MICHEALMAS 2017 THEME ANNOUCMENT

★★★★ THE WOMEN’S CAMPAIGN’S GENDER AGENDA ZINE IS OPEN FOR SUBMISSIONS ★★★★

The theme for the winter edition is NEW BEGINNINGS / (RE)START. We’re looking for prose, poetry, essays, visual art and anything else that can be photocopied and distributed in the zine. Submissions are open to all self-defining women and non-binary people + can be anonymous. Get in touch with our zine officer Claire Sosienski Smith via the email below if you have questions, we’ll see you in week seven for the launch party!

Deadline for submissions: 10th November.
SEND YOUR SUBMISSIONS TO: genderagenda@cusu.cam.ac.uk

GOOD ENOUGH (SHOUT OUT TO MY IMPOSTER SYNDROME)

By Claire Smith

I think a lot about Ira Glass’ advice to young creatives about taste and the gap between the good taste that got you into creative work, and the quality of the stuff you currently produce. How so many people give up because that gap in quality and taste is hard to stomach. But the only way to close the gap between your killer taste and your average work is to keep creating. The work you make catches up at some point. The gap between my taste and my work is cavernous at the moment and it makes me not want to write. I’d rather do nothing than do something poorly.

This perfectionism is such a chokehold. It’s a step for me to call this perfectionism, as a person who has previously told counsellors that I am far too fine with leaving unwashed dishes in the sink and going out with unbrushed hair to be a perfectionist. Turns out that looking beyond the superficial means admitting that there are hidden perfectionist traits lurking deep within me, like the crumb-encrusted plates currently submerged in my overflowing sink. Quite simply, I think nothing is good enough. I think I stutter out sentences, half-formed and limping, and feel people’s eyes widen in horror as they try to decode whatever I am trying to say. I remember getting so tongue-tied trying to talk about my favourite painting because I was so intimidated by the person who asked about it. I still cringe about how ridiculous the sentences were that left my mouth, how I undersold my enthusiasm and quickly changed the subject to push any attention away from myself.

I recently opened a document on my home computer with its myriad of folders from 2013/4, and all it said was “speak up, dance and don’t fuck idiots.” It seems like pretty good advice. Forget my audacious aims of routines and nights of good sleep with freshly flossed teeth. I am allowed to be unruly as I want to be. I am allowed to not learn my lesson after the fifth time of drinking too much, as long as I am not hurting anybody. Not hurting anybody does include myself, but one night of drinking isn’t going to hurt, neither is not moisturising twice a day or imbibing trace amounts of dairy.

There are things more important than perfection. Everything in fact. People who know how it feels to be insecure twenty year olds are getting us hooked on hydration, meditation and moderation – some with the best intentions, some with only economic concern. We’re not making too much of fuss because we’re too busy worrying about the minutia. Maybe the creative work I’m producing and the face I’m presenting to the world is in serious need of some finessing, but obsessing over these little things is keeping me distracted from the goal of just doing something and showing up. I remind myself constantly that the first step is showing up, and the rest is all a bonus.

Look at me laying down some truths that have got me through my last years of education. Ripping off a few band-aids. That’s what writing can be: letting things breathe and letting things go. Peeling off the plaster and being like “Woah… Gross.” But we all bleed, right? Exposing my weird so we all feel a little more comfortable in our imperfections. Accepting that I’m a pimple on this planet, which is a giant ball of water hurtling around the sun anyway. Acceptance in the face of rejection and uncertainty. It’s worth a try. So come on, rip off the band-aid. Scabs are the original clickbait.

Help resurrect the Gender Agenda website. University life is full of over-edited and competitive articles. Bring me your midnight ramblings, the poetry you save on the notes of your phone when you’re inebriated, in the toilet cubicle, too inside your own mind. Did you just take a few absolutely sick selfies that you want to compare to renaissance art, a la tabloid-art-history? A bunch of haikus about how annoying I am? I want to read them. Gender Agenda is taking all this and more that can fit beneath the umbrella of gender identity and intersectional feminism from women and non-binary people. This is your invitation to bridge the gap and take up space – perfection is not necessary here.

Send your submissions to womens@cusu.cam.ac.uk

How To Make Love With A Trans Person

Em Travis, after Gabe Moses

content note in the linked piece for v explicit sex, violent body imagery, surgery and needles and scars, mentions of illnesses, car-crash analogy mention, non-binary erasure, romonormativity and descriptions of hypothetical transphobia

content note in this poem for sex, violent body imagery, scars, imprisonment imagery to imply systemic cissexism/transphobia

As a trans person who has sex with trans people, I read this poem and loved a lot of what I read. The concept of challenging preconceptions about body parts and about what kinds of sex trans people will want to engage in, and the reassurance that it’s okay to fumble through and experience a shared discovery of new positive kinds of sex with your partner, is something I know resonates very deeply with many trans people.


I was compelled to write a response poem, to add to and reply to the original, because I felt there was more to say. I wanted to emphasise most strongly that trans people are not a monolith. Some of us have gone through aspects of physical transition; some have not yet; some are unable to; some have no wish to, and never will. Some of us experience constant physical dysphoria relating to our bodies or to parts of our bodies, and some of us never or rarely experience it at all. I wanted to elaborate with more representation of experiences outside of a binary trans narrative, using pronouns other than just he/him and she/her, including neopronouns that some people may not be very familiar with (disclaimer: no pronoun is inherently binary or non-binary).

My response is written with for a more explicitly cis readership than the original, which was very deliberate – firstly, because I wanted to underline the necessity for cis people who have sex with trans people to communicate with them individually about what they want and don’t want, rather than assuming that all trans people have sex in any kind of similar way; and secondly, because one thing that made me uncomfortable about the first piece was the focus on cis people “being okay” with trans people’s bodies, and helping their trans partners “be okay” with their own bodies, without recognising that, as members of an oppressive system, they must also hold some level of accountability for a certain amount of the impetus behind trans people feeling uncomfortable with our bodies in the first place.

(Also: this poem is written in a trans-specific context, but its message is by no means trans-specific. Detailed communication about sex, and explicit consent for specific things within sex, is always important, whether a partner is cis or trans or neither.)

—-

 

The first thing you must learn is to listen.
You will hear the world through new mouths,
words used in fresh ways, sentences that make
no sense to you. Listen until you understand.
This is how you learn who we are, and this
is how we know that when our words are
whispered breathless through trembling lips,
you will still be listening.

The second thing you must learn is to ask.
Do this always, from the moment you meet us,
because words can pile up like weights on our heads
and we are weary of not being given a choice.
Ask how you should form the words to tell faer
how the shape of faer lips and the steel in faer eyes
stop you from sleeping soundly some nights.
Let fae teach you the language of faer limbs.
Ask how ze wants you to say that ze is a land
that you ache to get lost in, hir hands hurricanes
you wish you could be devastated by.
Watch as ze shows you how to navigate hir body
and maps out the boundaries you may not cross.
Above all else, ask before you touch xem.
Ask before you taste xyr skin. Offer xem your hands,
and ask where xe wants them to find their home.
Xe may say everywhere. Xe may say nowhere.
Sometimes, xyr answer will change. That’s okay.
Both answers are the right one.

The third thing you must learn is to remember.
We may be fragile. We may shatter.
Remember not to treat us as though we are
bulletproof. Remember the scars we may bear –
those in plain sight, and those that are invisible.
The puckered lines carved out across eir chest,
and the tangle of swallowed thorns inside it.
Remember not to assume that the most painful
of war wounds are those that reshape skin.
When ey tells you that it was never just eir body
that imprisoned em, remember that you are lucky.
You were taught to be eir jailer. Some days,
ey may still hear the keys to eir cell jangle
in your pocket. Do not betray eir trust. Remember
how lucky you are to be trusted in the first place.

The fourth thing you must learn is to forget.
Forget what you were told your body was made for.
Unlearn everything you have ever been taught
and relearn it in shuddered gasps from vir lips –
not just once over, but again, again, again,
because it is not enough to adjust, not enough
to retune your tongue to a body that you see as
something other than the norm. Forget the word
normal. Forget that you ever thought you knew
how skin and muscle and nerves and chemicals
should bind two hundred bones together, and how
you expected virs to fit with your own.

The last thing you must learn is that we are different –
not just from you, but from each other. Ask. Listen.
Every answer will be different. Do not presume
to understand a body you do not inhabit,
an identity that has never been anything but
misunderstood. She may tell you she was born
in the wrong body, to treat her planes like curves
and her valleys like mountains. They may tell you
they were born in the wrong world, that their body
is boxed by language you must learn to translate.
He may say you are free to worship each part of him
with whatever name you choose to give to it.
Ne may say that you must never touch nir at all.
The last thing you must learn
is that you will never stop learning.

 

Doctrine

~ Anonymous

*Content note for abuse, victim blaming, denial of experiences*

Abuse is a doctrine, and it is collaborative. An abuser shapes it and teaches it, adjusts the lighting by which their victim sees the world, but that shape is maintained by the people external to a partner dynamic. Their doctrine lays out a perfect victim, tells you that a victim is certain things and an abuser is certain things. It does it all silently, and yet this doctrine holds immense power over a victim. One part of this belief system held onto by victims, abusers and onlookers alike, is that a victim must have passively accepted their abuse, that they themselves never did anything “bad”. But victims are panicked, victims do scream or cry or plead, victims do become jealous and frightened and beg not to be left alone. If someone slapped you whenever you displeased them and one day you hit them back, that would not make you an abuser too. With emotional abuse, though, for some reason, this seems harder to stomach.

An abuser can entirely undermine your self-worth and reconstruct you on their own terms. An abuser can isolate you from friends and family, perhaps blaming them for the problems you’re having – an abuser can look like your saviour when things align just so. An abuser can make you doubt your own judgements, make you hate yourself more than anything, even whilst they slip in kernels of praise amongst it all. Given all of that, given everything more that we all know an abuser can do, is a “bad” reaction from a victim really surprising?

So why does this make someone less of a victim? Why would knowing that an abuser was hurt by the reaction of their victim somehow shift the blame away from the abuser?

A response of “I didn’t abuse them; they abused me” is an uncomfortable situation, something that destabilises the falsely ordered system the abuse doctrine tries to create. Everyone questions facts, analyses behaviour. What can really sting, though, is the fact that this is exactly what most victims go through all the time. Because of the way an abuser can make themself the centre of their victim’s life, make the victim believe anything they say, make the victim hate themself rather than their abuser, the belief that they were the one in the wrong can be one of the hardest things to get free of. An abuser turning around and denying what happened, accusing their victim, is exactly what so many victims are afraid of, and this absurd doctrine of how abuse works makes it all too easy.

Abuse is about power. An abuser exerts power over their victim and enforces a change in the victim’s behaviour, mentality and wellbeing. If being abused makes the victim frightened and therefore the abuser spends a lot of time giving reassurance, that does not invert the dynamic. If the victim becomes jealous because the abuser has made them believe they are worthless, that does not invert the dynamic. If a victim shouts at the abuser because they are constantly shouted at themselves, backed into a corner and afraid, that does not invert the dynamic. It is so tragic that this needs pointing out, but the world likes to harm vulnerable people. If you ever question your victim status, or if anyone you care about ever does, ask yourself as objectively as you can where the balance of power lay, whether any “abusive” behaviours you exhibited would have happened without the stimulus of being abused yourself.

Every relationship is individual, and that means every relationship has its own power balance, not necessarily tied to the privilege each partner has (yes, men can be abused by women, it does happen, and the abuse doctrine makes it really hard for them to say so).

The doctrine is fundamentally wrong. It encourages people to deny experiences and to turn against victims. It creates an impossible template for an abuse victim, an unrealistically phantom-like template for an abuser, and hence allows real instances to be rejected. It encourages the victim’s actions to be examined to find something wrong with the way in which they took their abuse in order to invalidate their experiences, rather than acknowledging that it is not in most people’s natures to respond well to being torn apart emotionally by another person, and that what the abuser receives from a victim is by and large their own fault.

Someone’s experiences of abuse are likely to have shaped their identity, to whatever extent that may be. Denying these experiences is a rejection of identity. The fact that the abuser came away in a bad place too will never be enough to excuse something like that, whatever the fictional rule books says. But doctrine isn’t one single piece of legislation; it’s something formed by public opinion. And the more we discuss this, the more we’re able to engage with this sort of discussion, the more we can dismantle it and enable people’s experiences to be recognised.

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