disabled folks, and queers is at risk more than ever. when he was elected, a conversation i was already having with myself was boosted to the forefront. if i am not a capital-O organizer, where do i fit into the movement? and what about all my friends and family, for whom it would be a big deal to even just show up to a meeting or a march? and what about my people for whom showing up is not accessible, most of whom’s rights and wellbeing are directly threatened by a right-wing government?

it feels true to me that it’s important we are all involved in the resistance against a fascist government and against neo-nazis who are growing more comfortable showing their stripes in the alt-right movement. what does this look like for me and for you? personally, i am embarking on a more intentional path of support. i intend to build budding skills like housekeeping, cooking, first aid and CPR, and navigating bureaucracy, to become a homecare worker for disabled folks, chronically ill folks, elders, and others who need help around the home. while this path will not likely impact any systemic change, building strong relationships with people isolated by systems of oppression has always felt powerful and meaningful to me. whatever is left of the optimist within my cynical and somewhat broken heart still believes that the change we inspire and the support we provide for each other can make waves that extend beyond our individual selves and relationships.

capitalism and near-constant microaggressions make it so easy to hunker down and get into survival mode. to avoid meaningful engagement with people who i could potentially build supportive community relationships with, or at least have interactions that challenge white supremacy, misogyny, and other systems of oppressions that impact us all.

my therapist will, who i deeply trust and value, recently shared the origins of the word courage with me. it’s from old french and latin and essentially means heart-ful, or from the heart. for me, hearing that affirms that it’s okay to be scared when pushing toward being the person i want to be, and fighting for what i believe is right. that while communication is important, i don’t have to be able to form an extremely articulate or academic argument to know what’s right. i want to approach challenges and relationships with courage, full of heart. it’s lofty, but it feels like the right place to start from in a moment where it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel incapable of impacting anything at all.

i’m apprehensive about what’s to come (both in my personal life and on a global scale) but i am committed to being present and courageous with myself and my people.

i think that’s all for now. thanks for reading. ’til next time.

xo freddie

photo-booth-dec-2016
ace hotel in portland, oregon, in the final days of 2016.