things for my thirties [happy birthday to me!]

So today is my 31st birthday. And to be honest, I'm quite psyched. Because I'm pretty much the age now that I've felt, on the inside, most of my life. And I wake up most days feeling like "fuck yeah my life!"

Which is a good, good place to be and something I will try never, ever to take for granted.

A couple of observations for today.

baby Anna and mother Janet, early April 1981
1. Five days after my mother turned thirty-one, she gave birth to me. So I feel like, on some level, this is the point at which my own life narrative and my mother's life narrative diverge. Which is super-overly-simplistic, really, given that before she was thirty-one my mother did lots of other things I also haven't done (e.g. date people, get married, get divorced, go to college for architecture, work as a waitress, and go snorkeling in the Cayman Islands). But -- all judgyness about parenting/not parenting aside 'cause we don't really do that in my family -- there's no way to get around the fact that spending your thirties as the full-time parent of three children under the age of ten is going to make for a significantly different kind of decade than the one I have stretching out before me.

Which feels a little weird. Like an opportunity, but weird. One of those moments, as a kid, when you realize your parents -- however great they've been as models -- can only model so far, and so much, before you're on your own, inventing a life.

2. Not-library things I want to do in my thirties. So I've got the next decade before me, an open book. And Hanna and I are settling into life together. Which is really something rich and strange and rather unexpected (I had this notion in my head, for a long time, that I'd probably end up a spinster -- in the nicest possible way! I was kinda looking forward to it. But, you know, then Hanna came along and how could I not?). So I have the luxury of thinking about what I'd like to do with myself, other than my professional and partnership activities. Here's what I've come up with:
  • Travel to England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland. I mean, duh. Travel is definitely near the top of my list of things to do with discretionary income (after "buy books" and "eat good food"). 
  • Write and publish erotica. Turns out, at least in the estimation of a few friends (of a range of sexual persuasions) that I have a talent for the stuff. Who knew! But I enjoy writing it and they enjoy reading it, so it seems like it might be fun to try my hand quasi-professionally there. 
  • Find ways to be with young people and age-diverse families. So I'm not going to have children of my own, it looks like. And I'm 95% cool with that. But I'd like to use part of my time this next decade thinking about how my household of two-adults-plus-cat can be hooked into wider networks of caring that encompass families with more age diversity. None of our intimate friends or family have chosen to incorporate children into their lives yet; I'm kinda hoping a few of them do so that we have the opportunity to be kick-ass aunties.
  • Choose and/or create a home. Okay, well, yes. We obviously already have a home together, Hanna and Geraldine and I. But it's an apartment that started out as a student space, a temporary space, and something not actually selected by both of us, as a couple. It would be nice if, in the next decade, we actually found a home-space through more deliberate selection according to our needs and desires as a family.
  • Research and writing. I have yet to publish that first scholarly monograph. Now with a thesis under my belt, I feel I can move on to other projects -- so hello life-long learning! I'm really looking forward to nosing around and finding my niche as a thinker and writer. Not having this be my day job is, in some ways, even more of a blessing since it means I have free reign to explore ideas as I see fit. That was one of my goals of library school: to situate myself as an intellectual in spaces that honored intellectual endeavors, without being required to "publish or perish." And since I've arrived, I'd like to make the most of it.
Happy birthday to me, and welcome to this most fine of decades. Go forth and be joyful.


quick hit: queer community archives in california since 1950

more about Diana
On March 19th our good friend (and Hanna's former roomie) Diana Kiyo Wakimoto became the first PhD candidate in the Queensland University of Technology and San Jose State University's joint  Gateway PhD Program to reach the point of making a final seminar presentation before revisions and submission of dissertation research. Congratulations Diana!

Her topic, queer community archives in California since 1950, makes her research a valuable contribution to the fields of library science/archives, queer history, and queer activism. And of obvious interest to the folks who read a blog titled "the feminist librarian." Happily, she's made her final presentation slides and the text of her talk available over at her blog, The Waki Librarian. In her own words:
For many decades, the records that have been forgotten are those of the queer communities, which were not collected by institutional archives. In response to this neglect, community groups created their own archives to collect and preserve their records (Barriault, 2009a; Flinn & Stevens, 2009; Fullwood, 2009). Without the activism shown by the pioneers who created these personal collections and community archives, much of the record of the queer community organizations, movements, and individuals would have been lost. Multiple queer community archives have been created in California to combat the historical neglect and silencing of queer voices in institutional archives. My thesis focuses on the little studied area of the histories of these queer community archives in California and their relationships to institutional archives. 
... As archivists continue to debate the role of the archivist as a professional, this study lends support to the scholars and practitioners who see the archivist as an activist and a non-neutral player in the construction of history and community identities. It bears repeating that without the activists and archivists within the queer communities who saved records and completed oral history projects, much of the record of the communities’ histories would have been lost. Therefore activism is important to saving records of the past and the archives profession must act to ensure a diversity of voices are found in the archives. We could learn much from the community archivists and volunteers about connecting with community members and creating archives and spaces that reflect community needs and interests.
Congratulations, Diana, and I can't wait to read the final dissertation in full! 


I (heart) dahlia lithwick (again) + rant re: healthcare oral arguments

via @eskenosen

On the way to work this morning, Hanna and I were discussing how utterly nonsensical and frustrating the anti-healthcare folks are. First they didn't want government-supported, single-payer healthcare. So the Obama administration patched together something using private insurers. And now they're pissed about that. Dahlia Lithwick, as usual, highlights the inanity:
It’s always a bit strange to hear people with government-funded single-payer health plans describe the need for other Americans to be free from health insurance. But after the aggressive battery of questions from the court’s conservatives this morning, it’s clear that we can only be truly free when the young are released from the obligation to subsidize the old and the ailing. Justice Samuel Alito appears to be particularly concerned about the young, healthy person who “on average consumes about $854 in health services each year” being saddled with helping pay for the sick or infirm—even though, one day that will describe all of us. Or as Justice Antonin Scalia later puts it: “These people are not stupid. They're going to buy insurance later. They're young and need the money now.” (Does this mean that if you are young and you pay for insurance, Scalia finds you “stupid”?)
Read the whole thing over at Slate. Emphasis mine.

Apart from everything else that's angry-making about the healthcare "debate," I'm particularly appalled by the endemic ageism and ableism embedded in these arguments about how we shouldn't have to pay for what other people need. As if those "others" (the sick, the infirm) aren't actually us. And will never be us. Or, once we become the other we'll be left out in the cold to cope with our ill-health all on our own.

Say what?

The argument that young people don't need healthcare services implies that youth per se = healthy. This is an idealization of youth that runs rampant in our culture, and it's poisoning our collective consciousness by encouraging us to imagine that to be young is in itself a protection against ill-health. This is nonsense. I know plenty of young people, myself and my partner included, who need not only preventative care (so we hopefully won't need more expensive care later), but also actual expensive care. Being young doesn't protect you from physical infirmity, both organic and accidental. Young people get cancer. Young people have thyroid disorders. Young people get infections. Young people break bones, are involved in traffic accidents, must cope with sports injuries. Young people need dental work done, require eye care, need regular reproductive health check-ups (I just made my annual pelvic exam appointment last week).

This Friday I'll be celebrating my 31st birthday. I know very few of my peers who haven't already, in their relatively youthful lives, had need of medical services for all of these things. And who haven't avoided desperately-needed medical care because they were temporarily un- or under-insured and couldn't afford to pay out of pocket for that care.

As Lithwick points out, even if we experience a relatively healthful youth, we will all one day age and become infirm of body. There is a stunning arrogance and lack of self-awareness to the suggestion that those "others" who get sick and need medical care are the ones who much bear the burden of procuring those services. Seriously: Do certain Supreme Court Justices / conservative lawmakers actually believe they will never become ill/sustain an injury/need end-of-life care?

Once again, I am reminded of historian Gerda Lerner's observation that "All of us, ultimately, will join one of the most despised and abused groups in our society--the old and the sick."

There's a conversation to be had about the financial burden of healthcare services, and whether the cost should be as high as it is. But that conversation should be separate from the conversation about individual healthcare needs, because when it comes to health, like our environment, we're all in this together. There is no way to escape sickness, there is no way to prevent death. We will all experience physical suffering. We will all need medical care. And there is absolutely no way to reliably predict who will need what services and when.

It frightens me that the supposedly wise persons on the Supreme Court seem to have forgotten their own mortality.


booknotes: straight

Until I fell in love with my partner, Hanna, I generally conceptualized myself as "mostly straight." This was because, despite the passionate friendships I formed with female friends and the way lesbian sexual fantasies made me go all squishy with excitement, I didn't feel I was queer enough to be considered authentically out of bounds of straightness. And I passively imagined that, given the statistical odds, chances were I'd fall in love with a person who was a cisgendered man (although I wouldn't have used the term "cisgendered" back then).

Then Hanna came along, and I realized I was falling for her, and then we were together, a couple in the world, and I had to develop a whole new vocabulary for talking about myself: "mostly straight" no longer felt accurate. But was I lesbian? bisexual? fluid? queer? Should I articulate my sexuality in terms of my kinky fantasies? The gender identity and sexual orientation of my partner? The aggregate attractions I've felt but never acted upon for people across the gender and sexuality spectrum? If I'm a person who's felt squishy feelings for people who identify as male, female, trans, gay, bi, straight, and numerous combinations of the above ... how meaningful is it to try and identify something inherently personal (one's subjective sense of self) in terms of the objects of my affection (which are multivarient, ever-changing). In a strange way, the language I choose to speak of myself has an effect on the identities of anyone I've ever felt the thrill of sexual excitement over.

It's a social dilemma that, three years later, I've yet to resolve. These days, when filling out forms I go for the string-of-words approach. The form asks Sexual Orientation? I respond: "lesbian/bisexual/fluid" or the like. Check boxes be damned. In a pinch, "bisexual" is probably the best catch-all (I register attraction to people of multiple gender expressions and sex identities). In biomedical terms, "lesbian" is probably the most accurate in that I'm in a monogamous relationship with a cisgendered woman -- so our medical needs will be those of women who have sex exclusively with women. But that isn't all of who I am -- or who my partner is, for that matter, since she identifies as bisexual. "Fluid" helps capture some of the contextual nature of my sexual desires, and my sense of personal change over time. But will provide little information to my primary care provider that "lesbian" doesn't already communicate -- with much less room for confusion.

When blogging or speaking informally, I'll use lesbian, dyke, bi, gay, queer, fluid, or sometimes opt for phrasing that's less about who I am and more about what I do: "As someone in a lesbian relationship...," "As someone who's partnered with another woman ..."

Hanne Blank, in her recently-published (long anticipated!) Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality (Beacon Press, 2012) recounts similar dilemmas of self-identification as the partner of a male-identified person whose markers of sex and gender are, nonetheless, all over the biological map due to having been born with XXY chromosomes. The author of Virgin: An Untouched History returns to historical and cultural notions of human sexuality in an effort to illuminate what we mean when we talk about "heterosexual" or "straight" identity. As with "virgin," the answer turns out to be murky at best. The concept of an individual whose identity or nature was built, at least in part, around an exclusive attraction to "opposite"-sexed partners and activities, only came into being in relation to the study of non-normative or "deviant" sexual behavior during the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Even after the term came into common usage, virtually no research has been done -- scientific or otherwise -- on heterosexual sexuality. We don't know how the bodies of heterosexuals differ from those of non-heterosexuals, for example. Research on homosexuality suggests there is no marker of sexual orientation on the body, but no one has ever asked the question "How are heterosexual bodies composed?" Scientists studying non-heterosexuality always assume they know the normal against which they are measuring the non-normal. Yet this assumption is never spelled out, and its markers are never articulated. As Blank writes:
Scientists often look for evidence of non-heterosexuality, what we consider the exception to the rule, while assuming that the heterosexual rule itself requires no evidence. Scientifically speaking, this is precisely backwards. In science, it should technically not be possible to even begin considering whether there might be exceptions to a rule until you have proven that the rule exists (42-43).
The reason why we've never inquired into the existence of heterosexuality is that, culturally speaking, it is a category of being that has become commonsensical, so self-evident in our minds that we measure every other sexuality in relation to it. There is power in a category so constructed as simultaneously normative and empty of actual definition. Blank compares heterosexuality to the concept of being not a person of color or not a slut. "Nameless and characterless, the space we can loosely categorize as 'normal' is almost completely undefined," she writes (32):
This is why 'slut' and 'prude, 'pervert' and 'deviant' all work so well as insults and as ways to police the boundaries of sex doxa [an anthropological term meaning "what everyone knows to be true"]. The labels are effortless to deploy, and hard, even impossible, to defend against ... The opposite of 'slut' is someone who has not been labeled a slut, someone who has never been charged with violating doxa (32).
If there is a weakness in Straight it is the emphasis on marriage and reproduction as signs of heterosexual identity. I understand why Blank draws upon these cultural examples of heterosexual life -- both marriage and parenting are more social activities than, typically, sexual behavior. People are far more likely to record instances of the former rather than the latter. So from an historical perspective, research on heterosexuality will end up documenting those outward signs with much more confidence than it will what people actually did with their bits (and how they felt about doing it). Unless people talk about their sexual self-identities, it's hard to do more than catalog instances in which sexual acts were recorded -- and those acts were usually the ones considered deviant, exceptional, worthy or note or censure.

Still, other books have been written in recent years on the history of marriage, and I felt myself starting to skim in hopes of more discussion of sexological research and taxonomy, a more inventive backward reading from those instances of "deviance" toward what people considered not-deviant. Some of that does appear in the pages of Straight, but I found myself wishing Blank's editor had pushed her to include less of the well-trodden history of marital practice and more of the specifically sexual practices that fell within the bounds of the acceptable. She does argue, at one point, that "penis-in-vagina intercourse is the only source of sexual pleasure that has never, so far as we can tell from the historical record, has never been challenged ... the fortunes of all other sex acts and all other sources of sexual pleasure, have varied widely" (124). I would have liked to see that assertion expanded on, to have these boundaries of sexual activity discussed in relation to the notion of sexual identity in historical understanding. In the 1890s, for example, would a husband and wife who practiced cunnilingus and fellatio with one another been categorized as "normal-sexual" in the eyes of the early sexologists? Blank leaves much of that open to further discussion -- which may, I admit, have been her intent.

In the end, Blank has written yet another accessible survey of a sexual concept we think we all know and instead, it turns out, we know little about. I hope the liveliness of her prose and the concrete examples she provides of individuals who defy our binary sex, gender, and sexual categories (man/woman, gay/straight, cis/trans) will encourage people who may not have thought human sexuality in such complex terms to revisit their assumptions and look at their own identities and behaviors with new, and perhaps more forgiving and expansive, eyes.


new fic: between the elements of air and earth

So a few months ago, Hanna and I were discussing this vision we had of Lord Crawley in Downton Abbey becoming all exasperated by the number of people in his family and on his staff who apparently swing both ways (Thomas is canon, and sleeping with the family doctor, and then I've put Sybil and Gwen together and Branson with his original-character boyfriend from Manchester ...). We thought how funny it would be if he blew a gasket at some point and was like, "My valet and the doctor, my daughter and the housemaid, my driver and his boyfriend from Manchester ... anyone else? Anyone?"

At which point his mother, Violet, could "ahem" from the corner.

Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) and Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton).
Because obviously.
Once imagined, of course, it had to be written. So I did.
Title: Between the Elements of Air and Earth
Author: ElizaJane
Fandom: Downton Abbey
Pairing: Violet Crawley/Isobel Crawley
Rating: Explicit (AO3)
Length: 3,486 words
Tags: Heat Wave, Established Relationship, Massage, Anal Play, Pillow Talk, Shakespeare
Summary: She hasn’t found a way, yet, to tell Isobel this is why she sometimes licks the name Olivia behind her ear, talks of being brought here by the ocean, tempest-tossed and forever not-quite-home.
The title comes from a speech by Viola, in Twelfth Night, wherein she describes to Olivia how she would woo her if she, Viola (then dressed as the page Cesario) were Olivia's suitor. When I started this fic, I'd just read a lovely treatment of that relationship in Emma Donoghue's Inseparable so it was near the surface of my mind. And the character of Viola worked well as a touch-point for Violet's character with the back story I have in mind for her.

Do hope you enjoy!


review of "hillbilly nationalists"

I have a book review of  Amy Sonnie and James Tracy's Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times (Melville House, 2011) in the Spring 2012 issue of the newsletter of the New England Historical Society (NEHA). Sonnie and Tracy explore, through oral history and archival research, the history of working-class white activism, primarily in the Chicago area, during the 60s and 70s, with an emphasis on the alliances between poorer whites and non-whites to work for social change.
The co-authors of Hillbilly Nationalists have taken on the ambitious project of researching and describing the under-documented efforts of white, working-class community organizers in the urban North during the 1960s and 70s. Sonnie is an educator, librarian, and author who co-founded the Center for Media Justice; Tracy is a social justice organizer in the San Francisco Bay area who focuses on issues of poverty, racism, and the environment. Drawing on extensive archival research and over sixty oral history interviews, these two practiced scholars map out the short-term politics and long-term effects of inter-racial community organizing in the era of Black Power.
Read the rest in the PDF newsletter, which you can download from the NEHA website.


booknotes: theorizing twilight

Theorizing Twilight: Critical Essays on What's at Stake in a Post-Vampire World, edited by Maggie Parke and Natalie Wilson (McFarland, 2011), is the latest addition to the growing body of work analyzing Stephanie Meyer's Twilight franchise from a broad range of literary, cultural, psychological, sociological, and political perspectives. To put my own cards on the table up-front, I have read the first three books of the series, as well as skimming Breaking Dawn (once the vampire pregnancy thing entered the picture, I lost patience). In the beginning, I wanted to like these books. At least a little. I'm not totally opposed to the paranormal romance genre, however cliche it can so often be -- think Laurel K. Hamilton for reference; more about that series in a minute -- and I, like many readers, found the front-and-center treatment of Bella's sexual desire a initially compelling alternative to the preponderance of sexually passive/dormant female characters in YA fiction. But stepping back and looking at the series as a whole, many disturbing patterns appear in terms of gender roles, sexuality, romance, family relationships, and more. If you're interested in my previous reflections, see hereherehere, and here. Below I'm going to talk specifically about the newer questions and concerns that came up for me as I was reading Theorizing

As with any anthology (me: broken record) there are highlights and lowlights depending on your own personal interest in the Twilight phenomenon. I found myself skimming over the several essays that used psychoanalytic and literary critical frameworks, for example, in favor of pieces that chose to consider the interaction of fans with the books and films, or the political messages embedded in the book concerning gender and sexuality. Pieces that hit a particularly high note in my own estimation were Tanya Erzen's "The Vampire Capital of the World," Ananya Mukherjea's "Team Bella," Ashley Benning's "How Old Are You?" and Hila Shachar's "A Post-Feminist Romance."  Erzen travels to the real-world town of Forks, Washington, to explore the way in which Twilight tourism has affected the town's economy, identity, and created internal social tension as the residents react in differing ways to the influx of fans. Mukherjea considers "the interpretive work that Twilight fans do with the text," with particular attention to those fans whom we might think would feel alienated from the texts: self-identified feminists, queer, and non-white readers. Benning's "How Old Are You?" de-naturalizes the assumptions the series makes regarding age (for example, that ageing and death are something to be feared and combated). She also considers the cultural and political import of classifying the books as "children's literature" for adolescents, despite the fact the series has a large following among those over twenty-one. And Schachar suggests that Twilight could be fruitfully considered as part of the backlash against feminist interrogations of feminist analysis of gender relationships, and political challenges to male dominance.

I particularly appreciated, throughout this book, the recognition and engagement with the agency of Twilight's fans. For the most part, the authors in Theorizing recognize that readers are not passive receptacles for the conscious and unconscious messages of the books, but rather actively engaged in the project of interpreting, analyzing, and appropriating the narratives for their own ends. Those ends are, of course, constrained and influenced, in part, by the culture through which we all move. Our affinities and desires are hardly established in a vacuum. But much of the coverage of Twilight among its detractors has, troublingly, figured its fans as frivolous, foolish, and dangerously susceptible to the troubling messages about gender, sexuality, race, mortality, religion, and more which we see embedded in narrative. Given that the fan base is overwhelmingly made up of women and girls, I worry about how the construction of Twilight's fans feeds into our "common sense" assumption that anything coded feminine is inherently inferior. Add to this our similar assumption that anything coded as juvenile/childish is inherently inferior and it's all too easy to dismiss Twilight fans in some truly unfortunate ways (I've been guilty of this myself in the past, and likely will again). I was glad to see relatively little of that in the pages of Theorizing

The one aspect of Twilight enthusiasm that I was disappointed to see completely missing from Theorizing's pages was any serious treatment of the depictions of violent sex that looked deeper than the obvious problem of consent. As my friend Minerva pointed out, when we were talking about this recently, the Twilight saga reads like a "four book 'dub-con' fan fic," since the series is saturated with sexual narratives which depend on dubious consent, if not out-right non-consensual sex and relationships. As a number of Theorizing's authors point out, despite the fact that Bella is scripted as a heroine who, through her own strength of will, creates the life she desires, what the language and symbolism of the series makes clear is that Bella's "choices" are supernaturally pre-determined. She never could have "chosen" any other path, and therefore the choices she makes are not true choices at all, or a Vampire-esque version of Calvinist predestination.  

The problem I see in a lot of critical analysis of this dubious consent problem is that it slips into equating the consent issues with the depiction of sexual intimacy as violent, particularly in the context of Bella and Edward's infamous wedding-night initiation into an active sexual relationship, which leaves the bed destroyed and Bella's body bruised. Bella insists the rough sex was desired; Edward is appalled by his behavior and backs away from the implications of his aggression. Such a scene would be a perfect opportunity to introduce readers of the series to enthusiastic negotiation and consent in the context of rough sex and BDSM scenarios. Instead, criticism of the scene usually takes an appalled stance on sex that would leave bruises and broken furniture. I can't help worrying that girls and women who find fantasizing about such scenarios a turn-on will feel shamed for their "wrong" desires, when instead critics could offer them ways of incorporating those fantasizes into non-abusive, consensual sexual intimacy. It could be fruitful, for example, to contrast Meyer's depiction of violent sex with other supernatural romance authors who explicitly incorporate notions of negotiation and consent into their narratives. Laurel K. Hamilton, for example, whose Anita Blake series contains many similar elements to Meyer's Twilight -- including a vamp-human-were love triangle -- yet offers much more radical solutions to the heroine's potentially dangerous desires. This isn't to say Hamilton's series offers to completely positive alternative to Twilight -- there's a lot one could critique in terms of its depictions of gender, sexuality, relationships, etc., and even simple construction of a plot. But in contrast to Twilight the Anita Blake series does suggest that non-normative sexual desires and relationship constellations can be healthy and nourishing. 

I would also have been interested in more sustained analysis of Bella's monstrous vampire pregnancy, and how one might place it within the gothic/horror tradition, rather than the romance genre (which most critics draw on most heavily in analyzing the narrative elements of the franchise). I'm intrigued by the fact that the novels figure marriage and motherhood as the source of Bella's ultimate fulfillment and the key to her immortality (*coughcough*Mormon theology*coughcough*), yet present pregnancy and parenthood as a monstrous, body-destroying enterprise. Put together with the horror of ageing and mortality in the series, I think Bella's experience of pregnancy could be a potentially fruitful gateway into an examination of our culture's fears of the process of child-bearing, and our fears of women's reproductive capacity -- particularly the changes it wreaks upon women's bodies.

Theorizing Twilight will be a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the Twilight phenomenon, in fan culture, and in current iterations of gothic, horror, romance literature. 


"how women's studies mattered in my life": a panel discussion

via the Women's Studies Facebook Page
On 6 March I participated in a panel presentation/discussion at my alma mater Hope College in celebration of twenty-plus years of women's studies at the institution (the interdisciplinary minor was formally established in 1992; students had been forming "contract" majors and minors since the early 1980s).

I'm really hoping the college will make the panel discussion available via web video so I can share it with all of you, since the other panelists all had fascinating stories about their coming to feminism and its integration into their personal and professional lives. The questions from the audience were engaged and the panelists answers were diverse and thoughtful. I was honored to be a part of the evening.

At the beginning of the session, each panelist was asked to speak for about ten minutes on the topic "how women's studies mattered in my life." Here's what I had to say.

Tonight, I’d like to share some thoughts about three aspects of my life as a feminist, and how feminism and women’s studies have affected my life. The first is how feminist ideas and politics have brought to my personal relationships, the second is how I incorporate feminist thought and practice in my intellectual and professional life, and third, some thoughts about how I’ve grown as a feminist since graduation.

I’m sure most of the people in this room have a story to tell about their coming to feminist ideas and a sense of how those ideas could help them make sense of their own lives and the world around them. In my family growing up, feminist understandings of gender equality and individual self-determination were more or less taken for granted, and I felt an affinity with feminist activists in history for as long as I can remember. My sense of contemporary, feminist political awareness -- the realization that there is still feminist work to be done -- came gradually as I struggled during my childhood and adolescence against prejudiced notions of what children and young people are capable of. As I grew from being understood primarily as a child to being understood as a young woman, rigid conceptions of sex, sexuality, and gender came to the fore -- particularly in peer relationships and in church. I had support in my immediate family to push back against restrictive notions of gender and sexuality -- but it was feminism as a philosophical framework and as a community of practice that gave me the support outside my family to articulate and honor my own experiences and desires.

Since my teens, feminism (conceptually) and feminist spaces (materially) have been a space for me to break open ‘common sense’ definitions of love, relationships, human sexuality, and community. Feminism has connected me to global, trans-historical network of people who work not to pass judgment on relationship diversity. We’re all imperfect at this, it’s true, but at least within feminist spaces there is usually a common ground to talk about how monogamy and non-monogamy, parenting and not-parenting, queer and straight relationships, long-term and more casual sexual relationships, can all be ethical, meaningful, and healthy.

Feminist spaces encouraged me to ask “does it have to be this way?” over and over and over again. Even when I didn’t think I had the right to identify as queer (more on that in a minute),  my ties to feminist and queer thinkers and activists became a way for me to explore the possibility of sexual intimacy and family formation in ways that didn’t make me feel claustrophobic or filled with rage. That instead filled me with hope and desire, with expansive generosity, with the sense that there was enough creativity in the world to ensure that everyone’s relational needs could be met -- and exceeded.

Feminism encourages me to take ownership of my sexuality and learn how to take pleasure in my body in a culture that is hostile to our embodiment. Being a self-identified feminist is obviously not an instant cure for body insecurity, for fear of being the wrong size, the wrong shape, the wrong kind of beautiful. But in my experience, a feminist analysis of our culture’s narrow expectations of beauty, sexuality, and health give me an edge in asserting my right to be at home in my physical self. My knowledge and confidence about my body, and the pleasure I can experience as an embodied person, has been hard-won in a lot of ways. And wouldn’t have been as possible, or as rich a journey, without feminism in my life.

My feminism, at Hope College, wove back and forth across the boundaries of personal and academic life. On the one hand, feminist analysis was a way for me to understand the political upheaval around religion and sexuality I experienced here at Hope (in the late 90s). I was politically queer long before I was sexually active, in a same-sex relationship, or had to grapple with how to label myself in a world that demands sexual identification. By the time I entered into my first relationship -- with a lover who happened to be a woman -- I had a rich history of engagement with feminist and queer literature, political activism, and support networks to draw upon. That history made transition from thinking of myself as “mostly straight” to thinking of myself as someone who was in a lesbian relationship remarkably easy. And I owe the Women’s Studies program at Hope for at least some of that.

In an academic and professional sense, the exploration of gender and sexuality in historical context is at the heart of what I do as an historian. The Women’s Studies program here at Hope was my entre into thinking about women’s human rights as they are connected to broader socio-political struggles against racism, homophobia, economic inequality. Academic feminism is often criticized for being abstract, privileged, and out of touch with the urgent political engagement needed in “real” peoples lives. And I think that’s a critique worth listening to (if you haven’t already, check out the anthology Feminism For Real edited by Jessica Yee). But in my life, college classrooms became one of the places where I wrestled with notions of privilege and with the complicated histories of oppression. And in part because of that, my scholarship will never be entirely divorced from my political or personal selves.

It was through the Women’s Studies program that I became involved in my first full-scale oral history research project, published and presented original research, and began my research on the history of mid-twentieth-century countercultures -- an interest I carried with me into graduate school an pursued for my Master’s thesis. While my work as a reference librarian isn’t explicitly related to feminism, gender and sexuality, or social justice issues, I went into library science because I see facilitating equitable access to information as a feminist activity. I get asked a lot whether my “dream job” would be to work at a library with collections more in my field of interest -- but I actually prefer (perhaps because of my experience as a liberal growing up in West Michigan?) to work in spaces where feminist-oriented research remains, to some extent, counter-cultural, an exercise in reading against the grain of our collection strengths and thinking about how to come at things slant-wise. To find evidence of gender and the erotic in unexpected places. My years at Hope College taught me that radical ideas and non-normative experiences can be found virtually everywhere.

Political activism in the classic sense isn’t my day job -- and that’s okay with me. Post college, the space for feminist thought, discussion, and networking that’s worked best for me has been the virtual world of Internet. Blogging provides me a way to interact with others over issues of gender, sexuality, and social justice in a way that help me avoid burn-out. If I’m having a shitty week, or I’m busy at work, or I can feel myself getting wound up over a really emotionally-fraught issue, I can walk away and engage in self-care -- calm down, re-group, and re-engage. On my own blog, I write as much as I want about the issues I’m passionate about, and no one can dismiss me in conversation or bully me into silence by saying “oh, don’t take it so seriously!” or “you think too much.” I’m sure there are people out there who believe I do take things “too seriously” or think “too much.” But I don’t have to allow them to comment on my blog, and regardless of how loud they shout online, they don’t control my online space -- I do.

Blogging has also put me in the way of opportunities to participate in feminist scholarship and activism -- I’ve done author interviews, attended conferences, been a research participant for a number of studies on human sexuality -- one on religion and use of sexually-explicit materials among women,  one on the personal experiences of queer individuals interacting with straight folks and mainstream culture. In 2009 I had the awesome experience of participating in the revision of the relationships chapter of the latest edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Women’s Studies and feminism was a generally positive, inclusive space for me while I was at Hope. Since graduating, I’ve met a lot of folks for whom feminism and Women’s or Gender Studies programs were not welcoming. People who experienced feminist spaces as exclusionary because of their gender identity, their sexuality, their family lives, their concerns about race or class inequalities, their physical or mental health concerns … I’m sure some of you could add to this litany. My partner was told she couldn’t be a feminist because she liked the Terminator movies, and that she was a bad lesbian ‘cause her best friend was a guy.  I believe those people were wrong, but that doesn’t erase the fact that the language of feminism was used, in those instances, as the language of exclusion.

This doesn’t mean I’ve stopped identifying myself as a feminist. In fact, it’s made me more vocal about what I believe feminism is and can be. It’s made me more likely to speak up when I hear people using feminism as a tool to create and enforce us/them, insider/outsider hierarchies. At the same time, over the last ten years, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that feminism, for some people, will never signify intellectual and emotional support for their being in the world the way it does for me. And that that’s okay. I believe feminism is -- at its best -- for everybody. But I also believe there are many pathways to a more loving, equitable world. As long as I see folks living out the values I name as “feminist” then I’m happy to count them as allies and co-conspirators.

Cross-posted at The Pursuit of Harpyness.


quick hit: celebrating 100 issues of "feminist review"!

Yesterday, co-worker Liz brought me an announcement from the College & Research Library News advertising the fact that the feminist review has just published its 100th issue! In celebration, the fr has made a selection of twenty articles representing a wide range of topics and eras available for free on their home page. You can also access the current (March 2012) issue for free through the journal's main page by clicking on the "Current Issue" tab on the left-hand side bar.

For the month of March, Palgrave (the publisher) is also running an "Access All Areas 2012" campaign for librarians to gain access to their full online database on a trial basis -- but you have to go through a registration process to take advantage of the offer, and it seems set up for librarians with institutional affiliations. Bah.

Still, I think the articles they do have available without registration shenanigans look promising! Here's the list of the twenty selected pieces:

  1. rethinking the interplay of feminism and secularism in a neo-secular age FREE

    Niamh Reilly
  2. The Scent of Memory: Strangers, Our Own, and Others FREE

    Avtar Brah
  3. beautiful dead bodies: gender, migration and representation in anti-trafficking campaigns FREE

    Rutvica Andrijasevic
  4. birth, belonging and migrant mothers: narratives of reproduction in feminist migration studies FREE

    Irene Gedalof
  5. not-/unveiling as an ethical practice FREE

    Nadia Fadil
  6. maids, machines and morality in Brazilian homes FREE

    Elizabeth Silva
  7. mothers who make things public FREE

    Lisa Baraitser
  8. the new woman and ‘the dusky strand’: the place of feminism and women’s literature in early Jamaican nationalism FREE

    Leah Rosenberg
  9. ‘door bitches of club feminism’?: academia and feminist competency FREE

    Zora Simic
  10. why queer diaspora? FREE

    Meg Wesling
  11. Celling black bodies: black women in the global prison industrial complex FREE

    Julia Sudbury, FR 70
  12. Will the real sex slave please stand up? FREE

    Julia O’Connell Davidson, FR 83
  13. Discursive and political deployments by/of the 2002 Palestinian women suicide bombers/martyrs FREE

    Frances S Hasso, FR 81
  14. Challenging Imperial Feminism FREE

    Valerie Amos and Pratibha Parmar, FR 17
  15. Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses FREE

    Chandra Talpade Mohanty, FR 30
  16. The Virtual Speculum in the New World Order FREE

    Donna Haraway, FR 55
  17. Sex and Race in the Labour Market FREE

    Irene Breugel, FR 32
  18. Feminism and class politics: a round-table discussion FREE

    Feminist review talks with Michèle Barrett, Beatrix Campbell, Anne Phillips, Angela Weir, and Elizabeth Wilson, FR 23
  19. The Material of Male Power FREE

    Cynthia Cockburn, FR 9
  20. Multiple Mediations: Feminist Scholarship in the Age of Muli-National Reception FREE

    Lata Mani, FR 35
Head on over to feminist review and read away!


"how I set out to become a librarian...": lis career talk

Van Wylen Library (Hope College, Holland, Mich.)
As promised, here's the report from my presentation on 5 March at Hope College on how and why I became a librarian, what I do as a reference librarian, and further resources for exploring librarianship as a career. Since the talk was thirty minutes long, it's a bit unwieldy for a blog post. Instead, I've made the talk, PowerPoint, and resource list available on a new page -- librarianship links -- where you can download the talk script and slides as PDF files and review them at your leisure.

I was kindly introduced by Priscilla Atkins, poet and head of reference and instruction at Hope's Van Wylen Library. She put together my intro with help from Jackie Bartley, my very first creative writing professor at Hope -- the one who inspired me to pursue non-fiction rather than fiction writing, and who could not have been a better entre into liberal arts education. Jackie was also at the talk, as were about a dozen former faculty of mine. I don't think I've given or accepted so many hugs in the space of an hour since I stopped "passing the peace" at church in the mid-1990s!

There were also about a dozen librarians-in-the-making in the audience, which was gratifying to see.

You can access the resource handout I made, the slides, and the talk in PDF from here.

On Thursday, I'll be posting the text from my talk from the Women's Studies panel discussion, "How Has Women's Studies Mattered in My Life."


observations IV

1) We're home on the couch with the cat curled up between us. Geraldine was two parts grateful we were back and one part super-pissed we left. My left index finger is bandaged, making typing difficult. On th agenda: trim cat's claws.

2) New York state goes on forever. The sixteen-hour drive we did yesterday (5am to 9pm) took us from Holland (Mich.) to Brattleboro (Vt.) via I-90. Thank the star whale for audio books and National Public Radio.

2a) One thing I really miss about regular driving is NPR-time. Between couple-time and work in a library I simply don't listen to the radio as much as I used to, and it's a delight to have the luxury once in a while.

3) On my observations III post in which I wrote about how comparatively simple the logistics of life back in Holland feel, FluffyCat observed that "anywhere I travel seems less hectic than my regular life does." Fluffy's right, of course ... there are the responsibilities in daily life I no longer have when I visit my parents. At the same time, I did live in Holland as an adult with a job, a household, other responsibilities. And it still seemed less endless than life here in Boston does. Hanna suspects it's something to do with the plethora of options (which way/how to travel home from work, where to do the shopping, etc.). Sometimes just deciding can feel overwhelming.

3a) When we drove into Brattleboro (Vt.) yesterday, along Route 9, I thought -- as I always do -- how much that part of the country reminds me of Southern Oregon and my time at the O.E. I like to imagine part of my instinctive connection with Hanna comes from the fact she went to a college (Marlboro) that sounds so like the Oregon Extension, and is located in a similar geographical setting. I thought how lovely it would be if driving along route nine was arriving home. I like so much of our lives in Boston (our apartment, our work, the walkable city), but nearly five years in part of my soul remains irreconcilable to urban life. Hanna and I remain unsure what to do about that -- but any big changes for the future.

4) Having read Hanna Rosin's opinion piece and this Guardian article about E.L. James's fan-fiction novel turned published erotica, Fifty Shades of Grey, I feel like I should write something about the reaction to the reaction of this book ... if you get what I mean. But I'm kinda overwhelmed by the way the coverage betrays peoples' preconceptions about fan-created fiction (written poorly, written well), about BDSM (written poorly, written well), about erotica generally, and about women who read erotica specifically that ... well. I feel rather tongue-tied. Three things I do know:
a) Rosin's discussion of the dom/sub relationship suggests she didn't bother to do any kind of background research in BDSM culture before reviewing a porn novel with BDSM themes ... which seems like irresponsible reporting;

b) the origins of this novel in fan-fiction intrigue me; and

c) I'm really really irritated by the implicit suggestion in both pieces that women reading erotica = women unhappy with their actual sex lives, and/or is some new "trend" ... hello? When are we going to get over the fact that women are sexual beings who enjoy sexually-explicit material throughout their lives?
5) There are over 100 emails in my Outlook inbox (work email); I am steadfastly ignoring them until 8:45am tomorrow morning, but am really hoping the majority of them are staff circulars that will have become irrelevant or scan-able by the time I'm back on the job. Tomorrow will be a catch-up day for sure. Ah, adult responsibility: I did long for thee.

6) Hanna said to me last night as we were falling asleep at the Super 8, "I think next year we should plan to stay for two weeks, so that we have more time to relax and to see the people we care about." Which seems like a pretty strong vote for the in-laws to me! I'm so lucky to have a partner who gets along with my family, and likes the place where I grew up (while sharing my dislike for the area's conservative politics).

6a) Having previously exchanged an engagement cookie (fig) and engagement mustard (cheddar ale), we found ourselves discussing the possibility of engagement tattoos while driving along Route 2 this afternoon. Something symbolic that could then be worked into slightly larger wedding tattoos when we finally get around to eloping (my mother says we should head for Ireland). If anyone out there has working knowledge of Gallifreyan and would be willing to help us work up designs using our initials let me know!


observations III

1) Went to breakfast at Marie Catrib's in Grand Rapids this morning with Hanna, my parents, and dear friend Joseph.  Their apple onion tart is to die for (seriously -- I'm already hungry for seconds!) and Hanna and I discovered their Turkish coffee. *swoon*

2) At Argo's used books and Redux Books in East Town, bought Neil Miller's In Search of Gay America (1989) and Tim and Beverly LaHaye's The Act of Marriage: The Beauty of Sexual Love (1976). I am taking great pleasure in stacking these one on top of each other. Hanna says she might disown me. I promise my review of the LaHaye will include the mid-70s author photo which totally rocks.

3) While Hanna got a kick-ass black & sparkle manicure (at half the Boston prices!) I read the Miller at lemonjello's coffee shop and remembered how his Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present (1995) was, along with Lillian Faderman's Surpassing the Love of Men (1985), one of the first books on homosexuality per se I ever purchased or read. I bought them both at Powell's in Portland (Ore.) on Thanksgiving break in 2001 while I was at the Oregon Extension. Because just that summer Joseph had confided in me he thought he might be gay. Looking back, I'm impressed one of my first impulses was to buy history books!

4) There are ways the logistics of life here feel so much simpler. I don't mean that in a "rural life is idyllic" way, mostly because it's not idyllic here -- or rural. But in a "running errands doesn't exhaust me here the way it does in Boston" way. Streets don't feel crowded and hectic. Sure, the parking can be a bit frustrating, but mostly it's free and available if you're willing to walk a block or two. Downtown's in walking distance. And things are restfully less expensive than in Boston. I know our jobs aren't here, and some of our favorite book stores, libraries, and indie coffee shops ... but I seriously wish there were portkey technology on the horizon, 'cause I feel like my energy level would be so much better if I could live here and work there. I'm just not psychically wired for city life.

5) Off to bake cheddar, beer and mustard pull-apart bread. Food, books, and friendship. At least I can say that our activities on vacation and in non-vacation life are mostly the same, excepting not having to get up for work. And less time spent at the computer, which is restful.


observations II

1) Had a lovely evening on the Women's Studies panel with fellow Hope College graduates Janet Swim ('83), Anne Lucas ('96), and Susan Kioko ('09). It was humbling to hear how other people have gone on to make use of their feminist coursework in fields as diverse as environmentalism, legal aid, and nursing. They filmed the discussion and I'm hoping it will be available online at some point. You'll see it linked here if it is! I was impressed by the quality of questions from the audience, and the thoughtfulness of all the panelists' answers.

2) While we're on the subject ... if you haven't already signed Bridget McCarthy's petition to the Board of Trustees regarding Hope's institutional statement on human sexuality, stop on by Change.org and add your voice to the multitude!

3) In a post-presentation haze this morning, everything felt a bit flat -- but biscuits, lemon curd and onion relish from The Biscuit restaurant helped! Also pledging to support Miriam's Radical Doula Guide project at IndieGoGo.

4) Now time for a nap before going out to Grandma's to watch Desk Set this evening.


observations I

1) In my mind's eye, my home town is seen from the perspective of someone about three feet tall -- even though I lived here for 27 years. So when I come back to visit now, the houses all seem wee and the distances so much shorter!

2) The talk I have yesterday on library science was attended about half and half by students interested in librarianship and former professors of mine who want to see what I'm up to. It's a little fish-in-a-fishbowl feeling, but at least they all kept saying I looked happy and well! It's humbling to have so many folks proud of me in one room.

3) It stays darker so much longer in the mornings here in Michigan than it does in Boston (damn curvature of the earth!) ... I'm typing this at quarter to seven and there's still only the barest hint of light in the sky.

4) No matter how long the visit, and how little you plan to do by way of social commitments, the time always feels too short and too crowded. Visiting like this is simply not an adequate substitute for living in proximity. I really wish someone would get on developing portkey or TARDIS technology.

5) lemonjello's has invented a new latte with honey and vanilla which is awesome. And their honey bran muffins are still delicious.

More soon!


the feminist librarian is off to michigan!

So it's that time of year again, and Hanna and I are off to Michigan for a week of vacation (for her) and vacation/work (for me). I've been invited to give a couple of presentations at my alma mater, Hope College, one on my life as a feminist and one about my life as a librarian. As my friend Molly pointed out on Twitter recently, I have a whole blog to pillage for subject matter!

lemonjellos (holland, mich.), May 2011
Seriously, though. If you're a Hope College community member, I'll be on campus Monday, 5 March, 4:00pm, in the Granberg Room, Van Wylen Library, to give a talk on my emerging career as a professional librarian. Then on Tuesday, 6 March, 7:00pm, I'll be part of a panel of Women's Studies Program graduates discussing how the program affected our lives and our work. The Tuesday event is part of a longer program celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Women's Studies program at Hope.

that would be me on the left, circa 2005
This is my first real visit back on campus since graduating, and while I have a contentious relationship with the college as in institution, I'm looking forward to getting a sense of how current students and faculty are feeling about the direction of the college and the role of feminist thought and practice in that space.

I'll be taking lots of notes and look forward to sharing my reflections and experiences with y'all upon my return. In the meantime, I anticipate posting will be light-ish while we're on the road.