Weekly Roundup- 26th November to 2nd December

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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. Shamolie Oberoi writes about the staggering lack of sanitation infrastructure for women in Mumbai, India. Besides the lack of toilets, the existing toilets are also unhygienic, and seem to be designed for able bodied, non pregnant, non lactating women only.
  2. Arabelle Sircadi writes a personal account of their journey with gender in public and non public spaces, and the importance of not making someone’s gender their introduction.
  3. Probashi writes a profile on Madhumala Chattopadhyay’s work with Andamanese Tribes as an anthropologist. She was one of the people who established the first ever friendly contact with the hostile Sentinelese Tribe. Madhumala is also the first woman to be accepted by another Andaman tribe, the Jarawas, with whom she established a friendly relationship. Unfortunately her accomplishments remain forgotten.
  4. In an Indian Express podcast, Tara Krishnaswamy, the co-convener of the India Women’s Caucus, speaks about the reasons behind the low number of women in state and national politics, as MLAs and MPs, despite there having been an increase in the number of women in local and Panchayat roles.
  5. Japan Times writes about the march in Syria by Kurdish women to call for an end to violence against women. The march took places on the streets of the Syrian Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli last Sunday.

An Interview with Ashe Vernon

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Ashe Vernon is a queer poet and playwright from Austin, Texas. Author of four full length collections of poetry, Ashe is a very tiny person with very tiny hands and a whole lot to say about it.

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

I started writing poetry before I fully understood (or even had started to understand) my gender. Poetry was a place where I could explore questions without having to have an answer. I’ve always used poetry as a way to know myself better, and most of my poems are self reflective: examining feelings and events with greater detail and a broader understanding. It would be impossible for me to turn inward without addressing my gender and my sexuality. Queerness has shaped every part of my life, and every part of who I am. I think my best poems are about the queer experience. Some of the most profound moments of my life have been when someone I care about talks to me about their gender. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by other people with similar experiences to me, but many people aren’t. For this reason, I feel poetry is vital–it shows people that they are not alone, even when they feel like it, and gives you that intense feeling of catharsis in knowing that you are seen and you are understood.

2. In your poem “QUESTIONS FOR GOD, OR JUST ANYONE WHO’S LISTENING “, there’s one line that really stuck with me – “my gender is language i cannot speak, yet.”  – Could you explain your thoughts when you wrote this line, and the poem?

I wrote that poem during an uncertain time in my life. I knew that “girl” felt wrong on me–an ill-fitting hand-me-down that I had never been allowed to grow out of. I knew what my gender wasn’t, but I didn’t know what it was. It was very isolating. I often worried I wasn’t “trans enough” for the trans community, but I certainly didn’t relate to the cis gender experience. Of the many gender related metaphors in that poem, “a language I cannot speak yet” was the most honest. In a way, it’s still the most honest. Gender as a concept never made sense to me. I couldn’t relate. It was something forced on me, not something I experienced for myself. As a teenager who was just starting to learn about things like feminism, I assumed that my various gender issues were just a combination of internalized misogyny and self loathing. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I saw the early signs for what they were, and myself for who I really am.

3. How have the people around you reacted to your gender and sexual orientation? Has it been, or is it still, hard for people to accept you the way you are?

I’m lucky in that the poetry community has given me access to lots of like-minded and open-minded people. I’m also lucky that, while my family didn’t completely understand it at first, they’ve never rejected me or made me feel less than. The day to day of it, however, is still very difficult. I’m not out about my gender at work out of worry that I would not be respected. I like wearing makeup and wearing “girl” clothes, so am typically misgendered. I didn’t figure out my gender or sexuality until I was already an adult, so I was able to avoid being terrorized in school settings for it, but I saw people who were and I’m sure it kept me from letting myself think too hard about the things I was feeling. And the U.S. is becoming increasingly unsafe for queer people.
I think it’s easier for me to be out about my sexuality than my gender. Because gender education is so lacking, and so many people have never even heard of being agender, I run into people who think my gender does not exist. I’ve been called some pretty awful things, and the theme that connects all of them is that I am some kind of liar. Some days, it’s easy to ignore them. Other days, it feels earth shattering.

4. Do you think your poetry is political? Why/why not?

 I think all art is political, even when it doesn’t seem like it. Art is often either the creation of the kind of world we want to live in, or an exploration of the kind of world that we don’t. I rarely write poems that directly address things like legislation. However, every time I talk about the space between queer bodies, I’m talking about what I believe in. The things I value. The world I want.

5.  A lot of your poems talk about religion, your family and where you grew up. How do you think your location, family and religion impacted the way you viewed your gender identity and sexual orientation?

It’s interesting how many of my poems talk about religion, when religion has so little impact on my daily life, however I grew up with a pastor for a father and it was deeply ingrained in my upbringing. I am not a religious person, but I was raised by one. And I was raised in Texas, which is a militantly Christian state. There’s no getting around the impact that growing up in a deeply conservative state has on a young queer person–how it suppresses you in a way that can feel impossible to get out from under. I think, had I grown up somewhere else, I might have discovered these things about myself a lot sooner. Especially since all it took for me to realize my sexuality was to hear a pansexual person explain what pansexuality meant.

I don’t think my upbringing changed how I viewed my gender and sexuality once I KNEW them, but I think it had a profound effect on how long it took me to know them. I wasn’t exposed to queerness except in the simplest of terms, and it prevented me from forming a vocabulary to express my experiences.

You can find Ashe Vernon at:

Website: http://latenightcornerstore.com/

Instagram: @lackadazed

Twitter: @lackadazed

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.

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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- 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.

What is Toxic Masculinity?

TOXIC MASCULINITY 101

Toxic Masculinity is a term given to the phenomena where to be a ‘real man’, men are expected to be violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, etc. Its most often cited as an example to show how a patriarchal society affects men negatively too.

What’s important to recognize is that toxic masculinity doesn’t and shouldn’t be seen as the epitome of masculinity. Many people identify more as masculine than feminine, which is completely alright. Masculinity, and masculine traits help one understand themselves, and figure out what their identity comprises of. However, toxic masculinity is simply a poisonous byproduct of a society where men were/are supposed to portray themselves as invincible.

Examples of toxic masculinity can be seen everywhere you look. Here are some:

  • “Men are not interested in parenting and cannot handle a family on their own”: This builds on the patriarchal notion that women are made to be caretakers; they should not work and focus instead on family life. What is implied, or in many cases, said outright, is that men are not responsible for raising children, and are unsuited to handling a family, or being a single parent. What this notion does is discourage men from actively participating in their children’s lives, as they assume that is the job of the mother only. Further, it leads to the assumption that in the case of a divorce, the children will live with their mother, hence depriving fathers of their right to a fair custody agreement as it is outweighed by social expectations and norms. Obviously, the above examples assume that we are talking about a straight man, but even a man who is part of the lgbtq+ community suffers similar backlash, as seen where homosexual couples find it hard to adopt a child as many people argue that two men will not be able to take adequate care of a child.
  • Men are always interested in sex and cannot be a victim of abuse: People often say that men are always interested in sex, and are ready to have sex at almost any time. What this notion does is discard the idea of consent for men. By this assumption, one negates their personal right to refuse to perform a sexual act, or respond to sexual advances. It makes men, especially young men, uncomfortable and more likely to stay silent instead of telling their partner they’re not in the mood. This can be seen in situations of abuse, where a common retort men often hear when they share their experiences of abuse, is that since they are men, they cannot be abused. They are often told that they should have just been happy and enjoyed the act, which sets a harmful precedent on how society treats male victims of abuse, especially legally.
  • Emasculation: This encompasses a range of activities that a ‘Real Man’ wouldn’t do, for example taking interest in one’s looks, being emotional and crying, needing help, being sympathetic, appreciating “frivolous” things such as sugary “girly” drinks, romantic styles, cute animal videos, romcom flicks. By belittling activities such as these, which are not seen as masculine enough, and promoting traits like excessive aggression, society encourages the toxic side of masculinity only to gasp in horror when the toxicity seeps into the system.