My Fear of Excommunication

I value what I have learned from the world of anti-oppression. It has shaped my development into adulthood. It has made me a better person. It has taught me ways to stand in solidarity with people I care about. These are important parts of who I am and how I move through the world.

And yet, I fear it. Not the work of dismantling oppressive structures. Not the theory, as crunchy and dense as it may be. Not even the often painful self-reflection on my privilege and participation in these systems. I fear the zealotry of the adherents of the Church Of Anti-Oppression.

This is not a fear anyone who has ever taken an Anti-O 101 workshop. This is a fear of those who approach the work of dismantling oppressive structures with fundamentalism.

I am terrified that I will say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, organize an event in the wrong way. I am terrified to make a single mistake because I fear I will be excommunicated. My anti-oppression licence will be revoked, I will loose all credibility, my reputation will be destroyed, and I will be run out of town.

There is a level of irrationality in this thinking, but I do not know to what degree. What I do know is that I let it shape my actions to my detriment. I want to express myself though writing, but it feels safer to say nothing than to use the wrong language. I want to build community by organizing events, but it feels safer to do nothing than to hold a less than perfectly accessible and inclusive event. This fear of the church of anti-oppression stops me from actually doing the work of anti-oppression.

This is not an attempt to avoid responsibility. Call me out, call me in, hold me accountable. I want that. This is an attempt to challenge a fear that I know I share with many of my peers, and to challenge the fundamentalist discourse that this fear is rooted in. Social change is not a neat and tidy process. Social change is messy and complicated and must be grounded in empathy. We are imperfect creatures but that doesn’t mean we can’t strive to improve together.

Hot Homo Response

This post originally started as a response to a Facebook thread in the Cascadia Radical Faeries group and grew into something longer.

Rap and Hip Hop are Black / African American art forms. Cazwell’s video, Hot Homo, much like our community (Cascadia Radical Faeries, the Faeries in general) is extraordinarily white. Yet we extoll it for it’s diversity: different sizes, hairinesses, and muscle densities of white people!

The white gay men’s community is notorious for appropriating culture from black women (and black gay men).Here’s a black woman on the topic. If that’s hard to take in, here’s a gentler version from two white gay men.

Explicit queer rap is old news. Here’s Wut, an excellent and significantly more artistic video from 2012 by the queer black rapper Le1f. Here’s the lyrics.

It’s a shame that in order for something that exciting to become palatable to broader audiences, it first has to be whitewashed. Shockingly, Macklemore (a straight white rapper) was not the first person to address homophobia in rap music. Black queer rappers have been doing that for quite a while.

So other than cultural appropriation, what does this have to do with our community? According to 2006 census figures, black identified people in Metro Vancouver make up barely 1% of the population, so it’s not surprising that black gay men, let alone black faeries are a rarity. (These demographics are not the case outside Cascadia, but that’s another conversation).

The conversation on race and racism in Cascadia is more than a black and white issue. In Metro Vancouver visible minorities were 42% of the population in 2006, mostly folks of Chinese and South Asian descents. If we zoom into specifically the City of Vancouver, that number becomes 51%. Visible minorities are the majority. (There’s some vibe of “we’re scared of immigrants” in this article. Just read it for the figures.)

When I go to heart circles, to gatherings, I don’t see this reflected. I barely even see people of colour represented at all. Can we call ourselves a community of radicals if we only transgress norms around gender and sexuality?

When my peers ask me about the faeries, I hate how I always have to temper my enthusiasm with a disclaimer to the effect of “well, they’re starting to get their act together with trans stuff, cultural appropriation is rampant, and they’re almost exclusive white.”

My community outside the faeries doesn’t just include a diversity of gay cliques, but a diversity of gender histories and expressions (while still identifying in the realm of guys) and a diversity of ethnicities, languages, and stories of how they each came to inhabit unceded Coast Salish territories (just like all of us white immigrants / descendants of immigrants).

I want to be able to Welcome them Home to the faeries, because I know that some of them would love it. I want to be able to say that we’re talking about cultural appropriation, and that we’re exploring how we can engage with anti-racism, white supremacy, and decolonization as a community. What could this look like? This video is from a group of Witches who helped bring these conversations to the recent BC Witchcamp. They made a really awesome zine called Cultural Appropriation in Spirituality which could be a great starting point for some of our own conversations.

I am committed to holding space for some sort of conversation around these topics at the 2015 BC Faerie Gathering. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like, but that’s okay. I plan to explore some of these themes on my blog in the coming months, especially what it means to simultaneously hold privileged and marginalized identities. Most of all, I’m excited to be exploring this with y’all.

My Dark Green Hanky

I wear a dark green hanky, usually in my back right pocket. My favourite description of what this means in the gay hanky code, a method of subtly communicating desire, is “orphan boy looking for a daddy.” I usually say this with a mischievous grin on my face and a twinkle in my eyes.

I don’t really remember when I started to wear hankies. I’m not sure if I even remember what prompted it. I know that now it is an important part of visually expressing my identity: a way to be visibly queer that is largely invisible to dominant culture and symbolism that connects me to a lineage of queer men. Visible queerness, visible expression of my desires, visible connection to history, and often a teachable moment for the young gay men that I work with.

Flagging dark green meant I was interested in older men, and at first these relationships were purely sexual. Discovering the culture of cruising in Victoria, I met men in the trails of Beacon Hill park (and then later online.) They were all at least twenty years my senior, which was fine by me. While it was usually spit and semen we were sharing, occasionally I was privy to their stories as well. I heard stories of what life was like back in the days prior to modern gay rights, and what life was like today for men whose experiences were radically different from my own: bisexual working class men, closeted men in heterosexual marriages.

These encounters were anonymous and ephemeral, with no lasting connections. This satisfied me for a while, but eventually I began to realize that there was something more I desired.

And then I finally found the Radical Faeries. Going to Shine (an intergenerational gay men’s retreat) on Salt Spring Island, was an amazing experience. I felt for the first time like I was part of an extended family. I felt like I could lean back into these people and they would support me. My relationship with my boyfriend was supported by people who had been in similar relationships, who understood the tensions and challenges I was grappling with.

Friendship and community with older guys was a new and different experience. Sure, there were one or two I flirted with a bit, but for the most part these were non-sexual relationships. Lots of stories, lots of support, and lots of learning. I found mentorship for my newly chosen vocation of facilitation and community building; I found guidance in dealing with depression; I found praise and support for my relationship; I found my history.

I continued to have anonymous sex with older guys, build community with different older guys, and wear my dark green hanky.

At the 2013 BC Radical Faerie Gathering, these two seemingly separate forms of desire converged. There were these two older guys who I thought were both extremely attractive, and they thought I was attractive, and they also thought the other was very attractive. Ideal three-way triangle, right? Tragically, no. Neither of them were having sex that weekend because of their relationship agreements. That didn’t mean we couldn’t tease each other, though, and tease we did. We had lots of fun building some delicious sexual tension. We also had space to be intimate in other ways, and one morning, as I was snuggled between the two of them in Heart Circle (a Radical Faerie interpretation of the talking circle tradition), I realized that my hanky wasn’t just about sex; it was also about support, friendship, and love. I wasn’t just flagging daddies for sex; I was flagging daddies and uncles for community, for intimacy, and for family.

I started calling it my intergenerational mentorship hanky.

Intergenerational community building had been one of the core themes of my community involvement up to this point, but I had never drawn a connection between my desire for community and my desire for sex. Suddenly I saw nothing but connections, and I realized it was the same desire being expressed in different ways. The gay men’s community is built around sexuality, so sexual mentorship intertwines cultural mentorship.

In the spring of 2014, I started to realize that my casual non-intimate sexual relationships were not feeding me in the way that they once had. In the past they had been invigorating and exciting, but that had waned and I found myself instead often feeling unsatiated and left craving intimacy. A couple of the casual sexual relationships I had developed unexpectedly had strong intimate components to them, which helped me to realize how important to me that was in all my relationships. Like an art gallery, I started to curate my sexual partners, removing the pieces that no longer fit in the exhibit, and looking for the pieces missing from my gallery of lovers. I eventually realized that missing piece was an older dominant top with whom I had an intimate connection: a daddy. So I set an intention to find one.

I had just chosen my bunk for the 2014 BC Radical Faerie gathering and I wandered outside to find somewhere to paint my nails. There among the faeries I knew were two I didn’t. One of them, with his ball cap, salt and pepper beard, and a softness to his eyes, caught my interest immediately. I sat down on the step below him and introduced myself. As we chatted, I felt a connection, and I decided I wanted to play with him this weekend, thinking that would be all that would come of it.

The next morning after Heart Circle he found me and initiated a conversation that went from zero to deep in about sixty seconds. Building on some of what I had talked about in Heart Circle around finding it challenging allowing myself to be vulnerable in relationships, he shared some of his own experiences, as well as some useful insight. I was even more enthralled: this guy was so much more than just a handsome face. The rest of the day was spent in flirtation. A wink across the dining hall, a wandering hand sunbathing on the dock as we shared stories, a kiss amongst the trees. Playfully introducing each other to our bodies, minds, and hearts; finally climaxing with a deeply intimate and satisfying sexual encounter.

It was a memorable weekend to say the least.

We started texting the day after camp and didn’t stop. I visited him two weeks later. And then the week after that. And then the week after that. Suddenly it was a thing. It was a relationship. This guy wasn’t just a friend from camp. I wasn’t quite sure what he was, what we were, but I really liked it.

Barely a month after meeting we were at a point where we were sharing the vulnerable and sometimes painful stories of our past, and talking around, about, maybe even using “love.”

There were elements of this relationship that I was familiar with. I had had sex with older guys, and I had deep friendships with older guys, and I had fallen in love with guys close in age to me, but the combination of all these things was new and unexpected. It felt really good.

I still wear my dark green hanky. I may not be an orphaned boy anymore, but my desire for intergenerational community and love has certainly not diminished. And I still have that twinkle in my eyes.

You Can’t Say That

Over the holidays, my extended family all got together and something interesting happened. One of my cousins said “that’s so lame” and my dad called her on it.

“Andrew says you can’t say that anymore,” he said.

She asked why not and I explained how just like “that’s so gay” it paints a group of people negatively by using them as a shorthand for something that’s undesirable. We then talked about what sort of things she could say to express what she wanted to, without it being at the expense of a group of people. The conversation moved on.

However, I kept thinking about it, playing it over and over again in my head. The whole experience just didn’t sit right with me. I felt like I should’ve been pleased: oppressive language had been used, someone (other than me) called it out, we had a discussion about it, and I think my cousin got it. That’s what’s supposed to happen, right?

“Andrew says you can’t say that anymore.”

I was stuck on this phrase. Was there a list of what was permissible to be said? Why did I seem to be the arbiter of it? Was this just excessive political correctness, something that only activists were concerned about? Most importantly, was it how I wanted her to remember the experience?

“I shouldn’t say this because Andrew says we’re not allowed to.”

That’s not what I want her to think. I don’t want her to think that some words are inherently forbidden, nor do I want her to base her language use on the apparent moral high ground I have from being one of those social justice types.

It’s also not what I want to think. I want to understand the power and meaning of words, and make conscious informed decisions about how to use them. Instead of not saying something because we’re “not supposed to say it,” I choose not to say “that’s so lame,” “that’s so gay,” or other oppressive words and phrases because I don’t want to cause hurt in someone else, nor perpetuate negative beliefs about certain groups of people.

At the same time, I will continue say words like queer and faggot, which are most certainly on the Official List Of Words Not To Say due to their histories of use as oppressive slurs. I will continue to say them because they are powerful words that I can use to describe myself. Powerful because of their oppressive history. “Yes,” I am saying, “that which was seen as negative in me is something I am proud of.” This is a complex situation because while making those outside my group uncomfortable is arguably part of the intention, potentially making those within my group uncomfortable is a less desired side effect.

When I first started to explore my queer identity and the complexities of the word, I though that older gay and lesbian folks just had to get with the times and get over whatever they didn’t like about it. Then, an older gay man told me a story of how when he was brutally assaulted simply for being gay, “queer” was the word being shouted at him. Perhaps that isn’t something that one could just “get over.” This drastically changed how I engaged with language. While I didn’t stop reclaiming these words for myself, I did make a shift in how that looked around my gay elders in recognition of histories with these words that I do not share.

In a situation where words are forbidden, critical thought and individual agency are lost to political correctness and powerful words are unable to be reclaimed by groups. I strive to educate myself on the meanings and histories of powerful words so I can make conscious choices about what impact my use of language will hopefully have. When similar situations arise in the future, my focus will be on exposing oppressive meaning and histories of words and concluding not with a prescription of prohibition but instead with an invitation to join me in consciously engaging with language.

A Compliment?

Originally a Facebook post.

Apparently I’ve lost some weight recently. Please stop complimenting me on this, because it really isn’t a compliment to me. Feel free to tell me you think I’m attractive, just don’t say it’s because of some change in my body.

Because when you “compliment” me, all I hear is that I used to be less attractive, and that part of me that changed was bad the way it was before. And that leads to thinking about how how I could/should/need-to loose more weight.

I had a rude awakening to body shame in grade 7. I spent a number of years in high school ignoring my body. I spent a number of years after that not liking it, thinking it should be different. Then I started working to accept my body, and realized that I actually really do like it.

Some of this was pretty easy. I have great eyes and curly hair. For the most part I’ve always been cool with how much body hair I have.

Some of this took a lot of work. In a single thought I could appreciate a big belly on another guy and simultaneously wish that mine would magically disappear.

I have stretch marks; I used to hate them. Now I call them my tiger stripes ’cause they kinda look like claw marks and I like them because they’re part of what makes my body mine.

I love my belly. I love my thighs. No, I don’t have a hydrodynamic swimmer’s body. I also have no need of one on a regular basis. My body is optimized for cuddling, for hugs, and my body hair is perfect to be augmented by glitter. Sounds like a pretty good body to me.

Our bodies are so amazing. Let’s celebrate them together, ‘kay?