Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dear Mother.

Dear Mother,
You ask me if it offends me to use the woman's restroom because that is the only way that you see your gender interacting with your life...
in short, yes. It does, I learned to pee fast because public bathrooms make me uncomfortable, you probably don't notice the anxiety in my eyes everytime I walk through the woman's bathroom with you, but it is there. And you probably don't notice the relief I feel when we walk into a place with a unisex bathroom. I often do not go into the bathroom even when I need to... In the same way that I do not speak at events because I am paralyzed by anxiety over what name to use and how that will effect me and those around me.
I am affected by my gender every time I see myself in the mirror, or in a reflection or a shadow and every time I touch my body I am reminded that it is not a reflection of who I am. And I have known since I was little that it never felt just right, this label of woman, this body of woman.
I think that it grows from your second wave feminism, this idea, that your gender has no impact on you, and I think that is good, I do not mean to diminish you, or your gender, or your ideologies. But they do not work for me. I do not belong at the Michigan Womyns Festival. Believe me I would like to go to Michigan, I've been intrigued since I found those pictures hidden away in a box of photos, or since my aunt told me of the time the two of you went together. But my vagina does not make me a woman, and I have been living this life knowing that I float somewhere in between not only the societal definitions of man and woman, but in the actual space between male and female.
I am not attempting to cop out, and hide, or thinking that it would simply be easier to become a man and assume that privilege. In fact, I feel that it would just as easily be a lie to call myself a man, I consider myself to be an effeminate boy, where I will go next I do not know. In fact, I know very little about where my life is headed, or what it or I will look like.
That is why I chose my new name, I am sure that you remember mother, how I never liked my female name, it was popular and feminine and I did not feel like a Hannah. I don't know if I feel like a Helyx, but what I do know about that name is that it rests in the middle, much like myself, it gives me a chance to define me for me, outside of labels of femininity and masculinity.
So, yes mother, it does offend me to use the woman's restroom, every time I enter that space I am scared, of what I am never sure, certainly of the fact that someone could call me out on my gender in a second, certainly of the strange looks I get from young children, the people who have to look twice at me and the old women who hold their purses closer...
I know that my gender does not soley rest on my outward presentation, but I attempt to create a presentation that reflects the way I feel inside... and this is what I get...
so mother, please try to understand, I am not trying to leave you, but this second wave feminism isn't working for me, because I am not a woman, I am not female, I am female and male and neither all at the same time, and I do not like the labels available... so I try to just live, without the need to identify in one word...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

to tell you the truth

Hello everyone,
I am passing this on for a friend of mine who is about to embark on a new project...
its a really great project and I am excited to see it happen!

Dear fellow mamas and community caregivers,

I am writing you today to share news about my new project- To tell you the Truth- with you. You are receiving this letter because you have have been an inspiration to me; sharing your work with me, your lives with me or simply by sharing your presence. As fellow mama's and caregivers I wanted you to be the first to receive this letter. Many of you have previously expressed interest in, and support of my work as an artists, mama, organizer and program coordinator. I hope you will be as excited about this project as I am! To tell you the Truth is a multi-media project with a strong community building and self-empowerment emphasis. I am writing today to ask for financial support in beginning the workshop portion.

As many of you know, I am an experienced multi-media arts maker, arts educator and community organizer, most recently working with Video Vanguards (Youth Action Coalition) for 4 years as program coordinator, where I created and implemented programming that supported young people of color and their allies as they empowered themselves through use of video making, media analysis and youth leadership development. In 2007 I completed my first multi-media performance piece entitled, Permission Perform. Permission Perform was based on the interviews of 40 women and created a space for self-identified single, teen and welfare mama’s to tell the truths of their celebrations and struggles. Permission Perform was accepted into the 2007 WORD Multicultural Theater Festival and was performed for two sold out shows upon its opening. As a media-maker and community organizer I believe in the power of arts to create personal transformation and as a tool for healing. I have seen this manifest in the projects I’ve worked with, and, this belief has guided me to begin work on To tell you the Truth.

To tell you the Truth is a healing project. It is a call to create a network for mamas/daughters and caregivers who are invested in transformation; a transformation which integrates healing tools and subversive media making as we vision and support an anti-violence agenda that is informed by our voices and our experiences. This work is about self-empowerment. It is about creating spaces where we can gain back our power to vision and move out of the spaces where we hold ourselves as victims. This work IS about lived and experienced social justice. We will explore arts for healing and ritual; combine personal narrative with systemic analysis and subversive media making within a space that honors and affirms self and communal care.

Through the use of a workshop and multi-media performance process we will explore questions such as; where does personal choice and systemic oppression intersect? What are the complexities that we need to navigate to support mamas/daughters and the caregivers of our communities more fully? How can we heal our communities and still honor and create the spaces for personal healing to be at the helm of our work? How do we effectively move from victim into visionaries? Beginning with an honest look at inter-personal violence and moving through an exploration of what forms of systemic and institutional violence (re)victimize us this project provides space for our mamas/ daughters and caregivers to name what they need. The workshops series is designed to support this exploration and will be implemented in collaboration with community organizations, academics, artists and healers.

Some themes that we will explore in workshop are:
• Our body as home- how public policy impacts our sacred spaces
• Re/Imagining ourselves- how the media impacts our identity
• Using Sacred Tools- using art as ritual, personal transformation and healing, and;
• I know what I need- naming the support that we need to create a more just society

I believe that healing spaces should be accessible to ALL, and in order to work towards a true social justice agenda we MUST make space to heal on a personal level as we simultaneously address social injustice on all levels. Therefore, in an effort to provide workshops that are accessible to participants of all income levels, I am reaching out for your financial support. I would like to avoid asking participants to cover costs towards their participation. There will be plenty of ways for them to contribute towards this project. I am asking each of you to contribute towards co-sponsorship of a seat.

There are several ways to do this:

1. Personal Donation: Though no amount is too small or large I am suggesting a contribution of 70.00- 20.00 per seat. Please give as much as you can.
2. Become a Fund Raising Agent: Commit to raising funds from friends. Please help distributed this letter and begin taking checks/pledges. Contact me for more information about this option.
3. In- Kind Donations: We will need art supplies, ongoing community collaborators and space to hold meetings. Please contact me for more information.

If you choose, in exchange for your sponsorship, your name will be included in the program and accompanying literature for this project.

I believe that we are all able to make this project possible on a grassroots level. Thank you for your support and I am so glad to have you all in my extended community. If you, or someone you know, would like to participate in this project please contact tikisone@gmail.com. Thank you for your time in reading this and, thank you in advance for your support!

In peace and light.

International Outreach Granting Group

I have just been awarded $400 dollars through the International Outreach Granting Group:

"IOGG supports individuals engaged in activities that support international understanding, justice and peace; travel outside one's own country for purposes consistent with Friends concerns. Any project within the United States must have an international aspect to qualify." (http://www.pym.org/pm/more.php?id=1590_0_196_0_M)

This money will be primarily dedicated towards the purchase and creation of the solar charging unit so that I can re-charge my camera batteries while living in the Nicaraguan village.

Thank you to the International Outreach Granting Group!

This brings the total up to- $1120.68

Again thank you to everyone who donated! I am having another event May 1st and everything seems to be going well!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Academic Privilege

So one thing that seems to come up a lot lately both personally and in my conversations with others is the privilege associated with academic language. There are a lot of things I think about when I look at the stark contrast with the language I built in high school and the language I built after coming to Hampshire...

People at home don't use the same vocabulary that people around here use, even those who are enrolled in colleges, seem to be less a part of 'the academy' than I see around here. Which leaves me to examine the concept of academic elitism. Academic superiority. While the concepts that are analyzed in my home environment are no less complex than the ones I study at length in my classes and talk about amongst other students, they lack the vocabulary of superiority, and because of this seem far less complex.

Additionally, these issues come out of a place of necessity, it is far different to study queer oppression than it is to feel someone shove you into a locker and call you a dyke or rush to your girlfriends house in the middle of the night because she threatened to take her own life (which are experiences I had in high school).

Being at Hampshire, being enclosed in the bubble of Hampshire allows me to forget the reality of the things that I dealt with on a daily basis in High School and that my friends, who continue to live in the same area that I grew up in continue to deal with daily. Instead of confronting the issues that shaped me I am allowed to forget the very real ways that I was hurt and study the roots of why systems of oppression exist. This is not to say that the ability to study these systems is invaluable, in fact I feel that it has been of great personal reward, but none the less every time I go home, or talk to the people I know who still attend my former high school, or watch video footage of my high school, I confront the reality of life and the privilege of my academic status.

I also consider where this academic privilege comes from, it comes in many ways from a lack of necessity, my white skin allows me to ignore the oppression of others and internalize my own oppression. My parents academic knowledge is undeniably both a product of their own hard work and my own academic inclinations are indeed a product of their emphasis on my education, which translated into me in the form of access to educational tools that they did not have and that many of my peers did not have, including the ability to consider attending a school which costs $50,000 a year. College was never a question, but an answer. My parents academic pursuits were in many ways limited by finances and because of this they promised me a long time ago that mine never would be. For years, they went to every end possible, driving themselves into the ground, and limiting our mobility in order to secure the best education they could for my brother and me.

I learned early to transcend academic places and ‘street’ places within different social groups. There was always a disparity between the students at my private school and my friends from my neighborhood. Even when I was young I realized that there were communities I did not belong in, communities of class, which are forever inundated with academic privilege.

I think that one of the things I really like about video and most art forms, is that when using visual analysis, vocabulary is not important. I can express things visually that I cannot express in language because I still find myself on the outside of this academic language, and I believe that I can show other people concepts through video no matter what the language barrier may be between the two of us.

Recently I visited an installation that contained a portion with a significant amount of voice over that was composed using high academic language. As I sat there listening to the track repeat for the third time that day I realized how inaccessible this installation would be to most of the people I know outside of the Hampshire community. The self-perpetuated rhetoric of both Hampshire College and the academic world only serves to fuel itself. It is language and practice that serves to fuel the oppressive systemic institutions that create the normative discourses that my art, and this instillation strive to comprehend and take apart.

As for how I proceed it is hard to say with certainty. I do believe that it is necessary to learn the tools of the master but I also realize that these are tools of oppression, and tools of the spaces that I have not be allowed entrance to on the grounds of my class, sexuality, gender and societal status.

During the Arts and Activism workshop at the Civil Liberties and Public Policy conference at Hampshire College we began to enter this discussion. One of the participants mentioned that in order to avoid compromising ones art to enter the spaces of the academy, she finds it more effective to build her own spaces. But I am inclined to remember that while art can be a powerful way to carve out space for marginalized communities we have to bare in mind what the intentions of carving out that space are.

Do we carve out are space to simply live among those like us, or do we seek to reach out to others, outside of our community?

As marginalized artists with academic privilege we can choose to be with each other and create our own space.

Or we can attempt to enter the ranks of the un-marginalized through our art by compromising the message.

Or we can choose to speak back to the communities we came from, where we felt so alone so others won’t feel so alone.

But we must beware of the corruption of the revolution, the “marketing of revolution”…
It comes in the form of “be green” pins for sale in target and anti-authoritarian screen prints at Hot Topic, Obama posters with black power fists that you buy at FYE…. and many other forms.

What was the last political craze you remember? I can tell you that right now Obama, and the Prius occupy the majority of the glamorous hipster activist’s time. But once these messages reach the mainstream they are so diluted that there is often little point and they lack the passion that they started with.

So what is the point of my art? What is the point of yours?

My art is a conversation with my former self, an examination of my journey and an attempt to bring out the lessons and truths of my journey so that others can embrace theirs. I want to speak to the 13 year old me, I want to speak to my community, because I want to speak to the 13 year olds who feel more alone than anything because no one knows what to tell them about themselves and they sure as hell can’t figure it out, and when they try to read books they just don’t understand the language that those books are written in. (I mean damn, is that stuff even English?).

How do I reconcile my journey through academia and the ultimate product of finding my self on the other end?

How do I create art that is accessible to those without my language that would have been accessible to me when I needed it?

How do I use my languages as a tool of inclusion, instead of exclusion?