An Interview with Lora Mathis

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Lora Mathis is a writer, visual artist, zinester, and musician from Southern California. Their first full-length collection The Women Widowed to Themselves was a Pushcart Prize nominee and published in 2015 by Where Are You Press. Their second, instinct to ruin, currently is available. They coined the term radical softness as a weapon, which explores vulnerability as a political move and sign of strength. Right now, they are working on essays and a fiction collection.

To Mother Earth (1)

How do you think your gender identity and sexual orientation has impacted your work as a poet and artist?

My gender and sexuality are pieces of me that are in flux, and which I am consistently trying to figure out. Poetry is a space where I can sort through feelings on them and be completely seen. All pretenses are dropped in poetry. There is no hiding in it. Writing and art are some of my main tools for uncloaking shame and shaping selfhood. There is still a good deal of guilt, internalized homophobia, familial values, and societal expectations that I am working through. My gender and sexuality have certainly informed my subject matter and my voice as well, as they are woven into my identity. My work has impacted my ability to expand my vision of myself, explore new ideas of who I can be, and to feel like my full self.

Was it hard for people around you to accept you the way you are? How did you deal with it?

This question sparked a lot of feelings in me. It’s written in the past tense, with the expectation that people accepting me has been something that has already happened, but it is an ongoing process. I am not out to everyone around me. My coming out has been selective. I came out mainly to friends and in online circles, but have not had a conversation with my family or employers. In some ways, opening up to friends and the online public about thoughts I was having surrounding gender was incredibly validating. It allowed me to speak about things I was internally questioning, and to find support in them. But in other ways it was discouraging. A lot of people around me, mainly out of a lack of ignorance rather than ill intention, kept misgendering me. Being referred to as “she” felt like I was being shoved back into a self which society fit me into, and to have my my attempts at having myself be seen in new ways stomped on. That was a couple of years ago. In the last few months I’ve been using “they” as well as “she.” Somewhat out of tiredness. Somewhat out of feeling like I don’t always fit into the space of gender nonconforming. (Although in writing those words out I’m thinking—wait, who gets to decide that??) I rarely feel 100% in myself. I have so many doubts & insecurities surrounding gender. Idk! Some days “woman” stings, other days I shrug it off. Sometimes it feels like just because certain aspects of womanhood feel off just doesn’t mean the term totally does. Other times I am screaming inside that I am “NOT A GIRL!!!”

In the last couple of years, my focus with gender validation has been on creating internal space for me to explore identity, even if others don’t see me through this. Most of the time my head feels so clouded and overwhelmed by this though. Even though gender is a construct and there is no right way to look trans, I know there’s a privilege in me being “cis passing.” I know that those who are visibly trans, especially nonwhite trans people, are subject to violence and discrimination I don’t face. I haven’t had a convo with everyone about my gender thoughts and maybe I don’t want to bc some convos I did have were disappointing in how others ignored the subject. And I know this too is a privilege.

Queer friendship and poetry have allowed me to drop all pretenses and feel totally seen. I feel very thankful for those spaces for allowing me to be confused, in flux, shifting. They don’t require me to feel 100% in my feelings of identity, they support and see me through any stage. It is difficult to share feelings of gender with others when I am still shaky in them and coming into them myself because then others’ questioning and invalidation discourages my process. I am most comfortable exploring things internally and in trusted circles!

One of the projects you’re doing is titled ‘radical softness’, could you explain what it means, and why you began it?

Radical Softness started as a photo series I created in 2015, which, in its simplest intentions, worked to prove that being connected to your emotions was a sign of strength. I made that work at a time where my mental health was at an extreme low, and my head was feeding me messages that I was weak and worthless because I was sensitive. Many societal ideas seemed to support these negative thoughts I was having. But in moments when I had some clarity, I recognized that getting through the days while being severely depressed and working through trauma was not weakness. It took a good deal of strength and energy simply to stay alive. I knew I wasn’t alone in feeling this way, and that damaging messages were being fed to us all the time.The idea that strength solely means to be turned off emotionally didn’t resonate with me. I saw strength all around in me, expressed in many ways which society didn’t uphold. There is strength in being vulnerable despite pain. There is strength in the basic actions that get you through the day. Strength looks a lot of different ways. Yes, there is strength in holding yourself together, especially for others’ sake (as men are often told to for their families), but too often the inability to access feelings and view of feelings being “weak” is a disconnection from the self. Being honest, sharing about difficult experiences, takes strength. I laid out the messages promoting vulnerability because I needed physical reminders to combat my negative thoughts and because I wanted to combat the sweep of patriarchal, ableist thinking that wrote off anyone who had emotional reactions.

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Do you identify as a feminist? What does feminism mean to you?

Yes, I identify as a feminist, although in the last few years I have become less concerned with labels. I hold the political values that feminism often promotes, but I do not run to declare myself a “feminist” in my first breath of meeting people. This is mainly because much of the mainstream feminism is not what I subscribe to. Feminism has become trendy and therefore, watered down. It’s been slapped on t-shirts, used to further careers, made into something which promotes solely white cis women. Feminism has to go beyond a fashion statement, otherwise it’s meaningless to me. Feminism has to acknowledge the system of oppression as a whole, which I think it often fails to do in the mainstream. If we are working for a better world, then it means not just acknowledging gender oppression (or always upholding it as the most important thing to work on), but all measures of oppression. Yes, I’m a feminist, but that’s not where my political concerns begin and end.

Would you concur with the statement that ‘All art is political’? Why/why not?

I think so. Everything we do is political. Politics affect even our simplest actions. Art is a statement of the self and the self is political.

You can find Lora Mathis at:

Website: http://www.loramathis.com/

Tumblr: http://lora-mathis.tumblr.com/

Instagram: @lo.mathis

 

 

Weekly Roundup- 30th to 6th May

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“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.”

– Abigail Adams

In today’s world of information overload, we might miss something worthwhile. Every week, I’ll be flagging some of the articles I have read, which I found interesting, for you. Here’s the roundup for the week:

  1. A state of national emergency is being declared in Costa Rica in response to skyrocketing rates of gender and domestic violence against women, as newly appointed Minister of Women’s Condition Patricia Mora told reporters.
  2. Vox explains the sexual misconduct allegations against R. Kelly since 1994, when he married 15 year old Aaliyah.
  3. Yasemin Besen-Cassino writes about her new book, where she explores the earliest gender inequalities in the labour market, those that arise among teenage workers. Cassino carried out an experiment asking participants if they would give a babysitter a salary increase (sample size of 100 American adults from an online sample, who were paid for their participation; most had hired a babysitter within the past few years).
  4. As reported by Bloomberg, the Saudi government program to improve the quality of life in the kingdom called for the legalization of gender mixing and an end to the mandatory prayer closures for businesses.
  5. Pitchfork analyses the gender balance in 2018 music festival lineups, with the use of extensive data. One of their conclusions are that while the gender balance has increased since last year, there is still a large disparity, that may in part stem from the unwillingness of organisers of larger festivals especially to take risks.

Weekly Roundup- 23rd to 29th April

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“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.”

– Abigail Adams

In today’s world of information overload, we might miss something worthwhile. Every week, I’ll be flagging some of the articles I have read, which I found interesting, for you. Here’s the roundup for the week:

  1. In an opinion piece, Tricia Lowther for The Guardian highlights why labelling books by gender for children only enforces stereotypes, even when it seeks to reduce them. She takes the cases of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, and its more recent male equivalent Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different, which are among a clutch of bestselling children’s books that supposedly break down gender stereotypes. She says that books like them, even while they showcase the inspirational stories of men and women, only emphasises the difference between boys and girls through their titles, and thus impedes equality.
  2. Bustle focuses on a new font, created by Leslie Sims, Chief Creative Officer of global advertising agency Young & Rubicam (Y&R), who realised that we lack a physical language that encompasses all the issues that women face, every day. Hence, she created The Feminist Letters. Sims says that ‘Each letter represents a specific issue, through both the design and what the letter stands for, in order to further call attention to the reality of the large span that the women’s rights movement covers (for example, E is for elections, and V is for voting). By selecting a letter, you are actively learning background information and factual evidence about the relevant legislation of that issue.’
  3. Timothy Williams for the New York Times examines the differences between the trials faced by Bill Cosby, where he was accused of having drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand. Between the first trial, where the jury could not agree on whether Cosby was guilty or not, and the second trial, where he was sentenced to jail, a series of revelations over Harvey Weinstein and a cascade of other powerful men invigorated the #MeToo movement. Williams examines the differences in the two trials and whether Cosby’s case was also part of a shift in the ‘norms of accountability’.
  4. BBC reports on the rules introduced by the IAAF in a bid to stop women with higher testosterone gaining a competitive advantage, and the impact it’ll have on elite female athletes, including Caster Semenya, Olympic 800m champion. These rules have been seen as divisive, and politically motivated. Further, as stated by Katrina Karkazis, a bioethicist and visiting senior fellow at the Global Health Justice Partnership at Yale, the hammer throw and the pole vault categories, which showed the highest performance advantage for women with elevated testosterone in the 2017 I.A.A.F. study, are not included in the new rules, the regulations appear to be arbitrary and not based on solid science.

LGBTQIA+ and the Workplace.

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As more and more LGBTQIA people embrace their sexual and gender identity, forward thinking and innovative workplaces need to ensure that all colleagues, irrespective of the sexual or gender orientation have the security of a safe and welcoming workplace. Each workplace’s focus should be on the skills of each worker, not their gender or sexual orientation.

3 specific examples of ways that LGBTQIA employees are discriminated against are:

  1. Refusal to hire- Many LGBTQIA individuals are not hired due to their gender or sexual orientation. More than one in four transgender people have lost a job due to bias. This can be seen in the data collected, which claims 44% of transgender people are passed over for a job, 23% are denied a promotion and 26% are fired because they were trans- as seen in the case of Law Enforcement officer, Mia Massey, which was a precedent for recognizing the rights of LGBTQIA workers everywhere.
  2. Violence- It has been found that fully 90% of transgendered individuals have encountered some form of harassment on the job. 47% of workers have experienced an adverse job outcome because they are transgender. Further, 27% of LGB individuals have experienced workplace harassment, according to data gathered by the Williams Institute.
  3. Wage disparity- Studies consistently show that gay men earn significantly less than their heterosexual counterparts. Census data analyses also confirm that in nearly every state, men in same-sex couples earn less than men in heterosexual marriages. Further, several studies show that large percentages of the transgender population are unemployed or have incomes far below the national average. Other studies show that discrimination, fear of discrimination, and concealing one’s LGBT identity can negatively impact the well-being of LGBT employees, including their mental and physical health, productivity in the workplace, and job satisfaction.

Four strategies to improve the climate for LGBTQIA employees are:

  1. The creation of a workplace discrimination policy statement that includes protections for transgender and gender queer people.
  2. The bathrooms must be equally accessible to people of all genders. Gender-inclusive bathrooms must be proximal to the work areas. Further, all employees should be welcome to use the bathroom facilities that best correspond to their gender identity.
  3. All employees should be asked in their intake process what their gender identity is, what pronouns they use, and what name they prefer to use. This is an empowering way of ensuring that employees will be addressed appropriately from the beginning of their time in the company office or workplace.
  4. Policing of gender, such as so-called teasing, or chiding coworkers for not being manly or womanly enough, judging coworker’s style of dress, use of makeup, mannerisms or ways of speaking, gesturing, moving, sitting, standing, etc., is always unacceptable and can reinforce rigid conceptions of gender that marginalize trans and gender queer colleagues. Strict action against discrimination must be taken.

Ultimately, to create an inclusive workplace, every single employee must be mindful of their actions and language and support LGBTQIA individuals. All workers must try to educate themselves on the discrimination face by LGBTQIA people and refrain from such practices. In addition they should try to educate their colleagues and promote sensitive behaviour in the workplace. All managers/supervisors need to be cognizant of the organisation’s gender related policies and work towards setting an example for their subordinates and colleagues. Additionally, any complaints should be taken seriously and given due consideration, after all, an LGBTQIA inclusive workplace can only be made when all employees, workers, businesses, etc. work together to promote and listen to LGBTQIA perspectives.

Weekly Roundup- 16th to 22nd April

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“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.”

– Abigail Adams

In today’s world of information overload, we might miss something worthwhile. Every week, I’ll be flagging some of the articles I have read, which I found interesting, for you. Here’s the roundup for the week:

  1. Ruth Marcus for the Washington Post highlights 3 women who have made the news this week-  U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Southwest Airlines pilot Tammie Jo Shults and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Army veteran- and compares them to Barbara Bush in a beautiful tribute to the way she inspired change and defied norms present at that time.
  2. The Harvard Crimson muses about sexual harassment and the way it’s dealt with at Harvard University, taking in particular the case of the sexual harassment faced by Terry L. Karl by Government professor Jorge I. Dominguez, along with the writer’s personal experiences.
  3. The Good News Network spoke about the amazing work done by Gulika Reddy, a Fellow in Global Good Fund’s cohort of 2018. Currently a Dubin Fellow at Harvard Kennedy Business School, Gullika is the founder and director of Schools of Equality, a nonprofit that runs activity-based programs that reach young people to shift attitudes that perpetuate gender-based violence and other forms of discrimination.
  4. Nicola Heath, for The Guardian, talks about ‘gender creative parenting’, which seeks raise children in an environment free from gender bias. For these parents “the gender binary must not simply be smudged but wholly eradicated from the moment that socialisation begins, clearing the way both for their child’s future gender exploration and for wholesale cultural change”, writes Alex Morris.

Weekly Roundup – 9nd to 15th April

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“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.”

– Abigail Adams

In today’s world of information overload, we might miss something worthwhile. Every week, I’ll be flagging some of the articles I have read, which I found interesting, for you. Here’s the roundup for the week:

  1. As reported by CNNMoney, the city of New York will now require sexual harassment training for all workers. This new training rule, one of the strongest legislative responses to the conversation that has been occurring increasingly often about misconduct in workplaces, will apply to any private employer with more than 15 employees.
  2. Recently, protests erupted across India after the shocking and gruesome details about the rape and murder of a 8 year old Muslim girl by 8 accused Hindu men were made public. The issue has lead to communal discord, and showed that, despite the strides India has made in the field of safety for women, there are miles to go before we come anywhere close to building a country that is safe for women. One of the more disturbing elements of this particular case, which occurred in Kathua, was that due to the communal nature of the crime, many men, including members of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party, came out in support of the accused. Quartz reports on the same, while also highlighting the outpouring of rage and support that India has given to the case.
  3. The Guardian, in an excerpt taken from Healing from Hate: How Young Men Get Into – and Out of –Violent Extremism by Michael Kimmel, published by University of California Press in April 2018, talks about how one thing in common for most violent extremists is their gender. As observed, violent extremists tend to have fragile concepts regarding their masculinity and often feel emasculated.
  4. Nathanial Frank, in the New York Times, outlines why the Pentagon is wrong in their conclusion that people with gender dysphoria, or a history of gender transition have a higher rate of mental illnesses that “unacceptably raise the risks of harm to unit cohesion, lethality, good order and overall readiness.” Frank disputes this, and through research, tries to show the reader how this conclusion has been disproved by many independent bodies and research institutions.