domain expiring in february


As I have transferred all existing and new content to the feminist librarian, I am letting the annajcook.com domain registration expire February 9, 2015.

After that date, this blog will continue to exist under annajcook.blogspot.com as a record / back-up of the feminist librarian from 2007-2014. However, as has been the case since September 1, 2014, all new content will continue to be posted at thefeministlibrarian.com.

Hope to see you there!



after 7 years, the feminist librarian is moving!

As I noted before the August hiatus, the feminist librarian is migrating to Wordpress! It now sports its own domain name: thefeministlibrarian.com. The site is now live and you are welcome to visit, poke around, and let me know what works and doesn't.

Beginning September 1st, 2014 all future posts will appear in that space, so please update your RSS feeds, bookmarks, etc. accordingly.

I have migrated all 1,000+ posts from this space, complete with comments. I have no plans to delete this site in the short term, but annajcook.blogspot.com will become an inactive historical record rather than the home of the feminist librarian moving forward. 


august blogging vacation + september migration

Brought to you by the peaceful galleries of the
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
I'll be taking August off from blogging here at the feminist librarian as I wrap up some other writing projects that have been too long delayed. I hope that all of you are having a peaceful and/or productive end to the summer and I will see you in September!

... Which brings me to my related announcement that the feminist librarian will finally be migrating from Blogger to Wordpress at the end of the month, and graduating to its own domain name! Details will be posted here once the new space has been designed and gone public, and the archives from 2007-2014 will remain here as well as migrating to the new site. After seven (!) years, I have decided it's time for a change.

See you on the flipside.


booknotes: out in the country

Last week I reviewed Sarah Schulman's Ties That Bind which explored from a very personal perspective the ravages of familial homobigotry. This week I picked up and read Mary L. Gray's Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America (New York University Press, 2009). Gray's ethnographic study of queer teen lives in rural Kentucky took place in the early 2000s and she published her book in the same year as Schulman. Both authors write thoughtfully about the importance of family in the lives of their queer subjects -- though from very different perspectives. Ironically -- given our usual narrative of urban tolerance vs. rural bigotry -- Gray's consideration of the place of family within queer lives is much more nuanced than Schulman's.

As a researcher, Gray came from a rural California childhood followed by an urban California adulthood working with queer youth organizations. Her exploration of teen lives in rural Kentucky was prompted by national attention on the ways in which the Internet and other media connectivity and queer visibility might work differently in the lives of rural young people rather than urban young people. As she (and others before her) have pointed out, much of our understanding of queer coming-of-age posits a rural-to-urban migration in which our queer selves are incapable of being fully discovered and/or nourished until we "escape" our hometown settings and find the LGBT community in physical locales -- gay bars, lesbian bookstores, gay ghettos, queer action groups. Pushing back against this assumption, Gray sought out youth who were either unable or uninterested in making such a migratory journey of self-discovery. How would young queer people without the resources or desire to leave rural life for the city construct a queer identity?

In Ties That Bind, urban-based adult writer Schulman struggles with familial rejection in the face of her queer activism and chosen family of fellow lesbian, gay, and other non-straight friends. Ties is firmly situation in the milieu of Gay New York, a landscape we all (at least think we) know well, and situates its lesbian protagonist (Schulman) as an adult who struggles to connect with her parents and siblings, but as an adult dragging them to therapy appointments or participating (or not) in rituals like the weddings of relatives. Schulman's pain is that of an adult attempting to reconcile with the failures of her parents' parenting.

In contrast, Gray explores the dense interconnectivity necessary for survival in isolated rural settings. Families of origin, she argues, make or break the experience of rural queer folk in communities where the familiar is often the key to acceptance. Straight family members can act as brokers for their queer youths -- turning the queer into the familiar, making one of "them" into one of "us". The most resilient teens whom Gray encountered were typically youths whose parents supported their identity explorations and attempts to build broader support networks: paying for internet or access to health services, driving them long distances to regional meet-ups, participating in protest actions, or other acts which communicated to fellow townsfolk that their child was not to be disavowed. The more vulnerable children were those whose families either could not or would not provide such support -- in part because, unlike urban queer adults, these youths could not take the city bus to the "gay" district or surreptitiously visit the "women's" bookstore.

In some ways Gray's work underscores the central point that Schulman makes: that queer family members can't just disown their families of origin -- no matter how anti-gay those families are -- and replace them with chosen families without consequence. For Schulman, those consequences are mostly emotional and psychological: the pain of rejection, the loss of future relationship. For Gray's teens, in addition to the emotional support (or pain) a family can provide (or cause) for their queer members in a hostile culture, families are also the gateway to material resources and community belonging. The visibility of queer culture in the media, and access to information -- plus the ability to connect to far-flung networks -- that the Internet provides cannot replace, for queer youth, the insulation that local relationships provide. Nor does an urban-oriented narrative of queerness reliably serve these young people as they work to create usable identities for themselves and their communities.

This was a useful read, one which I might pair with Pray the Gay Away (also about queer folk in the Bible Belt around Louisville, Kentucky) and Not in This Family (challenging the narrative of universal familial rejection of queer family members in postwar America).


friday evening thoughts on sociality

I had lunch with a friend today - a rare opportunity though we live in the same city and, until recently, only several streets away from one another. We both work, on opposite sides of the River of Charles, we're both married -- to spouses we like to spend time with on a daily basis --, and both of us are that breed of people society identifies as "introverts." Working in public services, at the end of a seven, eight, nine hours of being "on" around other people, the last thing we usually have oomph for is happy hour or dinner out. Most days, I can barely string out enough public-space energy to pick up a book at the library, stop by the back, or pick up a foodstuff on my way home.

What this means, in practical day-to-day terms, is that the maintenance and cultivation of social connections with my people is spatially and temporally constrained: I need to be careful about how far, how long, and how many commitments I make. Since weekends need to be reserved, to a great extent, for quiet recharging -- both Hanna and I need down time -- we can usually at most make one social plan a weekend. A booked week, for me, usually looks like a weekend activity and a weekday lunch with a colleague. Three such meetings and I start to feel prostrate with togetherness.

This, I must stress, even with people I like very much and enjoy being around.

I was thinking, after the lovely lunch with my friend today; a lunch at which we talked about our mutual need for such unscheduled weekends, and the affective labor of public services work that -- while rewarding in the context of professional work we both chose and (mostly) love -- takes a particular toll on the private lives of those introverted people who choose to pursue it. In that it enforces a rather severe rationing of non-waged sociality.

I grew up outside this system of required togetherness (at work; at school) that our Western society largely expects of its worker-citizens. This might surprise people who assume homeschooling is like their worst memories of being trapped at home 24/7 with family members during summer vacation. I think my mother experienced some of that intense isolation of early-childhood parenting when we were small, but for much later childhood and early adolescence what I chiefly remember is the hours of privacy or one-to-one play (with a sibling, with a friend). I would closet myself in my room with a stack of books from the library and sometimes not emerge until they were devoured -- perhaps then only to run down the street for more! College and graduate school, in some ways, allowed me to extend this period of self-organized time; work and classes took social energy, but long periods of uninterrupted, solitary study time fed the soul. Living alone, or at the very least with a room of my own, gave me the space to cultivate intentional friendships and the energy to nurture them.

Such time is precious difficult to come by these days.

Which brings me to a related point: that I continue to be grateful, in this period of space/time social drought, for the Interwebs and the social media tools that allow me to maintain my friendship and family ties -- even broaden them! -- in an ambient fashion. There's a sociological or psychological study to be made somewhere about how letter-writing, emailing, Twittering, Facebook updates, Google Chat, text messages, and the plethora of other tools we have for relationship maintenance in the virtual realm allow those of us with limited social energy to be social in ways that aren't emotionally and physically exhausting. Perhaps this isn't true for every introverted or highly-sensitive person; certainly the demands of connectivity have felt like a burden when I forget to use them as tools for my own means and ends. But I am unequivocal about the fact that they've given me a "third space" somewhat parallel to both the public and private parts of my days, weeks, months, in which to find a tenuous balance of self among others and keep my sanity at the same time.

This blog post has been brought to you by a day of rumination. Have the best weekend you can envision.


booknotes: ties that bind

Me, footnote hopping. The story of my life.

I found Sarah Schulman's Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences (New Press/Perseus, 2009) reading The Tolerance Trap and requested it inter-library loan thinking it was going to be a study of the ravages of anti-gay animus within families. Instead, it is more of a philosophical-political reflection on the practices within families (and by extension within the wider culture) that create we queer people as a lesser group. Schulman draws powerfully on work done by feminist activists around domestic violence and the workings of other types of prejudice such as antisemitism to describe how queer family members are isolated and scapegoated within families -- and how the social systems these families are a part of support that violence through passive bystander behaviors. She illustrates a lot of her observations with stories about her own family's unwillingness to maintain positive connections with her because of her lesbian identity: parents who say in front of her that she was born "bad'; siblings who refuse to allow her contact with her their children.

Reading Ties That Bind was personally disorienting as an experience; I kept checking the publication date -- really? 2009? -- because so much of what she was describing felt like the climate of the 1970s and 80s rather than the early 2000s. Which is definitely a good reminder that our experience, as queer individuals, of homobigotry is far from uniform, and that our treatment at the hands of friends and family shapes how we interpret and react to the structural and more distant social inequalities that continue to color all of our lives. Because of my family's support, and because of the social norms of my immediate community (expecting nondiscrimination), when I do encounter erasure or hostility I experience it as a departure from, rather than a reinforcement of, the morality of my people. That is, not only do I believe that there's no reason to fear my sexuality would harm children, but all of my friends and family members would look at someone like they were right bastards for suggesting such a thing.

That kind of support, in turn, leads to resilience for those of us who have it: with our many-layered communities behind is, we aren't isolated in the face of structural discrimination or individual acts of bigotry. For those whose families do disown them, as Schulman points out, the recourse is the much more difficult and contingent road of creating your own support system from scratch, always with the voices in the back of your head -- the parental authorities of your childhood -- telling you how worthless, how lesser-than, you are. These messages, in turn, reinforce the messages of the dominant culture that continue to erase, tokenize, or segregate the narratives of queer lives -- treating them as specialist subjects, "adult" content, something uninteresting to a more general readership or audience. As Elizabeth of Spilt Milk pointed out just this past week, Western culture still resists the notion that queer lives are human lives and as such deserve representation within popular cultures, curricula, and as commonplace within society. This is, essentially, the same message Schulman sought to impart in 2009, and despite legal gains in the rights arena we haven't made much headway in queering the mainstream.

In short, check Schulman out if you'd like to be reminded that things don't inevitably get better, and that our survival and resilience as non-straight people still depends a frightening amount on contingencies such as what family we were born in, what location(s) we grew up, where we find jobs, and how mainstream our queer performances are (not to mention all the other intersectional aspects of self we juggle: class, race and ethnicity, gender, citizenship, religion, body size, dis/ability, etc. etc. etc.).


"which materials in [your] collections support gendered stereotypes?" [comment post]

Mildred Mitchell
sitting under a frescoed wall (1918).
Massachusetts Historical Society
This week, I was contacted by a PhD candidate doing research on "archives and the construction of female identity." I had much to say about a couple of the questions, which I thought might be of more general interest to readers of this blog. So here is what I wrote!

4. Which materials in [your] collections support gendered stereotypes? Are there any examples materials which subvert these stereotypes? 

I find the framing of this question strange and confusing, perhaps because I am trained first and foremost as a historian. As a historian, I approach all collection materials as sources which can be understood in many ways. Most cultural artifacts do not in and of themselves support or subvert limited or fixed stereotypes or agendas; these artifacts are what we (the researchers) and any other individuals who interact with them (from creation to destruction) make of them. Rather than asking whether any particular item in our collections supports or subverts a particular understanding of gender (or sexuality or race or etc. etc. etc.), I would ask what the item might be able to tell us about how its creators and contemporaries understood gender (or etc.) in a multivalent sense. How did human beings make meaning using this item? What can this item tell us about the time and place in which it was created and used?

To use an example from the MHS collections which I, personally, have incorporated into my work as a historian, there is a deposition in the Godfrey Cabot Lowell Papers taken in 1914. It is the deposition, by a male member of the legal-judicial system, of a female office/retail worker about her experience of sexual-medical impropriety at the hands of a male doctor treating her for gynecological ailments. The deposition, as far as I have been able to piece together, is part of a larger case being assembled against the doctor for his activities, medical and personal. You can read the conference paper I wrote about the document here.

If we were to ask your question(s) of this item: does it support or subvert gender stereotypes, what would a meaningful answer be? One could argue the deposition was constructed in a context over-determined by a number of gender-based narratives: the female office worker, the sexually-naive spinster, the predatory male gynecologist, the hard-boiled private detective, the patriarchal morality police, the sexually immoral widow/madame with whom the doctor is living and working. The deposition and associated detective’s reports draw on all of these. Yet the deposition also offers up gender surprises, given its historical context. How did Nellie Keefe, the deposed woman, decide to speak out against the treatment that made her feel uncomfortable? How should we think about the persecution of a doctor for living with a woman (and perhaps enjoying a consensual sexual relationship with her) while unmarried? What bearing does that have on his medical practice? How are the women patients understood within the context of the case as gendered subjects? How does their agency in speaking out against the treatment they were uncomfortable with play into the “long game” persecution of the doctor for his domestic arrangements? Was the doctor acting inappropriately, based on the standard medical training of the day, in giving the treatment he did? To what extent are both women and men in this narrative leveraging and falling victim to narratives of gender salient in their specific time and place. Most historical texts (like our lived experiences!) are complex, multi-layered things which work within and against dominant narratives simultaneously.

As a reference librarian who works with researchers doing scholarship in the areas of women, gender, and sexuality -- along with other intersecting aspects of subjectivity and identity -- I see my job as helping a researcher to ask new questions of materials; to complicate our reading of what might at first glance seem self-evident as a source. I spend time brainstorming with researchers about where they might find documents or artifacts that speak in some way to their questions about gender and sexuality -- and the work they do with those items is quite often fresh and unique, challenging us to see particular moments in history and culture in new ways.

5. Should women’s collections, both those created by women and those about women’s activities, be kept in separate repositories or locations? Why? 

I believe in the organizational power (in a positive sense) of designated spaces and groups whose mandate is specifically to collect, preserve, and make accessible the documentary record of historically marginalized populations. The genesis of many special collections repositories for under-represented groups (people of color, religious minorities, women, LGBTQ folks, etc.) has often been within those communities themselves through grassroots organizing -- e.g. the Lesbian Herstory Archive. I believe those community-based archives have done (and continue to do) important work. I am also glad to see more conventional archives beginning to collect materials that more fully document all aspects of our culture and society. It is my hope that we will continue to have both types of archival repositories into the future, since I believe the “activist archive” and the institutional archive both serve important purposes within the ecosystem of the library/information professions.

Historically, the physical location of an archive or a collection has had significant bearing on who is able to access the materials the archive holds. Hence, it has often made sense for similar / like materials to be gathered in a specific location so that researchers can access them for a topical research project: e.g. lesbian pulp novels. Collecting policies often reflect this -- we don’t just take every collection we are offered, but rather consider whether it complements the other collections we have, or the goals of our repository in documenting certain aspects of history and culture: here at the MHS environmental history, for example, and Massachusetts family papers of the 18th and 19th centuries. My wife works at a repository that collects materials related to the history of medicine, so they collect physicians’ and medical researchers’ papers as well as print materials. As we are able to make collections more accessible through digitization, such geographical proximity can matter less (but still matter today, and will continue to matter for decades to come).

As an “activist archivist,” what I care about is that someone, somewhere, is collecting the materials related to histories of a wide range of people and groups. I want the employees at the institutions that care for these collections to believe in their worth and the necessity of their preservation. I’m pretty impartial as to whether those materials are held in an identity-based archive (e.g. a “women’s collection”) or whether they are held at a more eclectic institution. What I care about is that they are findable and accessible to whomever wishes to use them to further our knowledge of peoples and pasts. I would further complicate the issue of “women’s collections, both those created by women and those about women’s activities” by pointing out that each of us exists in the world with multiple facets of identity, and that making a present-day argument for the creation of women-focused collections (as opposed to historically women-centered collections) raises questions about how we would formulate a collecting policy for such an institution, and what such a policy implies or outright states about the notion of “women” as a discrete category of being.

Say you have a collection of personal and professional papers of a woman with both African (recent immigrant) and Euro-American ethnic and racialized heritage; she attended a historically-black college as an undergraduate, and then went on to seminary for an M.Div. Following several years as minister in the Reformed Church of America she left the ministry in order to openly marry her partner. She decides to pursue midwifery training so that she and her wife (a primary care physician) can set up a practice working with bisexual, lesbian, and trans* female couples around pregnancy, childbirth, and post-partum care. They become central movers and shakers in the women of color-led reproductive justice grassroots movement. The woman grew up in Georgia, attended graduate school in Michigan, then settled in Chicago with her wife whose family has roots in upstate New York and Western Massachusetts. After a long career in urban community-based women’s health activism, they retire to the Minneapolis/St. Paul (to be near the wife’s brother and his family). So, what’s the best place for these personal-professional records? In an archive that specializes in records of African-Americans? Women? Queer folks? People in the health sciences? Ordained individuals? Social justice activism? Should the records stay local to the Chicago area? Should they go to the HBCU institutional repository as an alumna collection?

I’m a cisgendered woman, but my womanhood is only SOMETIMES the most salient aspect of my identity (like when the Supreme Court decides because I’m a person with a uterus my workplace could pass judgement on my healthcare decisions). I’m also a librarian, a historian, a writer, a Euro-American with strong Scottish heritage, a bisexual lesbian -- where do my papers “best” belong, thirty years from now? It’s an imperfect science at best.

Any additional comments? 

In reflecting on your questions, I will say that it seems important to note that as a graduate student in library science / archives, with a background in women’s studies and history, I would have said my “ideal” job would be to work at a place like the Lesbian Herstory Archives, the Schlesinger Library, the Sophia Smith Collection -- somewhere that specializes in the historical subjects I find most interesting as a scholar. However, the job I found was here at the MHS, a repository that does not focus intentionally on any of my subjects of interest (history of sexuality, history of women and gender, history of social justice activism, history of religion, history of education, all emphasizing twentieth century American contexts…). Over time, I have grown to appreciate the important role I can play as a reference librarian in a more “generalist” research library in suggesting entry points into our collections that get at some of these subcultural and/or marginalized histories. Because of course even when we aren’t visible in the mainstream narratives, we have always been there -- to take queer sexuality as an example, it’s not like women sexually desiring women, and building relationships with them, is an invention of the twentieth century (though “Lesbian” as an identity construct, like “Straight” or “Cis” or “Trans*,” arguably is). So it’s important to remind researchers that they don’t have to go to “women’s collections” or “lesbian archives” to find stories that include queer folk. Which is not to say that finding us (people similar to us) isn’t harder in mainstream repositories, where finding guides and catalog records don’t necessarily indicate those aspects of an individual’s identity … to the extent that those aspects of identity are knowable.


wednesday cat blogging [photo post]

On the 4th of July we had steady rain for over twenty-four hours, and I took the opportunity to catch up on some computer work while Hanna napped. The cats were super helpful as they always are.

Gerry likes to make sure my notebook doesn't go anywhere while I'm not looking.

This is my desk-in-progress (the other work space is Hanna's, usually); I still need a chair that fits the higher table -- it was a curbside rescue, I suspect designed originally as a kitchen island. Gerry needs to keep an eye on that one as well.

Being a cat is SUPER HARD WORK and requires lots of sleeping in order to be prepared for napping.

Teazle's real dream is to steal our two little grey mice from IKEA (named John and Sherlock), but since we keep those out of sight she carries the white mouse around instead. It is shaped less like an anatomically correct mouse and therefore seems to evince less interest than the others.

As you can see, they are enjoying the vantage point of our kitchen window which opens onto the back porch; on Friday they'll get their shots updated and then be allowed to visit with Jelly the curious neighbor cat who shares our balcony ... with no screen in between! To date there has been a lot of sniffing and watching and pawing at the window screens and occasional hissing and pleading to be allowed to plaaay!!

I hope the week is treating all of you well!


booknotes: jenkins, hellekson and busse on fandom

I've been on a kick lately reading about fanfiction and fandom -- it's what with that addictive habit of footnote mining we're taught to do in academia? -- which has been both inspiring and a little bit wistful in that the muse seems to have deserted me this year. Apparently I find time to write porn really easily when I'm procrastinating on graduate thesis revisions, but less so when I'm coping with family loss, moving house, and some major work responsibilities.

Not that I haven't been thinking about a Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries Jack/Phryne three-parter, and a couple of Doctor Who Vastra/Jenny one-offs. Not to mention the outstanding sections of my Eureka series "25 Ways to Kiss a Naked Man." I considered returning to that one back in the spring, but all I wanted to write was end-of-life fic involving hospice care ... which I know would have been good but for which people would hate me eternally, and for which my wife would probably have divorced me. So. There's that.

But in the meantime, I've been reading in the fan studies literature (it's a thing! a wonderful, glorious thing!). The two latest books I've read were both anthologies: Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, edited by Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse (McFarland, 2006) and Henry Jenkins' Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture (New York University Press, 2006). While both assembled by acafen -- fans who are also academics; academics who embrace their identity as fans -- and both well-worth the read, these are two quite different volumes.

Jenkins, whose seminal fan studies work Textual Poachers (1992) I have yet to read, is a skilled writer whose ability to own his expertise without appearing self-important is too rare and to be prized. Despite his renown in the field of popular culture studies, his work is approachable, readable even to those unfamiliar with every theorist or creator whom he cites, not to mention every popular cultural artifact. Fans, Bloggers, Gamers is a collection of essays written after Textual Poachers and before Convergence Culture (2006) and explore topics as diverse as women writing m/m slash ("Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking," with Shoshanna Green and Cynthia Jenkins) the anti-gaming sentiments that flowered after Columbine ("Professor Jenkins Goes to Washington"), and the experience of parenting a teenager who met and courted his first girlfriend online ("Love Online"). Each essay is prefaced by a short introduction/reflection on the context in which Jenkins produced the piece -- and how his thinking has changed (or not) since. I particularly appreciate Jenkins' ease with a mode of thought we would today identify as "intersectional." Perhaps born out of his use of framework that takes fan expression seriously, he is constantly working that tension between dominant-culture narratives and marginalized stories, and how the two interact. Whether he's looking at the queer community response to Star Trek's queer baiting ("Out of the Closet and Into the Universe," with John Campbell) or questioning our cultural obsession with teenage rebellion and dysfunctional teen-parent relationships ("The Monsters Next Door," with Henry G. Jenkins, IV) his perspective invites us to question conventional wisdom about cultural power and the limits of popular narrative.

Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet is an anthology of many voices, and one which is perhaps better approached as an opportunity to graze than a volume to be read from end to end. As Busse and Hellekson explain in their introduction ("Work in Progress"), this is an anthology in which one will find work by fans who are using their academic hats to theorize their fan works and experiences. Each reader will no doubt find particular essays which speak most powerfully to their own experience of fandom. In my case, I was particularly moved by Elizabeth Woledge's "Intimatopia: Genre Intersections Between Slash and the Mainstream," and "Keeping Promises to Queer Children: Making Space (for Mary Sue) at Hogwarts," by Ika Willis.

Challenging conventional wisdom that holds fan fiction erotica to be amateur contributions to the pornography or romance genres, Woledge makes a convincing argument for slash fanfic to be understood as part of a new "intimatopic" genre. "Intimatopic" fiction, Woledge argues, focuses on the development of intimacy between characters; it breaks the genre boundaries of romance fiction in going beyond the get-together plot, and breaks pornography convention by insisting that sex is intimacy first and foremost, even in moments of violence, casual connections, or other "plot what plot" narratives. She argues that in foregrounding character intimacy, writers in this genre challenge us to value the work that goes into building and maintaining intimate relationships. I admit that this framing of fanfic resonates strongly with my own experience as both a reader and a writer. When I write fan fiction I have an emotional agenda, at least part of which is making visible the labor that goes into establishing and sustaining sexual intimacy with another being.

Speaking of emotional agendas, Ika Willis, in "Keeping Promises," explores the queering of mainstream texts -- in this case Harry Potter -- and asks us to question the conventional wisdom that views slash as a form of self-insertion or wish fulfillment: inserting queerness into a heterosexual narrative as a form of "resistance." Instead, she argues, those of us who are queer read the narrative as we read the world around us: as a location in which queer beings exist, and are likely in the closet, in denial, or lacking the self- or worldly knowledge to act on their desires. In this reading, slash doesn't insert queerness into the text; instead, it inserts knowledge of queerness into the text, so that characters can act upon that new layer of information. While Willis is writing particularly about Harry Potter, her essay echoed a lot of more recent discussions about canon queerbaiting in television shows such as Supernatural, where one group of viewers brings their knowledge of queerness to their viewing -- and sees the signs of potential queer desire everywhere -- while another group (at times, frustratingly, those officially associated with the show), denies that there is any canonical ambiguity or room for queerness within character behavior or portrayal. "Keeping Promises" points out the way in which queer fans can bring their subcultural knowledge to the characters (in this case through fan fiction) and enable them to explore what, to us, is an authentic and legitimate part of human experience. As a bisexual lesbian fanfic writer I'm most definitely on a mission to do just this: offer up narratives of same-sex intimacy contained within the boundaries of canonical texts that don't otherwise overtly acknowledge its existence.

Take, for example, my Downton Abbey fic that offers up a moment of sexual intimacy between Isobel Crawley and Violet Crawley ("Between the Elements of Air and Earth"). On the one hand, yes, I wrote it as straightforward porn, because I wanted those two characters in all their respect-hate complexity to get naked and work it out. But part of the energy and passion I brought to that writing was my trifold mission to 1) get more women having sex with women into fan fiction, 2) get more elders having sex into fan fiction, and 3) push fan fiction erotica beyond the typical narratives of sexual intimacy -- narratives that rely heavily on normative, youthful bodies doing penis-centric things. Part of why f/f slash tends to be less explicit; as a culture we still have a difficult time answering the question "what do women do together in bed, exactly?" Consider the work linked above, and all of my other f/f slash, a response to that question.

Sure, on way of understanding "Between the Elements" would be that I inserted a lesbian sex scene (between two bisexual women, or at least women with bisexual histories) into the universe of Downton Abbey. But Willis is suggesting -- if I am reading her essay correctly -- that we could also argue that, like in real life, the lesbian and bisexual narratives were already there, in the closet, like they are for so many of us. And all they needed was the "Mary Sue" insertion of outsider knowledge or vocabulary to give it the opportunity to flower. And hopefully, of course (from the perspective of queer adults), the more queer narratives we encourage to flower, the fewer queer children will grow up without the knowledge or vocabulary to construct their own lives -- without the cobwebs of cultural demurral or denial, straightwashing and gaslighting still rampant (don't kid yourself) today.

So. Go forth and read Fans, Fan Fiction, and fan works themselves!


columbia point / jfk library [photo post]

As the early posts on this blog attest, I used to try and visit new corners of Boston on a weekly basis when I first started graduate school back in the distant period known as "2007." This ambitious project foundered on research paper deadlines, work, grocery shopping, and relationship building. These days, I don't get to new (for me) corners of the metropolis unless it comes by way of another life activity -- a recent meet up with friends took me to Porter Square Books, for example.

Back in June, Hanna had a meeting at the JFK Presidential Library on Columbia Point, so I trailed along and did my research and writing work there instead of at the local public library.

It was clear and breezy, a perfect morning for sitting out in the picnic area and drink our coffee before the meeting began.

While airplanes flew low overhead on their way to Logan, I captured a few photographs of the ocean meeting the land.

Once inside, I set myself up at a table in the atrium to work on some page proofs and listen to tourists gossip. The light and design were pretty spectacular.

Hope y'all had a restful, restorative 4th of July weekend!


so I'm a grand-orphan now

Redwoods; Stout Memorial Grove,
Jedediah Smith State Park
As some of you know, my maternal grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer about a month ago, at the age of ninety-two. After a short, precipitous downhill slide, he passed away in the wee small hours of this morning at his home in Bend, Oregon. It's exactly a month since his diagnosis which was, in turn, exactly a year after the death of my grandmother, his wife of over fifty years.

My thoughts are going to be with my mother and aunt today, as they make sense of the present. Though he was born and raised in Michigan, and in turn raised his daughters there, I'm glad my grandfather was able to die in the high desert country where he and my grandmother made their home in early marriage and returned in the 1980s upon his retirement.


on being "brought out" [anniversary reflections]

It's been roughly five years since Hanna and I started snogging one another.

And, well, other things. It all happened in a bit of a rush; I never was a very patient person once I'd finally determined it was time to do something new. And for us, apparently, the time for sexytimes was late June 2009. 

So yay anniversary!

This weekend I was reading The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality by Susanna Danuta Walters (New York Univ. Press, 2014) and was reminded of the now anachronistic corollary to "coming out," that of being "brought out" into the queer community by one's first same-sex partner. Walters writes:
Being "brought out" has within it that dual sense of sexuality and community. One is "brought out" by another queer person and simultaneously brought into the queer community ... coming out in these earlier and sometimes explicitly political iterations was understood as both a process personal and social, both confessional and performative, narrating a "shared fate" but also an "imagined community" (70).
This got me thinking about my own experience of coming out / being brought out into self-awareness and visible queer sexuality. My attitudes toward coming out as a helpful narrative (for myself; for others) have fluctuated a lot over the years. On the one hand, I definitely experienced the silencing pressure of presumptive heterosexuality, experienced the feeling of being closeted. People assumed I was straight and I mostly didn't correct them.

For twenty-eight years.

On the other hand, I remember having casual conversations with my mother, or reflecting in my diary, as early as age eleven or twelve, that I might possibly could maybe be a Lesbian.

I didn't know Bisexuality was an option, really, back then.

That was part of the problem.

I mean, I knew technically that there was this category of sexual identity "Bisexuality" and that it meant people who were sexually attracted to both men and women, but no one I encountered treated it very seriously. It was an elusive, moving target. Something frivolous, a subject of scorn. Men were liars if they claimed bisexuality and women (mostly college girls) were probably just using it as attention-seeking behavior.

We all know the stereotypes. I internalized many of them. I kept my mouth shut when lesbian women -- women I desperately wanted to like and mentor me -- dismissed bisexuality as tantamount to betraying the sisterhood. I judged my own desires along the gay/straight binary and determined that I didn't have enough Gay Thoughts to be properly Gay. And therefore was, by default, Straight.

So: closeted. Definitely.

Except that I had a floating question mark above myself internally as to my sexual desires, and was open about that speculation, so can I say I was ever in the closet, properly speaking?

I remained Straight for twenty-eight ... well, scratch that, more like twenty-six years. Because meeting Hanna in September 2007 began the long slow process of bringing me out.

It took eighteen months.

Though I started telling people I "wasn't entirely straight" almost immediately. Well, within the first six months. I emailed my mother -- reminding her of those conversations we'd had back in when I was twelve -- and wrote letters to friends, angsting about my crush. I started with the gay buddy whose hand I'd held through the winding path he'd taken out of the Mormon faith and into the imagined (and actual) community of queers.

Now I was joining him there, and I know for a fact he wasn't all that surprised.

Most people weren't. At least not to my face.

I was kind of insulted, actually, at the time. Especially by a few second-hand reports I received from my mother back home of family acquaintances who'd claimed they'd practically known before I did what my sexual preferences were. Who did they think they were?!

But I think their larger point was true: straight or otherwise I'd been choosing the queer path for years. I just hadn't found the right person to share it with until that moment.

Which is part of Walters point -- that for some of us same-sex desires are just one part of what it means to be queer. That for us, "coming out" isn't just about leaving the closet -- but also about being "brought out" into a larger community of people who are non-straight, non-normative in their sexuality and gender, their family formation or way of life.

I was a feminist before I was queer, and queerness suited my feminism just fine.

We've always held hands in public.

Yet I made it a promise to Hanna, even before she knew I'd made it (because she didn't know I wanted her), that I would never ask her to cover, never ask her to elide -- no matter how passively -- the nature of our relationship.

I kiss her goodbye outside work every morning, and hello again when I pick her up every evening.

I like to grab her ass while we're standing in the grocery aisle, or waiting for the subway.

These are acts both quotidian and queer. Quotidian in the sense that, as I tried to tell my mother back in the 90s, girls have definitely been possible for me for a long, long time. Quotidian in that this life of ours fits like a well-worn pair of Birkenstocks (yup, I own two pairs). That falling into bed with a woman with Hanna and building a life with her felt like my kind of normal. Like the kind of life I'd been angling for since I'd first read Anne of Green Gables or maybe ElfQuest (probably both).

Oh; this is what I wanted. It came as both a surprise and a homecoming, tangled up together like our limbs as we fell asleep at night.

On some level I must have always known.

Of course, always knowing isn't always synonymous with being known.

On some level, in the first flush of besotted love, I wanted the politics of the personal to be beside the point, but of course politics are never beside the point. Politics are intimately entangled with the possibilities of our lives, the pleasures, the dangers, what can (or must) remain private and what must (or can) become public. In recent weeks we've marked the first anniversary of the downfall of DOMA and then -- whiplash style -- heard two Supreme Court cases that etched bold messages across our legal landscape as to the rights and respect as human subjects we people with uteri have in this country.

As my rights as a lesbian bisexual expand, however modestly, my rights as a woman contract, inexorably.

My embodied self, and the choices I have made with it, are never been far from being the center of others' self-righteous debate.

So even though I framed myself as always the truth of the matter was that in needing to articulate the "always" I made clear that I had, in fact, been raised in a world that was still, itself, the closet. Entangled in a conservative political climate that framed the issues as "gay vs. straight," silenced by explicit biphobia and implicit bi erasure. I needed the safety of both a community (which I found first, online, through women in the constellations that make up the feminist blogosphere) and a person, Hanna, to "bring me out" into self-knowledge and public visibility.

I needed them to find a home.

Which is why I've circled around to respect the paradigm of coming / bringing out into the open that which has been hidden (from ourselves, from others) and celebrating its existence (our existence) in the world as something tangible and joyful -- something achieved rather than something we've always had.

Because we might always have "known" but we haven't always known.

And its only those around us who make it possible for us to share. Only those around us who make a vibrant, joyful community of sexually-various, gender-flexible people with whom it's possible to imagine a life better than the one you're currently living. Those around us who make it possible to choose queerness with pleasure.

So I say it more often these days: I'm gay. I'm bi. I'm a lesbian. I'm a dyke. I'm queer.

Because people, implicitly, explicitly, told me I couldn't be. Shouldn't be. Wouldn't be.

I tell them, now, with every act of visible queerness: I am, I should, and I will.

I choose my wife over all of them, every day.


holiday weekend post about curtains [some photos & well-wishes]

As the weather gets steamy here in Boston (who was the bright spark who said, "Let's build on a tidal swamp!") I'm taking comfort in our airy bedroom with its new IKEA curtains -- Hanna and I picked them out because they reminded us of Anne of Green Gables.

I'm also rather fond of my new IKEA lamp...

... as is Hanna of hers.

May your weekend, whatever the temperatures, be as spacious and lazy as ours.


booknotes: fic

Because the Brookline Public Library is awesome (they even have an awesome box ... shaped like a TARDIS!) someone on the staff ordered a copy of acafan Anne Jamison's Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World (Smart Pop, 2013). And there I found it, sitting innocently upon the new books shelves (have I mentioned how much I adore public libraries' new books shelves? it's like browsing in a bookstore except you can take everything home for free!). I've found so much eclectic good stuff on the new books wall at Brookline over the past few years, and Fic is no exception. Jamison is a literature professor with a background in English literature and culture, 18th century to the present. As an academic whose scholarly interest is in participatory literary culture, it is no surprise that fanworks captured her interest. This volume is one part narrative history of fanfiction from its "prehistory" in the 1800s to the present, and one part riotous celebration of various fan cultures through both Jamison's own analysis as well as the contributions of fanfic and "profic" writers (at times one and the same!) and other acafen as well. Not quite an anthology, as Jamison's narrative is the "spine" of the text, the contributions by others dodge and weave within the volume providing alternative perspectives, counternarratives, "missing scenes," and many a reading recommendation for the fic-hungry fan.

Jamison uses the lens of several major fandoms to organize her work in roughly chronological order. After a brief sketch of fannish readers of the Romantic period, she begins with the worlds of Sherlock Holmes (19th century to the present), what many believe is the first modern -- and certainly one of the most enduring -- fandoms. She then turns to Star Trek as a way to explore pre-Internet fandom cultures, reaching back into Science Fiction magazines of the mid-twentieth century and forward into the increasing visibility of overtly sexual fanfiction, particularly Kirk/Spock slash as the ground zero couple of queering mainstream narratives through fic. X-Files and Buffy provide fertile ground for exploring how the 1990s expansion of public access to the Internet changed the social dynamics and dissemination of fan creations (as well as their more immediate access to the creators of the original shows around which the fans engaged). Harry Potter and Twilight offer two divergent perspectives on mega fandoms, one much more conscious of its roots in geek/nerd and fandom culture (HP) than the other (Twilight). Finally, sections on the relationship between fanwriting and publishing and current (circa 2012) trends in fanfiction creation bring our rollicking narrative to a close.

As Hanna is fond of pointing out, intellectualizing is an erotic activity for me -- which probably means I'm an acafan even though I don't actually study fandom in academic (would this make me an #altacafan?). If someone can give me a new set of conceptual questions to ponder about a given activity or body of work, I'll be pleased beyond words -- and that's more or less what Jamison provided with Fic. Hers is a thoroughly readable exploration of fandom from the perspective of an insider, yes, but not (I don't think; though I'm an insider myself) accessible only to those familiar with the landscape described therein. She also provides no pat answers to the thorny questions of, to take an example, copyright in the age of "pull to publish," or socioeconomic inequalities shot through our culture that are (unsurprisingly) replicated within fandom even as some fans use their fanworks to create counternarratives and "talk back" to the powers that be, whether the original creators, rape culture, the military in the era of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, or the whitewashed, able-bodied landscape of many mainstream, futuristic worlds (and, yes, sometimes fannish ones as well -- we, too, are hardly free from sin).

If I had any big, new insights while reading Jamison, I think it would be how much the fannish orientation toward one's favorite stories that ends in the production of fanworks is a deeply ingrained one. Most of the contributors to the volume articulated in some fashion having been a fanfic writer before they knew what that was or knew that others, too, did what these individuals felt the impulse to do. I, myself, have a similar "origin story," of responding to narratives in childhood with the instinctive reaction to create more or better or crossover or alternate universe. The altacafan in me is curious whether fan creators could be profiled in certain sociological or psychological ways in relation to the narratives we produce fanworks around. In other words, what is the impetus for us in "talking back" to the stories our culture provides us? What personality characteristics or other factors push us to talk back versus those who don't? There's a project I hope someone in fan studies is already hard at work sorting out. I look forward to reading their book when it's published and available on the new book wall at the Brookline Public Library.

In the meantime, go read Fic. And let it lead you to all the delicious fic that's out there to be discovered. (I have an annotated list.)


taking time for empathy

I spent today away from the computer, writing a letter to a friend and annotating another friend's book manuscript by hand and reading a book and taking a walk around Columbia Point with Hanna. It was a good day. I also spent a lot of time thinking about some of the interactions I've had, and continue to witness, in professional arenas, that evidence a really strong element of dismissal or erasure of the basic fact of life that (as adults) most of us should have grasped by now: Our lived experience is not identical to other peoples' lived experience.

I've seen a LOT of interactions lately -- on the A&A listserv, around the SAA Code of Conduct, in some offline professional conversations, and in some blogging contexts -- where the exchange comes down to Person A ignoring, questioning, dismissing, denying the experience of Person B because Person A has not experienced the same thing in exactly the same way.

There are variations, of course, but the basic theme is always roughly the same:

Person B: I propose that the group do X.

Person A: I don't like that idea! Why would we do X? We don't need to do X. We've always done Y. I'm perfectly happy with Y. Why aren't you happy with Y? If only you understood / were more mature / more professional / acted more like me you would also appreciate the value of Y!

Person B (response 1): I wasn't saying that Y is a bad option, but maybe we could try X also?


Person B (response 2): Since you asked, here are the problems I see with Y. [lists them.] Maybe Y is comfortable for you, but it is causing the problems I just articulated for other people in this group / at this blog / in the world and I find that troubling. With the changes I have proposed in scenario X some if not all of these problems would be alleviated and more people would experience less stress / marginalization / suffering than currently do in scenario Y.

Person A: You are hysterical / delusional / idealistic / young and X would be impossible to implement / isn't needed anyway / would silence people like me / make me feel uncomfortable.

Person B: Um, what? Look at these situations L, M, N, O, and P where the problems I have described occurred and are well documented. Can you not see that situation Y -- while it may not be causing you any immediate problems -- is, in fact, damaging a large number of people in ways Q, R, S, T, U, and V? Couldn't we talk about solutions that would meet the needs of people like you and the needs of people like me in more equitable measure?


Person B: Um, I -- what? Look, we may not be on exactly equal footing here, but it's more that you're older / higher-ranking / socially privileged / TALKING IN ALL CAPS here and I'm trying to accommodate a broader range of voices. I'm trying to remain calm and reasonable here, but you're pissing me off acting like a jerk. I find your aggressiveness pretty much the opposite of awesome here. Look. NO ONE IS TRYING TO TAKE YOUR TOYS. We'd just like to play to. SHARING IS THE DECENT THING TO DO.

Person A: Wow, you have a completely unhelpful attitude. Seriously. You should get some professional help because I don't think we (I) should have to listen to you complain and abuse us (me).

I just keep turning these exchanges around and around in my head and feeling like I'm Finn, in the clip above, doing a little jig in front of Person A in a desperate plea for them to slow down and consider that regardless of whether they believe -- and they may have a legitimate case to make -- that Person B is asking for the impossible or the problematic, the request is coming from a legitimate real-life experience equally valid to the experience of Person A.

Person A doesn't magically get to be the arbiter of what is Most True in the world. (Neither does Person B, but honestly? Most Person Bs in these situations have never labored under that particular illusion.) Both Person A and Person B matter. Equally. As human beings.

And Person A would, frankly, get a lot more empathy from me (and probably other people as well) if they showed any evidence of actually believing that Person B was a) a human being whose b) experience of the world mattered.

And, you know, might have ideas and suggestions and unique perspectives of value to Person A ... if Person A would just take an effing moment to listen instead of shouting and shaming.

Is all I'm saying.

Now go have a restorative, empathy-filled weekend.


booknotes: hollowing out the middle

Footnote mining from Paying for the Party, I ordered Patrick Carr and Maria Kefelas' Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What it Means for America (Beacon Press, 2009) through ILL and read it last week. This slim volume is based on an ethnographic study Carr and Kefelas of three hundred high school graduates from a small, rural town in Iowa they call "Ellis." With a population of about two thousand, Ellis' economy is primarily agriculture and industrial; high school graduates who go on to college rarely return. Those who remain struggle with social isolation and financial solvency. Carr and Kefelas surveyed over three hundred Ellis high school graduates from the 1990s (who at the time of their study were about ten years out from the end of twelfth grade) and conducted approximately one hundred interviews of young adults who had either stayed in, left, or returned to their hometown. Hollowing Out attempts to describe the motivations and experiences of each group of individuals, and ends with some reflections on the role that social policy can (and cannot) play in supporting and reinvesting in rural life nationwide.

What Carr and Kefelas found was that high school graduates were tracked / self-sorted into a handful of broad categories: the Achievers and Seekers, the Stayers and Returners. Achievers were tracked from a very young age by their parents, school system, and socioeconomic status, to leave Ellis and attend a four-year college and possibly graduate school. Most will never return to live in their hometown, having built lives elsewhere with career opportunities and social connections. Seekers don't have the resources to attend a four-year college, even a good state school, and so often join the military; they will leave to explore the world, but have limited socioeconomic mobility and often struggle to find a place in the world beyond the armed forces. Stayers have dropped out of high school or obtained limited qualifications, usually struggle with un- or underemployment, wed and/or become parents much earlier than those who leave. They, and the Returners, often have negative perceptions of the world beyond their small town community -- either because they tried and failed to find a foothold there, or because they have no desire to leave the familiar. Returners are usually "Boomerang" individuals (often women) who may have relocated for an associates degree or attempted a four-year college education but never established connections that made them feel comfortable beyond Ellis. They can also sometimes be Achievers who, for a variety of individual reasons, return home (familial responsibilities, political ambitions, occasionally the right job at the right time). However, these "High Flyers" -- the ones so desperately sought by states with struggling economies -- are few and far between.

In the end, Carr and Kefelas encourage policy-makers to focus less on trying to lure these "High Flyers" back to their states, since individual motivations usually have little to do with initiatives to woo the Achievers into returning, and instead focus their resources on the Stayers and Returners who are already the backbones of their communities and remain an un- and undertapped social and economic resource.

The authors do, eventually, touch upon some of the non-economic reasons that Achievers and others who leave Ellis may resist returning -- reasons such as prioritizing racial diversity or acceptance of queer identity and relationships -- that I think should have been foregrounded a bit more. Granted, interesting work is currently being done to highlight the lives of queer folk in rural America. Rural Americans are not inherently more or less prejudiced toward Othered groups than urban or suburban Americans. However, smaller communities are often self-selecting and more homogeneous; they're also often extremely isolating for those who are somehow different, even if they (we) don't experience overt prejudice or violence. Simply put, it was harder for me, as a bi woman, to find potential female partners (and even potential male partners!) in a medium-sized Midwestern town than it is.

And now, as a married lesbian, I have structural as well as cultural reasons not to return to Michigan: our marriage would not be honored by the state government. So whenever I read about state campaigns for professional Michiganders to return and invest in the state where I grew up -- and which I continue to love in many respects -- I admit I'm not exactly feeling the love. Many of us Leavers have left precisely because our communities scarred us, deeply, and returning to live there would open old wounds.

But in the end, I was uneasy with the way in which the authors' solution seems to encourage a "circling the wagons" approach to social policy, where the parochial reasons that people leave certain communities are glossed over rather than challenged. I wanted them to dig more into the ways, for example, racial prejudice, the gendered division of labor in working class communities, or anti-gay sentiment not only drives Achievers away but harms those who stay behind. Not every person who embodies a marginalized identity (queer, physically disabled, non-white, Muslim, etc.) has the resources to "get out of Dodge" even though we may have strong push-pull factors to do so. While I'm comfortable with studies of rural America that ask us to reconsider our prejudices toward "hicks" living in "flyover" states, the fact that homogeneity was a fact of small town life the authors' touched on but never developed is something I found troubling.

Still, I'd recommend this book to anyone with an interest in how education and social policy reproduce class and cultural divides here in America. The personal narratives woven throughout the sociological analysis will resonate with many readers who grew up in rural or quasi-rural Midwestern communities (raises hand), and provoke reflection beyond personal experience toward broader social trends.


booknotes: paying for the party

Amanda Hess at Slate recently reminded me that I had meant to read Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton's longitudinal, ethnographic study of a cohort of undergraduate women, Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality (Harvard Univ. Press, 2013). Armstrong and Hamilton's research team spent a year in residence at "Midwest University" living with a group of first-year women assigned to one of the school's party dorms; they continued to follow the cohort on their floor for five years -- the typical four years to degree and one year after. What began as a study of young women's sexual agency at a large public university quickly turned into a study of class, and how strongly pre-existing socioeconomic conditions in the lives of each student determined her trajectory through college and into her immediate post-college circumstances. Hess' article at Slate highlights some of what the research team did discover about the sexualization of college women during their work; Paying for the Party delves into the class issues that define many young women's path through university.

The central thesis of Party is that undergraduates at large state universities (the researchers hesitate to generalize from a single case study) are constrained by the available cultures of their schools -- and often the specific dorms to which they are assigned -- in ways that limit the ability of less privileged students to utilize college as a tool for class mobility.

What the researchers found was that the majority of students entered MU on course to take one of three readily-available "pathways" through the college years: the party pathway, the professional pathway, and the mobility pathway. The researchers acknowledge that other pathways exist, both at MU and elsewhere, but for the cohort they studied, these were the three dominant ways of approaching college. The dominant pathway was the "party" pathway; the elite and upper-middle-class women of the cohort arrived on campus with plans to strengthen their already-privileged social networks through the Greek system, tracked to areas of study that facilitated this way of life, and left college with low GPAs and degrees that would have been useless without their high-powered family connections and financial resources. Less privileged women who attempted to access the party pathway typically suffered a high loss of resources and low return. The party pathway also ruthlessly policed the performance of femininity according to a very specific set of elite standards which required money and time to cultivate and maintain.

In addition to the struggles of women on the party pathway who were unable to compete with the elite partiers in terms of time, resources, social connections, and conventional beauty, Paying for the Party also chronicles the way the party pathway culture encroaches on those beyond its borders. Even women who tried to follow the professional or mobility pathway found their efforts stymied by the dominant party cohort. The researchers argue that non-elite students need more robust support for non-party alternatives in order for college to be both cost effective and life enhancing.

There are limitations to the study. For example, I couldn't help but feel that even taking broad social categories into account, the party/professional/mobility pathways schema left out crucial segments of the undergrad population. Perhaps because the research team chose a "party" dorm, or perhaps because they were at a land grant research university instead of a liberal arts college, they failed to identify the pathway that I and many of my closest friends were on: What I might call the "how to live" pathway. This is the pathway that treats learning as a goal in and of itself, and self-knowledge -- as well as wider horizons -- as a valuable part of the college experience on par with skill acquisition/job training. And it's not a pathway exclusively available to the rich; I know students across the economic spectrum who used college as a step-stone to a meaningful life (not necessarily a well-heeled one). Armstrong and Hamilton hint at such rewards toward the end of the book when they profile a student who had limited economic resources, struggled in school, and yet one year after graduating is building a meaningful life for herself working as a ski instructor and living with her partner in the wilderness setting that drew them together.

They also suggest throughout the book that MU has other subcultures of students whose subcultures provide a robust alternative to the party pathway and help students succeed: the arts students, the African-American learning community, the LGBT group. But it seems that none of their cohort originally assigned to the party dorm found their way to these rich subcultures, a telling finding in and of itself that shows how segregated a campus can be, and how the crap shoot of first-year campus housing may make or break students. Particularly the most vulnerable ones whose families have little or no experience navigating higher education.

Despite the study's necessarily narrow focus on its original cohort, I highly recommend Paying for the Party to anyone interested in higher education, economic inequality, and the ways in which gender plays out in specific ways in both social class and college contexts.


on gaining weight

Photograph by Laura Wulf
I had my annual physical last week, and for the first time in a couple of years I actually looked at the reading on the scale when they did all the usual readings. Typically, I stand on the scale facing away from the screen and the nurses at our awesome community health center don't offer the information unless I ask.

I'd gained about ten pounds since the last time I'd bothered to check.

I was (surprising even myself) pretty unconcerned about this state of affairs.

I'm not going to share the exact number or the number(s) I'm comparing it to. The minute I did so virtually every woman reading this post would do the calculation and contrast and compare. Either I'd be smaller, and some part of them would feel jealous, or I'd be larger, and some part of them would feel virtuous. They might judge themselves for feeling that way (I do when I catch myself doing it), but for most of us it's an involuntary reflex.

There's a reason I don't own a scale, and weigh myself at the doctor's office blind.

As photographs on this blog demonstrate, I'm a 5' 10" woman who falls within the median weight range for American women -- which is to say that my clothing sizes are usually available in many styles in most stores. This is a form of privilege, one I've become even more acutely aware of married to a woman whose body is actively marginalized by our fatphobic, sizest culture.

But, like virtually every women and many a man will tell you, being a body of normative size in a culture "at war" against fat (and people we judge for their size) is no proof against a disordered relationship with one's physical self. While never diagnosed with a formal eating disorder, I spent most of my teens obsessing over food and weight, counting calories, bingeing, eating until my stomach hurt and falling asleep each night (yes: every night for nearly a decade) wishing I could just purge and have done with it.

I ended every day -- every day -- from age sixteen to twenty-four feeling some measure of failure for what I had eaten, and what I had done, with my body.

My own struggle with disordered eating was complicated by the fact that my thyroid condition, managed with medication until age twenty-five, meant I was almost always hungry. My appetite was not a reliable measure of what my body actually needed as fuel -- my hormones were telling me I was hungry. I could (and did) eat gallons of ice cream at a sitting and my body would still tell me I was hungry.

When I finally received medical treatment that treated my condition more effectively, I got my libido back and learned what it was like to have an appetite: to eat and feel full. And not think about food every waking moment of every day.

While I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder, I was at my thinnest -- received the most praise from acquaintances for having "lost weight!" -- when my hyperactive thyroid was raging out of control. Did I glow with "pride" at the praise? Some part of me did. The other part of me recognized how fucked up our culture is congratulating a young woman for thinness -- as if body size is some sort of merit metric. When instead, in my case, it was actually a pathological symptom.

One I knew even at the time part of me would miss, because being "effortlessly" thin (while, as I said above, obsessing about my weight and food intake on an hourly basis) was something society rewarded me for.

I was scared, when I chose the treatment that would help me heal -- that would give me my sex drive back (though no doctors thought to mention this as a perk) -- that would allow me to experience appetites and satisfaction -- when I chose the treatment that would give me these things, I was scared that I'd just become "fat."

Because of course, that's what we're taught to fear most of all.

So it was remarkable to me, last week, when I walked into the doctor's office and discovered that I now weigh about thirty pounds more than I weighed at the point when I was the sickest (and most obsessive -- and most frequently praised). It was remarkable that I didn't much care.

I'm growing into myself. That's what I thought. I'm growing older. And my mind meant that in a positive way. I'm thirty-three now; nearly ten years older than I was then. Bodies change. As I grow into my middle age, I may continue to gain weight slowly, incrementally. If family size and shape is any guide, I've likely settled more or less at the point where I will probably stay as I grow older.

And even if I grow larger, become more, I resist the notion that this is something I should categorically fear, manically avoid, judge myself in relation to. I've got other things to focus on, thank you very much. I refuse to spend my energy struggling to control my body size when there's overwhelming evidence to suggest that such efforts are both futile and unrelated to one's overall health outcomes.

I refuse to fear in myself what I embrace in others: embodiment in the selves we have.

I'm grateful for how little the number mattered. It's been a long journey to this point, but well worth the climb.


once again upon a listserv: some follow-up thoughts about #thatdarnlist

Note to non-archivist/librarian readers: this blog post is largely professional insider discussion and, while it may be interesting to some of you it will likely be tl;dr for many others. You have been warned!
a radical feminist cabal (via)
In the three weeks since I published my post about professionalism, privilege, and power, discussing the Archives & Archivists listserv, I’ve had further interesting adventures -- both inspiring and dispiriting -- around what I wrote, how I wrote it, and the manner in which it was shared. Having (mostly) weathered that storm, I offer a few further thoughts about what went down, and how, and the manner in which I’ve chosen to participate in this conversation moving forward.

My last substantive listserv email on this subject went out to the listserv on June 5th and can be read here. The two listserv threads to which that message refer can be read in their entirety here and here. What I would like to share in this post are two items of gratitude, four items of critical reflection, and finally an invitation.

For those wishing to skip straight to the invitation, please see my sounding of interest.

1) I am grateful to connect with so many likewise-minded and open-minded librarians and archivists since writing my initial post.

A huge big thank you to every individual who linked to, retweeted, liked, commented, emailed, and otherwise showed support and understanding for my arguments around these issues. I tried to thank as many of you as I could directly and personally. As I remarked to one man who spoke up in support, I may not “need” defenders but it is awfully nice not to feel alone in my perceptions or isolated in speaking up. Those who could not speak in public spaces, but did so in private, also counted in this way.

The outpouring of thanks I received from people (a majority women, but also men) who have experienced or witnessed professional bullying and marginalization in our field confirms my own perceptions that this is not an isolated “bad apple” situation. Instead, it is a community-wide, cultural problem that requires a collective response. I have been thinking about ways to continue the conversation with all of you (more below), hopefully calibrated to give particular support to those with the fewest emotional or professional “spoons” to give.

2) I am grateful for my co-workers and supervisors who value my attitude, approach, and contributions.

I want to particularly thank the individuals at my workplace, including people to whom I report as an employee, who have supported me and affirmed my right to speak up. It was a sweet victory, I’ll admit, to be explicitly thanked for the professional manner in which I conducted myself. Some of my detractors have suggested my employer should be ashamed of my behavior; instead, I am proud to work at an institution where challenging my profession to do a better job at being inclusive and social justice oriented is valued. As a supervisor, I have tried to foster a workplace culture of engaged professionalism and passionate advocacy. I also demand that all of my staff, regardless of their age or professional status, be treated with respect as human beings and archivists/librarians. I thank my mentors for modeling and making this possible.

3) “Benign neglect” is not benign. It’s just neglect.

Moving on to more critical points, I’m going to begin by reiterating that abdication of responsibility for a situation is, in fact, an active decision for which a person or group bears responsibility. When individuals are being bullied, harassed, condescended to, discounted, or otherwise marginalized, “benign neglect” is not benign. It’s just neglect.

In this situation, we had a group of people, the Dissenter(s) and Supporters, explaining that situation Q wasn’t working for them -- for a variety of intertwined reasons. Then we had a group of people whose response could be summed up as “I like things the way they are,” or “The way things are works for me.” There is nothing wrong with that experience; it is yours. Yet it does nothing to address the issue, which is that the status quo isn’t working for other people. Yes, your experience is part of the picture. But it’s not the only, most important, or truest perspective on the situation. Even if situation Q is the most ideal world you can imagine for yourself, I believe the fact that it is not working for someone, perhaps actively injuring them, should be of concern. To you.

But it became clear over the course of the situation that the majority of those speaking up within the listserv forum do not feel that way. I hope (suspect) this is not true of the over six thousand subscribers, the majority of whom are lurkers.
IMPORTANT: If you’re one of those concerned individuals, please take the time to comment on the SAA draft Code of Conduct before comments close on June 22nd. This Code of Conduct is a formal statement that SAA does not condone, among other things, “abusive verbal comments,” “deliberate intimidation,” and “sustained disruption of talks or other events.” While not sufficient on its own, a Code of Conduct gives Dissenters and Supporters a framework for seeking redress. Even if you are not a dues-paying SAA member, you can email your comments and support for the CoC to saahq@archivists.org.
4) As I predicted in my original post, the dynamic of bullying and exclusion did repeat itself again … the following week, and again … the following week.

Following my post, which was eventually circulated to the listserv by X himself, we had an “on list” discussion that basically replicated the original discussion. Only with a few extra juicy contributions from “professionals” accusing me of gross impropriety and paranoid delusion. This time, I was cast in the role of Dissenter (with some excellent Supporters). Once again we had Fixers, Defenders, Concern Trolls, Drama Queens, and Shamers all piping up in the more or less predictable pattern.

As I prep this post to go live, I'm watching the cycle unfold all over again.

My central takeaway from the experience is therefore that I learned nothing new that I hadn’t learned from last time; the “discussion” only served to further reinforce my judgments regarding the collective will to change that I had made earlier. As I wrote on Twitter:
This dynamic also reinforces my point (perhaps not as clear as it should have been in the original post) that the individual I called X is not personally the core problem here. I have some issues with his attitude and actions, but his behavior causes problems not primarily because of how he behaves but because of how the community incorporates -- dare I say centers -- him and others with a similar M.O. Again, this is not a "bad apple" situation, but a community culture issue.

5) It is not my job to educate the (obviously reluctant) list community on the dynamics of social inequality. 

I've had some people encourage me to approach SAA about collaborating on a fix to this situation. I gotta say, my feels at this point are that I'm not feelin' it.

On the one hand, I’m an inveterate Meddler. As my wife can tell you, someone punches down and she glances at her watch to start counting down the seconds until I can no longer help myself. That’s how this whole kerfluffle started, after all. Last year, I subscribed to A&A after years of just skimming the archive because someone was being a bully and I couldn’t let that sort of nonsense stand. I waded in this time around because of more or less the same dynamic. And I know I’ll be wading in again (and again, and again) in future.

But ultimately, the suggestions that I “reach out” to SAA or otherwise labor in a more formal capacity to change the situation leave me pretty skeptical. There are people who do this sort of training for a living; I am not one of them. And, as the Code of Conduct demonstrates, we’re not reinventing the wheel here. I refuse to fall into the trap of what might be called “teaching up,” or buying into a framework that requires the oppressed to educate the oppressor before those in power consider the need for change. I shouldn’t have to “ask” or offer my labor in order for education and change to happen. It should be (and hopefully is) happening from within.

6) Which brings me to the point that all of this is, in fact, emotional/mental/physical labor. Professional labor.

I’m aware that throughout this debate I’ve chosen (and it’s been a conscious choice) to play according to the rules of a politics of respectability. There’s a reason my boss got praise for my professionalism from others in the field, and that’s because I exerted a powerful lot of will over my desire to compose emails that were more along the lines of “I can’t even with this effing entitlement,” or “You, sir, are a paranoid dipshit.” This was exhausting. It cost me several sleepless nights (and the subsequent price of excessive coffee). I sat at my computer shaking with adrenaline, poured over every obsessively-crafted email and comment before hitting “post” or “send,” and had to keep going back after my words went live to re-read them and reassure myself I had said what I meant to say, the way I meant to say it.

Taking a page from Melissa McEwan’s recent playbook, I’m acknowledging (and will continue to acknowledge) this labor, and its unequal distribution along a number of vectors including gender. I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that I spent more time considering how to discuss my detractors' (and in some cases accusers') arguments than at least two of the more vocal individuals spent thinking about me as a human being and as a colleague. I am extremely lucky (see #1-2 above) to have allies, among them supervisors, whose trust in my professionalism I have earned. If I were someone more vulnerable, the accusations that were leveled against me within this professional community could have had real consequences for my career.

I don’t get the sense the individuals who clicked “send” on those emails or “post” on those comments actually thought about that -- except perhaps in the hopeful "she ought to be put in her place!" sense.

This highlights the dynamics (gendered and otherwise) at play here that I outlined in my original post. I -- the younger, early-career librarian, queer female blogger -- understand that my (professional) reputation is contingent on those with more power in (my professional) world “allowing” me to speak. I write, I revise, I document, I supply evidence, I qualify. While at least one of the men who disliked what I had to say wrote emails calling me a “radical feminist” (intended to be insulting but, um, it’s kinda right there in the name?), demonstrating poor reading comprehension and research skills, and suggested to a forum of six thousand individuals in my field that I had leveled baseless accusations of “moral impropriety” against X -- a (deliberate?) distortion of my argument.

Emails to which he signed his own name, job title, and place of work.

My point is that while I was up sleepless at 2am wondering if my carefully worded emails or carefully personal blog posts were going to upset someone, somewhere, whose opinion I care about -- or whose opinion may have professional consequences for me -- or who might decide to take out his anger against me in more personal ways -- this individual felt comfortable writing a troll-worthy rant about my “Soviet” politics and sending it tied to his real-world identity to a listserv at least nominally administered by his national professional organization. With (apparently) little or no fear of the consequences.

If that isn’t evidence of structural, socialized entitlement I’m frankly not sure what is.

7) The Amiable Archivists' Salon

Which brings me to the seventh and final thought I would like to share with you. And that is something most of you reading this post already know. Working for a more just, kind, inclusive, world (or profession) is work. It’s emotional work, it’s political work, it’s physical work.It takes spoons. Sometimes we have ‘em, sometimes we don’t. And it’s important to know how and when to use the spoons you have to give. So I've been thinking about how I want to use the spoons I have for this particular situation.

After reflection and discussion, I’ve decided I would like to establish an Amiable Archivists’ Salon*, a discussion and support group for those experiencing marginalization within the profession. The listserv lurkers who’ve contacted me more often than not express feelings of intimidation and isolation -- not just on the list, but in their chosen feel more broadly. I would like to do what I can to address that, building ties among us that can hopefully lead to more effective profession-wide intervention and cultural change. I'm a meddler (see #5) and I know I'll keep wading into this situation and trying to make it better, but I'd really rather not do it alone -- or fearful of being "the only one."

If you are interested in participating in these discussions, please fill out this brief ten-question survey to let me know who you are, what issues you want to see addressed, and what your goals for the group would be. If I receive six or more responses by July 1st I will contact the potential participants by email and together we can decide next steps.

*h/t to my wife, Hanna, for what I feel is a suitably "tea time & teach-ins" nom de groupe.