mild steven universe: the movie mentions below, not spoilery, but mentioned
September 18, 2019 Transcript
Today I think I want to talk about Spectrum. Spectrum was a trans community choir that started in 2015 in Atlanta. It was founded by Geena Phillips, and I first heard about it at a friend's birthday party. Which was the same party where i met my fiance and a lot of things started coming together in finding the seeds of what would become my beloved community and family in Atlanta. One of the things that is bringing spectrum to mind right now is yesterday I had a really bad depressive episode. I was feeling pretty despondent. It was a really hard experience to feel that love of life and of living just drained out of me, like there was a leak somewhere. So I found myself just sort of listlessly trying to ease the pain. Distracting myself never works, keeping myself busy is like my avoidant past coping strategies. But those sorts of things in trying to live more embodied, more mindfully they do not work even to distract myself. in many ways they make things worse. so what i decided to do was tell my family i was having a hard day. I allowed myself some time to complain and contemplate and write and finally what i decided to do was, i told Anya that i wanted some cigarettes and I wanted to watch the Steven Universe movie again. So we have an agreement to create some friction and some harm reduction...to prevent a practice of smoking that I don't want to get into a habit of...I'm not allowed to know where the only cigarettes that I like come from.
So Anya loaded me into the car, put a blindfold on me and drove me around in circles to confuse my sense of direction. Which I found kind of a compliment because I have a terrible sense of direction even with my eyesight. She holds the cigarettes for me, I'm not allowed to hold them, and this is an agreement that we have together.
We talked for a little while. She made space for me to just fall apart a little bit. To just speak how overwhelmed I was feeling, and where I was feeling that in my body. She shared her own experiences of being overwhelmed. And I felt very connected. I still felt very depressed. And I want to point that out. That feeling loved, and held, and cared for, and accommodated was helpful, but didn't negate my depression. *soft laugh*
So went home, smoked a cigarette, face planted into the couch. Breathed deeply into myself, my fingers and my toes, the first parts of my body that I forget about when I'm very much in my pain. And after I'd been breathing deeply into myself I decided I wanted to watch the Steven Universe movie again & turned around... There's a room in my house called the Cuddle Pit. Which is a full size mattress and a sectional Tetris-ed together to make just one giant cozy place that's impossible to escape even when you have the energy to escape. I did not, so I was trapped in the cuddle pit. There's a TV above a fireplace mounted on the wall. And that's where we started this movie.
And the movie begins with the saccharine end of most stories which is the Happily Ever after, and very quickly things go to shit. *soft laugh* And so many narratives are subverted. But eventually there is a song, which is a pep talk song that Bismuth sings to Steven. After Steven is encountering this huge ordeal he's got to face, Bismuth sings this song which is really a reprise or reinterpretation of "We are the Crystal Gems" but really through Bismuth's lens. And Bismuth has always always struck me as a revolutionary but very much in the fight modality. Buddhist Peace Fellowship talks about the Be Build Block framework. [Learn more about that here]
Being and Building being a lot less familiar to a lot of us in movement work and social justice action work than Block which is kind of active defense, that fight, direct actions. And Bismuth to me is so much the warrior. And I really resonate with that kind of power. For most of my life I've been more of the Build mentality, but not enough of the Block. There's only so much you can do to address harmful systems if you're not demolishing and blocking and destroying those harmful systems as well. There's only so many bandaids you can put on something if it's designed to hurt folks. This song by itself has become a real resource for me. And that's started to bring to mind some of the feelings that I had in the first community space that I had to spend time with other trans people that wasn't a support group, that wasn't a crisis center of some kind, that wasn't even really about gender. It was a place for folks that identified as trans and their allies to come together and sing. And voice is very loaded for me in my community, it's very loaded for a lot of the people I love most in the world. So having a space where we were not holding the external judgements and the misgendering of our voices, and the inhibitions we have around the human instrument of our voice, of our resonance, where we had permission and support in exploring gender affirming ways of sounding, of exploring with breaking down what gender even means in terms of voice, really defining for ourselves what it was that we were doing. And the experience of making music together. Just that by itself, having space for that very very human desire to express in unison through sound. I can't even describe how healing that was for me. It doesn't seem like a coincidence or an accident that those relationships that were fostered there opened me up to a kind of vulnerability and healing that has laid down the foundation of everything that I care most deeply about right now in my life. It helped expand my capacity for social justice work. It expanded my capacity for speaking publicly about my identity. It created a place of belonging for me that helped me heal from the lack of belonging I felt in my family of origin and in my professional communities, and everywhere where it felt important that I stay closeted. It did so much for me. And ultimately it was a relatively short lived experience. We performed a hand full of times but just the spiritual healing of coming together with the intention of joining voices was really, was really powerful.
So now, I'm about to start having more open meetings for QTJAC and a lot of what I'm thinking about right now is what is the role of healing in this work. I think that when we talk about accountability, our mentality because of our culture is very much like well "How do we establish policies to keep people safe, to create safer spaces. How do we create policies that are surviver-centered. It's very much this focus on codifying the behaviors we need to have to create spaces of safety. That feels a lot like commandments, like the law, like these contextless and disembodied policies which requires enforcement, which requires enforcers, which requires police, and so much of the work of transformative justice comes out of prison abolitionist work, and those legacies and that theorizing around what is the role of police in community, what is the role of the state, what does accountability look like from a harm reduction standpoint? what does accountability look like from a community safety perspective? And I think it's becoming more and more clear to me that we can't have transformative justice if we are not addressing the things that are keeping us hurting. It's very hard to expect healthy responses from people who are not well. And it's very damaging to act as though these traumas are held within the context and timeline of an individuals life. So many of these traumas are holding not just in collective as queer people, as POC, as femmes, as women...there's so many different kinds of trauma that we hold in collective that affect our behaviors as individuals. And at the same time our behavior as individuals shape the collective. We have to turn towards the things that have damaged us, the things that have damaged people who are doing harm. And providing nurturance and healing for folks given understanding of where their pain is coming from and what structures are operating on them and what things are dehumanizing them and damaging them. Those things are not in conflict with holding them accountable. Those things are not in conflict with supporting survivors in their healing. One of the things that I feel would be really nice for QTJAC is having these spaces of fellowship and trust and healing that don't come exclusively in the context of a community accountability process. I think that within CA processes, the desire/need for delineation of what harm has happened and folks being identified as person who was harmed or survivor, and person who has done harm. as necessary as that is for a process and to create infrastructure for a process, it really have feel dehumanizing, and it really creates this substrate where it's very easy to apply our internalized sense of what justice looks like from our culture which is very punitive. So as soon as you have someone who is labeled as person who has caused harm, and you're only getting together around CA processes, you don't have a community of practice outside of that context, very quickly it starts to feel like well oh "this is the person who is the perpetrator, the criminal, the person who is bad" and we're trying to pull away from that in creating a culture of accountability that centers nurturance over punishment, that centers love over fear. And this is love defined clearly as an investment in one's own and another's spiritual growth, and care is a part of that, and respect is a part of that, and responsibility is a part of that [ from all about love by bell hooks]
Erich Fromm defines love as "the will to extend one's
self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's
So right now I'm thinking about this thing that we've said a 1000 times in my polycule and in community with other trans folks in Atlanta is we need to have a singing circle. And I would love the focus of it to not be so much performances or even culture building or even making art, but for the focus to be specifically healing. And I would really like to revisit what a love-based love-ethic based Steven Universe song group or song circle (it doesn't have to be SU, but I'd totally be down for a Steven Universe song circle) what that starts to look like.
So yeah, that's the stuff I'm thinking about today. The day after being extremely depressed and being brought out of it in part by the loving kindness of the people around me, and music.
Okay, bye, hope everyone has a beautiful day. "