Tales of a wandering lesbian

Posts from — March 2010

The history of geisha hair

Something I now for sure is we had some of the best Halloween costumes around.  Not always racially sensitive, but super, awesome.  My parents brought the kimonos directly from Japan.

The hair, that’s all mine, baby.

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March 19, 2010   4 Comments

The history of skiing hair

This is sometime around 1983.  This is what happens when you grow up a mile from a ski resort – in the 80s.

Those are my super-awesome K2 skiis.  (I would later be known as K2 in my legal career.)  For those of you who know my sister, that’s her in the red suit in the background.  We were rad.

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March 18, 2010   1 Comment

The history of hair

I spent a couple of hours today going through old photo albums.  My sister is convinced I can get on the Ellen show with my awesome hair.  I’m pretty sure she’s right.

We had so much fun looking at these pics, that I think I’m going to post one or two each day, just to share the fun.  Enjoy.

This is me and my sister about to perform in a Sun Valley ice show.  I think Scott Hamilton was actually performing as well.  Not kidding.  And yes, I’m aware of how totally inappropriate our costuming is.

Ice show 1983

I know you’re laughing with me, and not at me.  It’s okay.

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March 18, 2010   1 Comment

The marginalized masses

Okay, let’s review:

We commit emotional violence on each other all the time, like when we talk about neighbors or delegitimize people’s feelings.

We do it because we’re suffering from mass Post Traumatic Stress Disorder brought on from the emotional trauma we suffered in junior high and high school (and every day after that).

Which causes us to use power-structures to marginalize each other.

We find ourselves in a hierarchical system that requires us to rank ourselves in relationship to each other.  What kind of car do we drive?  How much education do we have?  What kind of job do we do?  We all know which cars are valued more than others, which jobs are respected more.  If there’s any question, just watch an evening of tv and commercials.

Or we can look back at high school.  I remember clearly the day someone came up to me and asked the question, “so are you a jock or a hic?”  Boom.  There it was.  I was stunned.  I realized a couple of things in the seconds it took me to compose myself:  1. I don’t have a horse, but maybe I’m spending more time than I thought with the Rodeo crowd; 2.  I get to define myself; 3.  I better be careful how I answer this question.

I knew exactly where jocks fit in, as opposed to hics, as opposed to stoners, and punks and drill team, and student council and band.  Even the loners, who refused to be part of a group had a label and a rank in the system.

In this system, those at the top have more power, more influence.  In order for this to be true, the system requires there to be other people on the bottom.  So, in order to stay in control, those on the top need to marginalize those on the bottom to keep them from gaining influence.  To give them a label, and put them in their place.

I think I wore my letterman jacket every day for the rest of my high school career.

Here’s my background.  For a number of years, I worked in the realm of GLBT politics.  I worked first as a community organizer, a ground-level trainer, and then served in leadership positions on state and national boards.   I organized door-to-door canvasses, phone banks, community meetings and political rallies.  I sat in rooms with high-level operatives and I sat in rooms with disillusioned naysayers.

I learned a lot.

When all was said and done, I learned one thing in particular.  Something that has informed the way I approach individuals and groups representing communities of individuals.  Something that has informed the way I reach out to and react to others in both my political life, and in my personal.

We use systems of power to marginalize.  We do it as individuals.  And because organizations are made up of individuals, we do it organizationally, too.

Here’s how I started to see this in my life.  The organization I worked for purported to represent a minority community.  It was perhaps the best job I’ve ever had.  I loved training people to talk face-to-face about their lives.  I loved listening to community members who had ideas about how to best engage in a political and social movement.  I loved planning rallies, and bringing people to see legislators.  I loved making sure people felt heard.

I was a true believer.  I believed deeply in the issues, and in the people I was representing.  I believed in the power of people to affect the views of their neighbors by simply talking with them.  I believed in the power of communities to affect the views of legislators by doing the same.  I believed in my organization.

I watched as the organization I loved, an organization representing marginalized individuals, moved into a position of relative power.  I worked hard to help make this happen.  I watched as it gained relevance, found its voice, and developed friends in powerful positions.    Then I watched as the organization chose to use the precise system that had marginalized it and its members to isolate and marginalize others.  I say “chose,” but it wasn’t something conscious.

It took me a little while to figure out what was happening and why.  I was uncomfortable with the snide comments that would be made about fellow organizers – “competitor” groups representing the same community, and individuals with differing views.  The categorical discounting of anyone who didn’t agree with the game plan developed by my organization.  The unweilding push to isolate and discredit those who questioned.

So I volunteered to attend the “coalition” meetings of competitor groups, to engage those who had been discounted.  To talk with the people I felt we should be representing, and not just those who could bring the organization the institutionalized power it was seeking.

As I did this, I heard the fear in the voices of those who felt they had no voice.  I heard the anger of those who felt they had been shut out.  And I saw a different path emerging.

The power structures that pedal influence, that require a hierarchy to function, assume that there’s a limited amount of power and influence available; that anyone who gains power, does it at the expense of another.

But we don’t live in a world where there is a finite amount of power.  That’s not reality.

The reason we set up the systems that we do is that we’re stuck in a cycle.  We’ve been hurt, we’ve been wounded, we’ve been discounted and marginalized and isolated by those who we saw as having power.  And the second we find ourselves in a position of relative power, we do what we think we’re supposed to do when we’re in power.  We hurt and wound and marginalize and isolate others.  Because that’s the system we have been operating in.

But we don’t have to.

If we can take a step back, look at what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it, we’ll be able to find a new path.

Those of us who find ourselves marginalized at some point in our lives (and that’s all of us) can either work to put ourselves in a position of power, using the systems in place to marginalize others, or we can do something different.  We can reject the system altogether.  And that’s scary.

It means opening up.  It means being available to hearing conflicting ideas and opinions.  It means being vulnerable and engaging others with the imperfect language that we have, and the incomplete vocabulary of someone who is learning.   It means trusting that, by giving power to another, everyone’s power will increase.  That by helping someone else to find their voice, all of our voices become clearer.

It means forgiving ourselves and others for the harm we’ve done and recognizing that it was done with a complete lack of awareness.  It means committing ourselves to non-violence in our interactions with each other and ourselves.

And it means that we’ll have to stop ourselves, with great kindness, when we forget and fall back into the old patterns.

But it also means that we can move forward, intentionally, creating the relationships and the interactions that we want, unencumbered by our wounds.  Doesn’t that sound really excellent?

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March 17, 2010   3 Comments

So high school

This is a little theory I’ve been testing out.  It’s part 2 of the Emotional Non-Violence series.  Let me know what you think.  Also, I’m not a psychologist, but still…

Psychologists say that when a person suffers trauma, a part of them freezes at that point, trapping the person in that moment and forcing them to relive the trauma over and over until it’s dealt with.  It’s a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Really.  If someone is emotionally or physically abused as a child, part of them stays a child until the abuse is dealt with.  (I know I’m simplifying, but bear with me.)  For me, and I think for a lot of people, some of the worst emotional abuse I’ve suffered came during junior high and high school.  It’s almost laughable – except that it’s not.

Think about how many times in our grown-up lives something happens with friends, or with co-workers that makes us think of high school.  How often do we use those exact words: “this is so high school”?  There’s a reason.

Once I realized that we’re all having some giant, collective form of PTSD, it started explaining a lot of the bizarre interactions I kept having.  Ones that didn’t seem to work for me anymore.

For a long time, I related to women (and probably men too) the same way I related to them in junior high.  I was the outsider – the uncool one who didn’t fit in.  Only, as an adult, nobody knew it.  And I didn’t want them to.

In my grown-up life, I was the lawyer, the athlete, the woman who was going to run for president.  The one who was in a ton of leadership positions.  I was.  Only the fear I had of being found out or left out dominated my interactions with coworkers.   So I’d sell people out.  If I saw someone getting thrown under the bus, that was fine.  I might even help, because at least it wasn’t me.  But it didn’t feel good.  And I didn’t really understand why I was doing it, which was frustrating.  It’s not like I wanted to be a jerk.

I finally realized what was going on when I found myself projecting onto a coworker who felt left out of lunch invitations and happy-hour get-togethers.  I stood up for her; wanted her to feel included.  Even when I didn’t want to invite her, I didn’t want to be the one not inviting her.

Because I was her.

Yes, if people were talking about each other at work, I’d join in.  I was afraid to be left out of that social experience.  But when it came to the actual invitation to be included, the exact type of emotional trauma I suffered in high school, I was put powerfully back into my 16 year-old self, afraid of not being included, and at the same time not wanting anyone else to feel left out.

And I started to understand.

It happened with my friends, as well.  Every time I was left off of an invitation it was like walking past the photo station at my Junior Prom and finding every one of my friends taking a group shot without me.  All of them smiling at the photographer that I’d hired, as I shuttled the punch and the cake and counted the cash, trying to forget that there was an unclaimed ticket waiting for my date at the front door.  I was Junior Class President.  Not so different from being chair of a city commission or a political committee, really.

The more I saw this happening with me, the more I understood that we’re all stuck there in a form of collective PTSD, reliving our high-school wounds.  Torturing each other the way we did in high school.  Or torturing each other the way we were tortured.  Talking about the neighbors, or selling out co-workers.  Doing whatever it takes to be included, to feel part-of.  Even at the expense of others.  We’re stuck – until we realize what it is we’re doing, and why it is we’re doing it.

And then we get to choose.

Because there’s something that happens when we see each other as “cool” or “uncool,” as “part of” or “left out”.  We buy into a dynamic, a power-structure that has been set up long before we get there.  One we’ve been a part of for a very long time.  One that’s an accepted part of our daily lives.  And one that’s violent.

That’s where we’ll pick up tomorrow.

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March 15, 2010   1 Comment