New Blog!

Hi everyone,

I have some good news to share with you all!

So… I started a new blog: https://seekingananda.wordpress.com

It’s a project that had been brewing for a little while now and I finally got the inspiration to make it happen.

As you’ll find out in the content, it focuses on my spiritual practice(s). This may or may not come as a surprise to some people, but my blog is a safe space to share my thoughts and feelings with you all.

Queering Your Lens has done really well – actually better than I ever imagined and it’s taken me far. This is by no means a goodbye, as this blog will continue to be available and active in the future (you know, for my sexuality issues of course!). But I’d love it if you could also have a look at the new one, and follow it if you like it.

So, I invite you to have a read and share it with your peeps if it speaks to you.

PS. I made the hero image and I’m super proud!

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Inside Out of My Head: What I Learned From Pixar’s Latest Film

There are so many preconceptions about feelings and emotions we do not challenge that we usually have a one-sided (very biased) view on them. This view is very patronising and is fed to us by our families, society, self-help books, different styles of therapies, and so on. We have been conditioned to think that happiness should be our normal state of mind. If it’s not, we should strive for it until we finally find it (Russ, The Happiness Trap). On the flip side, we are conditioned to think that sadness, shame, fear, anxiety, and the likes are negative emotions and that we should fight them – or at least learn to control them and/or replace them for positive ones such as joy. But, as I have been learning in therapy for the past two months… this is not true nor an effective mechanism to deal with emotions or believe system to uphold.

My therapist recommended I watched Pixar’s latest film Inside Out as it aligns perfectly with the method we are using called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (known as ACT).This form of therapy – in my own words – is about learning to accept that we don’t really have that much control over our emotions (like some psychologists think), that we can still work towards what we want to do/be/become even though there are some negative emotions on the way because, guess what, these emotions will always be there. Unlike self-help books and some mainstream modern yoga Instagram pictures, even if “I choose happiness” (whatever that means) and try to replace all the negative for the positive or just pay attention to the positive rants (and suppress the negative, which takes a huge amount of energy), ACT is really refreshing because it teaches us to accept and make space for emotions such as anxiety, sadness, shame, and other not-so-pleasant feelings. That in order to live a full and meaningful life, we have to understand, accept, make room, and treat ourselves with compassion because those emotions enable us to FEEL THE WORLD IN ALL ITS COMPLEXITY AND BEAUTY.

Here’s where the masterpiece Inside Out comes in. I won’t say too much about the plot as I want you to go watch it for yourself and not spoil it, but I will mention what I learned so when I’m feeling blue I can come re-read this as it has been vital for me to feel understood lately.

In the film, there are five basic emotions: joy, sadness, disgust, fear, and anger and they control the emotive reactions (and all the processes the brain does but I don’t know them lol) of a 11 year old girl named Riley. Riley and her family move from Minnesota to San Francisco and she has trouble adjusting. Her dad is under a lot of pressure and so her mum asks her to ‘stay happy’ as that would help. So naturally, Joy wants to be in charge of Riley’s experiences, but in doing so, she tries to keep Sadness away from sparking any emotion or changing any memory. This is very much what society tells us to do – let ‘Joy’ take the wheel (see what I did there, Jesus?) and suppress sadness, because if we do not, there is something wrong with us. Sadness is seen as having no real purpose for us. It is seen as unhelpful. However, in the film, Joy eventually realises the huge role sadness plays in Riley’s life. By manifesting sadness, we can get help and feel more connected to others through derivative feelings such as empathy and compassion. This very much relates to an exercise I did this week with my therapist on the pillar of acceptance in ACT, that we usually label negative emotions as negative, forgetting how important they are to bring us certain experiences that we deem valuable. So, teaching #1: to live a rich, full, and meaningful life we need to experience ALL the emotions. Let them come and visit us and let them go, we should make space for them (and in ACT lingo, do not get fused with them, but defuse and accept them).

Teaching #2: The enemy is not the (unpleasant) emotions that we feel, but numbness. My boyfriend pointed out this one for me when we were walking back to our house from the cinema by saying “the movie showed it is better to feel sad than to not feel anything at all“. I can’t tell you how important this is, and even though we “know this”, we easily forget it, and hearing it made it very real for me. In therapy I’ve learned to realise that I spend SO much time and energy trying to suppress, deny, get rid of, hide from, shut down, pretend, ignore, and attempting to replace any negative emotions that I ultimately numb myself. Numbing – or not feeling anything at all – can feel like a relief sometimes, but this is a very dangerous and unfulfilling strategy because when you numb the bad you end up numbing the good too (even if you don’t meant to). Numbing sucks because obviously this prevents us from feeling and being in tune with ourselves and others. I numb myself by bingewatching TV series on Netflix, procrastinating on everything, daydreaming in the shower (you all do that too!), and scrolling endlessly and mindlessly on Instagram. We all do this, is normal, and okay to an extent. But, unfortunately, all this numbing and all the mechanisms I described above do not allow us to be vulnerable – an action that I feel takes a lot of courage to perform, but it is completely worthy and scary (scary good) (for more on vulnerability read anything by the amazing Brené Brown).

So, all in all, like I’m learning through ACT, my yoga practice which has deepened a lot, my daily meditation, and some awesome mindfulness books and techniques is that we need to learn to embrace all the emotions that visit us – even the not so pleasant/negative ones. This doesn’t mean sit down and cry and feel defeated (but that too, of course!!), but learning to observe them, notice them, make space for them and sometimes get hooked or unhooked from them.

Writing this post was really hard for me, but I am happy I did as this has been a difficult yet relieving journey – a journey I’m only beginning but that I feel hopeful (or try to, some days) will make me a stronger and wiser person walking the path towards a full, rich, and meaningful balanced life. And because of this, I truly recommend watching Inside Out, not only because they illustrated all the thought processes that happen when someone is depressed, but because we need more films like this and people talking about this. Mental health issues, topics, and people that struggle with them feel like we are alone, but all these emotions, numbing mechanisms, or mindful mechanisms can help/hurt us all. And you know what doesn’t really get talked about at all? Child depression. Yeah, it’s a real thing!!

So I’ll try embracing one emotion at a time. And I hope you do too.

Navigating Queer Terminology Talk

Hi everyone!

As I mentioned before, my colleague Bethan and me held a talk a couple of weeks ago about the importance of queer terminology in making certain marginalised sexualities and genders visible within the LGBTQ+ community.

We wrote a blog post about the perks and challenges of hosting this talk for the Birmingham LGBT Scholarship blog. I just want to share it with all of you. Click here to access it!

I attended some events for LGBTQ+ History Month that were very interesting, while others I could not go because school is keeping me busy. One of the highlights was the event held by Nicola and Nicki about LGBT inclusive curriculum (my past dissertation aspirations, hey!) and I must say I was blown away by how amazing this project is. it got me inspired again and interested in queer pedagogy – a critical aspect that I hope to include in my own teaching some day. Also, I went by an event by the LGBTQ Association about queer science/trans involvement in Stonewall and history – it was great to see students and my people engaged in this! Also, I went for the first time in ages to the LGBTQ Coffee Social last week with my colleagues Tamsin and Eliza and it was lovely. I should go more and socialise! There was an event I wanted to go solo badly, it was a fundraiser where people performed in drag, and since now I just discovered RuPaul’s Drag race (which started in 2009 lol), I really wanted to go see.

Anyways, term time is creeping upon me and I am horribly stressed, but everything will be great!

Hope you are all doing good!

Rambling #1

Hi folks! It’s been a while, and even though I should be working (right this second, actually) on a draft analysis for my dissertation (more on that at the end!), I am here, writing on my blog because it has been way too long… and I miss it!!

Last week was a crazy roller coaster! It is safe to say it’s been that way since I started the program, but amazing things have happened and I’m eager to share.

So yeah, last week I gave my first talk ever (YAY!) with a sweet, amazing and intelligent colleague of mine (Hi Bethan!) about the importance of language in our everyday interactions as outsiders and insiders of the LGBTQ+ community. We were invited to do it as one of the events of LGBTQ+ History Month at the University of Birmingham. I must say it went great! We had a lot of positive feedback, comments and a discussion at the very end of the session. The talk focused on bringing sexualities and genders that have been traditionally erased from everyday language, imaginary, and activism – bisexualities (or, better, non-monosexualities), trans genders, asexualities, and intersex. Yeah, they are all plural because I am by no means universalising the experience of all of these folks. To do this, we explained the intricate ways privilege and oppression works to make these invisible (through monosexism, cissexism, the gender binary, the sexual binary and so on), we mentioned the importance of their recognition and presence within the community.

I really loved the discussion, especially at the end about sign-language and its limitations for expressing and talking about non-conforming genders and sexualities.

The event being promoted!

The event being promoted! 😀

So yeah, I don’t have a picture from the event itself, so that’ll do 🙂

Last week we also got our first grades back… boy was I nervous! It went really well though and I am happy, I worked SO hard for that paper. It is a big leap from undergraduate to postgraduate, especially a masters in research as I am doing. There are a LOT of expectations that can be terrifying when it comes to analysis and writing and so on. My paper explores binormativity in contemporary american media representations of bisexuality, using Callie Torres from Grey’s Anatomy and Oberyn Martell from Game of Thrones. I really enjoyed writing it, I can share some of it here (not textually) sometime, not right now lol 🙂 let’s see where it takes me now.

yaaaas

Yeah, now on to other projects!

1. I have to hand in another essay on April 29th.

2. I have to hand in my literature review on April 29th.

3. I have to hand in a mock PhD proposal on April 29th.

yeah, on April 30th I will sleep for 12567753 hours straight.

This is pretty much the reason why I haven’t written here this much. Since September time has flown by and well, I love that this blog is about concise topics and analysis, I can’t do that right now, at least until April 30th hahaha. But, to keep it up to date I will either do micro posts of things I find interesting, things related to my work, or just little updates like this. That’s all I can do for now, I hope this is okay with all of you.

Alright, next post may be a repost from a blogpost I am going for the event I mentioned. I can also talk about my dissertation as an on-going project over here 🙂

Much love xxx

Valeria

Celebrating Bisexual Visibility Day!

Hey y’all!

Today, September 23, we celebrate Bisexual Visibility Day! 😀

YAY!

This visibility should actually happen every single day, but oh well, as bisexuals, we become closeted by assumption made by others of us being either gay or straight depending on our partner (hence our need to come out!).

Since these assumptions are made because of monosexism, use today to fight it! Feel proud of who you are and do not let anyone box you on categories and identities that do not resonate with you. Be you!!

Here are some articles about Bisexual Visibility Day and Bisexual Awareness Week (this week lol!) that have been published by other media outlets. Please read them, they are great!

Share by Shiri Eisner!

Shared by Shiri Eisner!

On another note, I haven’t been active over here because… I moved to Birmingham! 😀

I’m super happy (trust me, I cannot even write about how happy, joyful and grateful I am without tearing up) that I am finally here. I moved in with my partner to the city centre and we are both starting our masters. We have been pretty busy getting settled and this week is crazy for me since it is Welcome Week throughout campus.

Next week I start my MRes in Sexuality and Gender Studies at the University of Birmingham (UoB) 😀 I am thrilled that I can finally  specify on what I am passionate about and that there will be people there for me to achieve great things! Once I know more about my program and about class topics I can make post about them, so keep an eye out!

I also want to write a blog post about Birmingham and some of the sex positivity I’ve already experienced within the city and my campus in particular 🙂 I will also post some pics so y’all can see what I’m seeing. So, that should be next! A couple of informal posts before it gets real doing research. Even though I already borrowed two books from the library today!

Are any of you studying gender and sexuality or any other course that aims social liberation in some way? Tell me about it in the comment section below!

The Bisexual Is The Political

Two years ago I finally decided to identify as bisexual out loud.

Finding a label that helped me understand my sexual orientation was both exciting and scary. It was exciting because I felt a lot more at peace with my internal struggle of understanding who I am, as I have always been deeply in touch with my sexuality and feelings. It was scary, though, because I had to deal with my own internalised biphobia, social expectations and, well, the judgemental people and voices in my head.

Since then, I have talked more openly about my bisexuality with my partner, friends, family and my feminist online community. And with this – and a whole lot of reading – I’ve found myself tired of hearing the accusation that  bisexual individuals are cissexists because they supposedly reinforce the gender binary.

Drawing from Julia Serano‘s wonderful insights in her latest book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive and Shiri Eisner’s amazing blog Radical Bi, I will explain the importance of the label bisexual, as opposed to “more inclusive terms” such as pansexual or omnisexual, within the queer movement because of the uniqueness of our struggle against monosexism and bi-erasure.

Before we continue, I’d like to clarify that I am not against people identifying with the labels BMNOPPQ (bisexual, multisexual, no label, omnisexual, pansexual, polysexual, queer). Everyone has the right to identify as they want. I am just advocating for the use of bisexual* as an umbrella term to create a strong bisexual* community against our unique struggles. 

Bisexual and transgender with the asterisk (*) at the end signify umbrella terms. 

Is Bisexuality Cissexist? Or Is Pansexuality Biphobic?

There are many different definitions of the word bisexual. These definitions vary from person to person and their individual experiences. However, the traditional definition of bisexual denotes a person that feels sexual and/or romantic attraction to people of both the same and different genders. So, there is the implication of being only two genders by using ‘attraction towards both genders’.Other traditional definitions replace ‘same and different genders’ with men and women, making it more explicit. These definitions are assumed to reinforce the gender binary and; as a result, are accused of being cissexist

But, there are other definitions of bisexuality that are gaining momentum. Julia Serano defines bisexual in her book as “people who do not limit their sexual experiences to members of a single sex or gender”. What is the dichotomy being used in here? She makes the case that being heterosexual, gay or lesbian reinforces the gender binary just as much as the traditional definition of bisexual since they are exclusively attracted to the opposite or the same genders. Same/Opposite dichotomy, anyone? And they are not even using the words men and/or women!

The Bisexual Index enlightens us by saying that the definition of heterosexual, gay and lesbian have changed over time because now people recognise the existence of more than two genders. For this reason, heterosexual, gay and lesbian are now defined as people that feel sexual and/or romantic attraction to people of a broadly different or similar gender, respectively. Gender is a norm and so, it kind of exists like a rigid box (take, for example, men and women), but actually, no gender performance (for lack of a better word) is ever the same. Your gender, my gender, his, her, zie gender might be similar in expression, but they are all unique!

The Bisexual Index defines bisexual as the possibility for romantic and/or sexual attraction for people of more than one gender. 

But regardless of these definitions that acknowledge all genders, there are individuals that advocate for the complete elimination of the word bisexual for its ‘inherent’ cissexism. Some individuals who claim that bisexual is only about attraction towards men and women, may choose to identify as pansexual, queer or less popular labels like omnisexual, polysexual, multisexual or no label at all.

The word pansexual denotes a person that can feel romantic and/or sexual attraction towards people of all gender identities and expressions. Or as it is often described, a pansexual individual feels romantic and/or sexual attraction towards people, regardless of their gender identity and expression.

So, speaking from my point of view, the two are very similar. In fact, a lot of people use them interchangeably. If so, why do people keep fighting over the use of these terms? Is it to find who is the queerest of us all?!

While there are many similarities between bisexual and pansexual (and not just the fact that we feel attraction towards more than one gender), there is one crucial difference that provides the answer to the question asked above.

Activist Shiri Eisner explains in this blog post and Julia Serano explains in her book that bisexuality focuses on sexual identity while pansexuality focuses on gender identity and expression. This means that those two different identity labels are concerned with different oppressive binary structures: bisexual is concerned with the hetero/homo dichotomy that reproduces monosexism (we’ll get to that in a bit!) and pansexual is concerned with the sex/gender binary that reproduces cissexism. 

So, basically, when a person identifies as pansexual, they prioritise ending the oppression – in the form of cissexism and transphobia – that their possible partners might suffer because of their gender identity and expression. This means they are actively seeking to undermine the assumption that what’s between your legs determines if you feel like a man or woman (a.k.a. the sex/gender binary). In short, pansexual individuals focus on making explicit their attraction towards trans* and genderqueer people to end transphobia. 

But when a person identifies as bisexual, they prioritise ending the oppression they face – in the form of monosexism and biphobia – by feeling attraction towards more than one gender.  In a society that has conditioned us to think that people can only be attracted to the same or different gender (gay/straight), claiming a bisexual* identity is both revolutionary and radical since we are proving that we exist and that we are not invisible since our sexual orientations are always defined depending on who we are fucking. It is an act that aims to destroy monosexism and bisexual invisibility (if you aren’t sure of what these two mean, click here for my blog post about it!).

With this, I am not saying that bisexuals are fighting a different fight than pansexuals. Indeed, we have the same goal towards liberation. But just as much as there is transphobia within bisexual circles (sadly!!), there is biphobia in pansexual circles (also, very sad!). This is because of the fact that, regardless of the history behind the bisexual movement and our unique struggle against monosexism and bi-erasure, pansexual individuals choose to identify as such because they don’t want to reinforce the gender binary (and as we saw, bisexual individuals do not reinforce the gender binary any more than heterosexual, gay, lesbians and some trans* people supposedly do). That seems pretty biphobic to me. And frankly, it sounds like the start of the Queer Olympics.

Julia Serano quotes Shiri Eisner’s work in her book because both of them are two bisexual academics in the trans* spectrum that demand the bisexual* community to prioritise undermining their unique struggle against the hetero/homo binary and not the sex/gender one as this contributes to bisexual erasure. Shiri Eisner’s quote is as follows:

“A discussion focusing around bisexuality solely in relation to transgender politics performs structural bisexual erasure, as it prioritises transgender politics over bisexual politics in a discussion about bisexual identity”

For this reason, independently of how people choose to identify within the bisexual* umbrella of BMNOPPQ, it is important to retain the bisexual* umbrella term to fight against monosexism and biphobia. 

Regardless of the fact that many bisexual individuals (and other individuals within the queer and trans* community) want to reduce the meaning of bisexuality to that of attraction towards men and women, aiming to reinforce the gender binary, we need to remember that only we get to define what bisexual means (hopefully in the most inclusive light). As Julia Serano beautifully explains, bisexual is our word: “[it] is about our experiences with sexuality and sexuality-based oppression, and it makes no claims whatsoever about what other people are, or how they should be sexual or gendered”. 

We can’t pretend that the long history behind the word bisexual, as it is the first word bisexual* individuals used to fight for their inclusion within the queer community and their struggle for liberation. We can’t ignore the fact that the word bisexual is the most familiar term for everyone to understand BMNOPPQ identities and that creating new words to describe biphobia, bi-invisibility, bi-erasure, monosexism and so on would be problematic and would only further our invisibility within both straight and queer communities.

We shouldn’t abandon the bisexual* umbrella term because this would undermine any efforts made to create a bisexual community. Sadly, this bisexual community is not as strong, so creating new words would only weaken any attempt at forming it. I advocate for the creation of a bisexual* community to hold each other accountable, share and fight for our struggle and to move away from always trying to assimilate and navigate between gay, lesbian and straight circles. 


I want to remind that this post is not about belittling people within the bisexual* umbrella that choose to identify with any BMNOPPQ terminology; on the contrary, I fully support every individual’s right to self-determination. But I am encouraging us to hold on to the bisexual* umbrella term for political reasons. I did want to bring to light the problems of a weak bisexual community, the biphobia and transphobia within the community and debunk the myth that bisexuality reinforces the gender binary.

If you have any thoughts, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below 🙂

Addressing Our Global Crisis Of Disconnection

This blog post was originally written for and published in Akasha Innovation, a social enterprise that aims to prepare and empower young changemakers to become future sustainability leaders. Go check out their amazing work and be ready to become inspired!

While completing my social entrepreneurship minor at Hult IBS, I had the opportunity to take a class with Akasha’s Chief Innovation Officer Mike Edwards about the global environmental crisis and sustainability. With his open-ended assignments, he genuinely encouraged us to find our passions and seek ways to speak our truths. In one of the assignments, I decided to write for him about a realisation I had in that school term because of his class and my work as a facilitator (or teaching assistant, as it is called): our global crisis of disconnection.

But disconnection from what exactly? Most people argue this is the most connected we have ever been given the many ways (fastest methods of transportation, the Internet and other technologies) that we can connect to each other and to the world in this globalised era.

And perhaps, this is true. But I am talking about the global crisis of disconnection from nature and from each other that has reached its peak in the past few years. This disconnection has proven to be lethal, as it has worsened climate change, biodiversity loss and social inequality.

To radically transform our current state of disconnection, we need to get to the roots of the problem. What is causing this disconnection? How is this disconnection affecting us? And once we find those answers, we need to envision a viable solution.

Disconnection is one of the critical symptoms we suffer from by living in a system that alienates us from nature, our food and our communities. Marx and Engels tell us that alienation happens when individuals become estranged and detached from the world in which they live in. Consumers are alienated from the source of the products they buy because they rely on factories that abuse the land and other creatures to satisfy our needs. Businesses dehumanise people and exploit their labour in several countries of ‘the Global South’.

This alienation and the subsequent disconnection from nature and from each other has been furthered in our society by a history of uneven power relations and linear modes of production. Can you guess what I’m talking about by now?

Capitalism

That’s what we thought too. Credit: http://futureconomy.com

Our capitalist society and its never-ending need to consume has normalised the belief that everything is disposable. A thing that is disposable can be thrown away after use – similarly, a disposable person is considered to be owned and ready to be dismissed when the service is done. A culture of disposability enables linear modes of thought and action. Capitalism reproduces this linear model in two ways. Firstly, it promotes a society that likes to waste resources rather than preserving, recycling and reusing. Secondly, privileges a business model that dehumanises people and sees them as disposable and replaceable, rather than seeing them as whole persons with dignity and rights.

Not surprisingly though, this disposable culture that breeds disconnection from nature and each other has injected itself into every aspect of our lives – especially and most disturbingly, in the education system.

Over the decades, capitalism, has transformed the purpose of education and the ways we educate our children and youngsters. Henry Giroux explains that the purpose of education is to preserve our capitalist order by corporatising education. If individuals internalise corporate interests through the banking model of education, they will become subjects that fit within the mainstream cultural (corporate) norms of our society of economic growth and consumerism. This purpose is achieved by implementing pedagogical strategies such as the ‘the banking system’ of education.

Paulo Freire, considered one of the founding fathers of critical pedagogy, describes some of the features of this new ‘banking system’ of education in his book, ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’:

  • It reproduces dichotomies such as teacher/student, active/passive, literate/illiterate, domineering/submissive and so on because of the positionality and power dynamics between teacher and student.
  • The teachers, the ones that possess the knowledge that the students ‘need’ to know, assume the role of a narrator that explains the students about the world outside the classroom.
  • The students become passive recipients that are supposed to fill their “empty heads” with the knowledge provided by the teacher. They become listeners that are completely disengaged and disconnected from the reality the teacher is supposed to be teaching them about.
  • The teacher  is considered to be a powerful and knowledgeable authority while the students are considered to be completely ignorant. This dehumanises the students by deeming them incapable of providing any kind of knowledge to the classroom.
  • The students exist to memorise, repeat and accept the information being taught without questioning or challenging it. As a result, they are left without understanding how this imparted “knowledge” is useful for them.
  • The teachers are better teachers the more they fill the students’ empty brains with information that they will memorise and repeat in a test. The more the students agree to accept this information and repeat it in the test, the better students they are.

The banking system of education is preventing learners from becoming agents of environmental and social change because of its lack of inquiry of practices, discourses and identities that we consider ‘normal’. 

The current environmental education content being taught in schools suffers from the narration sickness inherent in the banking system of education. Not only do students not get to experience the environment they are learning about (which means they learn out of context); but also, environmental education has become descriptive and passive. It focuses mostly on the description of our ecosystem’s processes in isolation from one another, reflecting the way we try to address environmental crises and its causes.

This banking model of education perpetuates social oppression and inequality since it is favoured against a model that aims for the liberation of oppressed groups of people such as queer pedagogy and critical pedagogy. To quote Henry Giroux’s On Critical Pedagogy, the neoliberal education system “strips education of its public values, critical content, and civic responsibilities as part of its broader goal of creating new subjects wedded to the logic of privatisation, efficiency, flexibility, the accumulation of capital, and the destruction of the social state”. 

Since everyone can be a learner and an educator at the same time, how do you address our global crisis of disconnection? We need a revolutionary and vibrant form of education. By applying the principles of ecology (the language of nature) such as systems thinking, networks, cycles, interdependence and diversity to the way we teach and school curricula; we can achieve a truly sustainable change in education that will make us ‘see the world anew’. Fritjof Capra explains in ‘Ecological Literacy that in order to use resources and treat people in a way that does not compromise the ‘needs and aspirations’ of future generations, we need to imitate how sustainable natural ecosystems work.

Modeling the school curriculum and our pedagogical strategies on the principles of ecology allows us to understand the importance of connectedness, relationships, context and resilience. Education for sustainable communities teaches us to see environmental and social issues as a whole and not as isolated issues that have different causes and effects. It disrupts the teacher/student dichotomy by bringing equality to the classroom where everyone is both a learner and an educator. It teaches that when you get knocked down, you gotta get up again’ because that’s the essence of nature: rebirth, growth and transformation.

Current educators, leaders, business people, organisations, institutions and governments need to revolutionise education for it to challenge the environmental and social crises that are detrimental to the needs and aspirations of future generations.


If you want to support Akasha Innovation and its wonderful Young Pioneers Programme, please contribute to their kickstarter campaign here. It is of utmost important that we take steps towards a better future, and Akasha is doing just that by guiding young changemakers to become the change they wish to see in this world! Please contribute, these are the best people I know 🙂 ❤

Street Harassment: Not Asking For It

This post does not imply that harassment only happens between men and women. Everyone, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, class, or race can experience harassment. Street harassment happens between all groups and all groups have different experiences with it depending on their intersecting identities. Even though men do experience harassment, women (both cis and trans) and other subordinate groups such as the LGBTQIA+ community are more vulnerable to it, which is why this post focuses on such experiences and my experiences on harassment by men.

One of the most vivid memories I have as a child is, sadly, a really bitter one. When I was around 9 or 10, I remember being at one of the many beautiful beaches of La Isla de Margarita, a wonderful small island in the north-east of my country, on a family vacation. My mum and I decided to take a walk along the beach. Because I normally went to these beaches with my grandparents while my parents worked, I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible.

Every time I walked alone with my mum I felt uncomfortable, fearful and in danger. This time, my emotions were exacerbated by the fact that she was wearing a tiny bikini that accentuated her best attributes. My mum is and has always been very coqueta and this was something that bothered me a lot because I believed it was the reason behind the cat-calls she always got.

“Mami, tu si estás rica!”

*whistles*

*blowing kisses*

Mira ese _____ y esas ______*

*turns around*

*licks his lips*

Me blaming my mother for the behaviour of these men was my internalised sexism, a product of my socialisation growing up female in Latin America (among other things like religious education, machismo culture, and so on). This was almost like slut-shaming her indirectly. This was my 9 or 10 years old self perpetuating rape culture. I always got angry at her because I thought that she put herself in danger (and when I was with her, I was in danger too) because of the way she decided to dress. In my head, those men were sort of guilt-free.

Ugh. Silly me.

I always asked her if the street and sexual harassment she faced bothered her and her answer was always a fake “no”. I thought to myself, “if it doesn’t bother her, how come she never smiles or takes these comments as compliments, but instead she walks faster and her facial expression becomes inscrutable?”. 

Of course it bothered her, she was being harassed.

Credit: stopstreetharassment.org

Cat-calling is just one form of street harassment. The organisation Stop Street Harassment defines it as:

Unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons in public places which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.

Street harassment is so diverse, it ranges from leering, assaulting, whistling, flashing, masturbating in public, stalking, groping, cat-calling and much more. It is very scary.

Street harassment, which is one form of sexual harassment, perpetuates rape culture. This is important to mention because a lot of people believe that street harassment is only about unwanted attention and compliments, but it actually is about reinforcing power dynamics and the status quo. And this is at the core of rape culture. The dominant group, through street harassment, sexual harassment or rape, reminds the subordinate group where they supposedly belong (in the private sphere) and how vulnerable they are (in the public sphere). The subordinate group suffers street harassment fuelled with sexism, racism, ableism, transmisogyny, transphobia, homophobia, biphobia, classism, sizeism and more depending on their identity.

This dichotomy of the private/public = dominant/subordinate = normative/non-normative is constructed because of gender policingwhich functions to delegitimise and devalue the gender identity and/or expression of the individual being harassed. Spaces are policed because spaces are gendered. Historically, the public has been constructed as a masculine space and the private as a feminine one. So, when women are in the masculine public space, they are vulnerable to assault, violence and punishment because it is supposedly non-normative for them to be there.

If we translate this into a day-to-day and more up to date situation, we can understand how the dichotomies help explain power relations and how harassment works. In a society that values virginity over sexual liberation for women; where the gender binary, rigid gender roles and expressions and heteronormativity at the expense of queer and trans* folks; where being white is seen as more legitimate than being black, hispanic, asian or indigenous; where being wealthy means having more social advantages over people struggling with poverty; where people who are closer to unachievable beauty standards are considered more beautiful, smart, capable and much more than people that are fat, have stretch marks, small boobs, no thigh gaps and so on; where people with disabilities are somehow only worth the pity and awkwardness of those who do not have a disability – those that are on the receiving end of street harassment are considered non-normative identities and bodies that need to be policed and punished to not threaten the normative status quo.

This happens because we construct our identities based on what we are not: “I am what I am not”. And to define what we are not, we have to police the boundaries of what we are. “I am a man so I must not act like a woman” – BOOM! Gender policing at its finest.

Gender Policing Hurts Everyone and Contributes To Our Culture of Harassment. Credit: soul-gender.tumblr.com

Until I experienced street harassment myself, I kept blaming my mum and the way she dressed for the behaviour of these men. I noticed that even though I dressed differently, was younger and did not have my mum’s body, I got harassed too. That’s when I understood that it was not my mum’s or my fault to be objectified in this way – it is the cultural sickness of rape culture. And once I had that realisation, I felt helpless, vulnerable and sexually objectified.

Sexual objectification happens when a person is robbed of their desires, autonomy and dignity by being dehumanised, treated and seen merely as an object of sexual pleasure. This stems from the dichotomies of self/other, us/them, subject/object, mind/body. In our society, men are the sovereign subjects while women are the Other, the objects of men’s desires. As men represent the mind, women are reduced to their bodies which are often objectified, commodified and sexualised on a daily basis.

The feeling of helplessness, vulnerability, dehumanisation, indignity, filthiness, anger and fear that comes from the sexual objectification inherent in street harassment, while paralysing me, often feels like a call to action. Every time I face street harassment, I wish I could slap the attacker on the face for making me feel like less of a person than him. I wish I could ask him if he would like his mother, sisters or daughters to be reminded by strangers of the oppression and violence women have to face on a daily basis. I wish I could scream back at the harassers that my body is not for their entertainment and that it does not define my worth.

I wish I could simply walk on the streets – alone, at night, at daylight, with a short dress, a skirt, a ton of make-up and heels, cleavage, my belly showing, in a winter coat, in boots, in shorts, drunk, high, whatever the heck I want jeez even naked – and feel safe enough to do it. I remember in London walking late at night on my way back home from the library with the keys between my fingers just in case something would happen. I remember a guy trying to slap me on the face after I slapped his for grabbing my ass. I remember all the damn times a guy or older men asked me to smile at them because I look so cute and sweet and hot. I want everyone to be able to walk freely and safely on the streets without the fear of being harassed!

I have been harassed so many times and I am fucking angry about it. I want to scream back at the attackers and tell them that my body is mine and that I dress and walk and am out in the public sphere for myself and not for them to look at me or comment on my appearance. I am out in the public space just because I am just as entitled as anybody else to it because I am a person. I do not need anyone’s validation. People can keep it to themselves, I don’t want to hear it. Don’t approach me. Don’t touch me because I haven’t given you consent to do it. Don’t tell me to smile. Don’t force me to conversation. Don’t try to force eye contact with me. Don’t touch yourself looking at me. Don’t lick your lips. Don’t blow me kisses. Don’t whistle at me. Don’t stalk me. Don’t follow me on the streets. Don’t make a comment about how I look. Don’t objectify me. Just don’t.

street harassment

Credit: http://warblebee.tumblr.com She took the tagline “Women Are Not Outside For Your Entertainment” From Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s Stop Telling Women to Smile Campaign

Even though men are also vulnerable to street harassment (and sexual harassment in general), the #NotAllMen argument derails the conversation about how men perpetuate and benefit from rape culture (whether they want it or not). So, I understand a lot of guys get offended when the feminist community calls them out on raping or harassing women and trans women but, whether or #NotAllMen do it is completely irrelevant! Men need to check their privilege and how they benefit from our patriarchal/kyriarchal society and understand that #YesAllWomen are potential victims of or have experienced sexual and street harassment at some point in their lives.

My partner asked me what would happen if a guy approach a girl with good intentions (let’s say they are genuinely interested in the book the girl is reading at that time) and the girl would think the guy is harassing her. I answered that even though we know that #NotAllMen are harassers, #YesAllWomen have been conditioned to always be alert against possible predators. We grow up in this mentality of not walking home alone at night, not leaving our drinks unattended, not talking to strangers, always looking at our surroundings, try to take a self-defence class and so on. For this reason, in that hypothetical situation, I answered that the guy must not feel offended but should understand why women react in a certain way, like ignoring him, walking away or being defensive – we need to always be alert!

Credit; Tumblr

This post was originally going to be about the ways we can react when we are going through street harassment, but I personally feel very angry about this topic and have always wanted to express those feelings. However, I do want to share an article, organisations and projects that aim to empower victims of street harassment. Maybe I can write a blog post about those some other time 🙂

Have you experienced any form of street harassment? How did you react? Did you care? Did it make you mad? Would you give the cat-caller one of the cards? Why? Why not? Would you holla’d back? Would you say something back at the harasser? Are you usually afraid to do so?

Please share your stories with me in the comment section below! 🙂

An Update!

Hi everyone!

I haven’t posted anything in the past two weeks or so and there are different reasons for that. All the reasons are equally important and just wanted to share them with you. I love blogging and sharing things over here, so I can hopefully start doing that again next week. One post per week as usual 🙂

I haven’t been able to write because I left Missouri, where I was with my partner and his wonderful family, a week from now. This means that all my time and attention was given to them the days before I left, as I don’t know when I’ll see them next.

This also means coming back to Caracas and spending time with my family and my friends, whom I haven’t seen for a while now. It also means building a new routine and figuring out the logistics of what my day will look like.

I’ve been taking a break from reading about my favourite topics such as all things feminist and social justice, except from Everyday Feminism (because I love the articles, I can’t help it lol). I got some new books about privilege and how to make the feminist and queer social movements more inclusive (exciting reads!). Instead, I’ve been reading a book that was given to me as a gift about yoga around May. The book is called Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar. I tried to read it but I left it here and when I gave it a try the first time, the time was just not right. Luckily, reading this felt natural and it has given me a stronger purpose on my practice. So it has made me pretty happy 🙂

The Avila Mountain from my balcony and some coffee with Iyengar

I didn’t have much time to write in the past few weeks because I was focusing all my writing time and energy into a blog post for Akasha Innovation. How exciting! This will posted in the next two weeks and cross-post it here too 🙂 So you’ll get to read it! Check their amazing projects out and be ready to feel some serious inspiration!

Stay tuned and share the articles if you like them. I have really loved the experience and the outreach of the blog. I hope you’ve also enjoyed reading!

Is there anything exciting (projects, trips, ideas, books, food) that you want to share? Tell me in the comments section below! 🙂

All the best,

Valeria

Allyship: It’s Tougher Than It Looks

During my undergrad studies, I had one class in particular that encouraged me and my fellow classmates to question fundamental values such as peace, equality and freedom. Since the professor was a self-proclaimed, fearless feminist who loved a good philosophical debate (Hi, Gun!), I always felt comfortable and safe to make other people question their values and views when debating issues regarding gender identity and sexual orientation.

One day we were discussing gender equality at the societal level and; of course, there were these two guys who mansplained to me the “natural” differences between the sexes after I had explained to them that gender was a social construct and not an inherent human characteristic. The debate kept on going and so they kept telling me I was wrong because women and men are “naturally different”.

What’s tragic though is that, at the end, they told me they called themselves allies to the gender equality movement (because God forbid they called themselves the F-word!) and that we were working towards the same goal.

Hermione in class, eye rolling, like me. Credit: Glee Wiki

Since that hopeless discussion, and in my own journey as a feminist with a passion and curiosity for social justice, I have always wanted to know more about what it really means to be an ally. 

Last week I had the opportunity to explore this topic more in depth by facilitating a discussion about “how to be a better ally” in our biweekly Everyday Feminism Team meeting. In the discussion, not only did I learn more about being an ally through the research I had to do, but also through the beautiful and rich ideas my fellow feminists shared with me. I want to share my reflections on the topic here.

But before you read any further I want to say two things. Firstly, a BIG THANKS to those who participated and shared extremely insightful, complex and articulate ideas about their experience as allies and as feminists; and for the support in my first facilitated discussion over Skype. Thanks to Sandra for the opportunity to facilitate the discussion. Secondly, the research used in the discussion is the same research that is used in this blog post and credit will be given where it is due. Most of my research was based on amazing ideas from Jamie Utt, Mia McKenzie from Black Girl Dangerous and articles from Everyday Feminism. 

What Does It Mean To Be An Ally?

So, maybe it is because we are genuinely passionate about a certain cause (like the feminist, queer or environmental movements) or because we want to do some good and feel good about it, we have probably said in the past that we support a certain cause or we are an ally to it. And perhaps announcing it to others, or “talking the talk” as some people say, seems like enough for most of us.

But this is not really enacting social change. 

We need to actually walk the walk to have some kind of impact in the field of social justice; and to achieve this, we need to ask ourselves, what does it mean to be an ally? Do we even know what an ally is?

Drawing from the works of Jamie Utt and Mia McKenzie, allies are people of identity privilege who consciously act against the systems that afford them privilege because they are aware of how these systems oppress and marginalise other groups of people in our society.

Being an ally requires daily actions that undermine and challenge the social norms that make up for today’s status quo. Foucault explains how social norms exert disciplinary power on a certain population and how, in turn, this further dichotomises identities. As individuals internalise and condition themselves to act and think in certain ways, some practices, discourses and identities are reproduced and so they are considered ‘normal’ or more ‘acceptable’ than others. This creates dichotomies like normal/abnormal, natural/unnatural, subject/object, privileged/oppressed and so on. As such, those that internalise, act and are born in a circumstance that ‘fits in’ with the norm will benefit from social and identity privileges.

The status quo is maintained because power is relational (which means everyone is an instrument of power) among individuals and institutions in our society. People internalise norms that contribute to this status quo. Since power is literally everywhere, Foucault believed that the status quo and its norms can be changed when people challenge norms and the institutions that reinforce them. I see it as a way to disrupt the current cycle of norms and try to create another one, but that’s just me.

Allies, as instruments of power (in my Foucauldian terms), need to be in a constant battle against these social norms since they oppress certain groups of people while privileging others. The best way to do this, before taking any other step, is to become aware of one’s privilege. 

The Two Most Difficult – But Most Important – Tasks Allies Need To Know

This is one of the most difficult tasks that we, as allies, need to fulfil. Checking our privilege entails questioning and analysing how we are advantaged in society by any of our multiple identities. Identities that are considered majoritarian and privileged such as white, male, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied and wealthy are considered the norm; and as norms, they have the power to exclude those that do not fit in.

As Jamie Utt explains, as allies, the only way to change these norms is to purposely work against them. Knowing the way in which privilege advantages us will allow us to understand our placement in our society’s power structures, clarifying the way in which we can act in solidarity with others. This is an important realisation since privilege hides itself from the eyes of its beholder as the privileged is the norm.

I don’t see race – I don’t see my privilege. Credit: Feministwire.

A lot of people feel shame and privilege guilt when checking their privilege for the first time. This is okay, I went through it myself. It is pretty overwhelming to realise how one’s identities can contribute to the oppression of others. But we need to move past this. If we really want to be a part of social change, we need to act. We need to accept that we can’t really give our privileges away and feeling guilty and shameful only paralyses us in a state of inaction, which contributes to oppression by maintaining the status quo!

This is NOT what we want as allies.

To move past privilege guilt I extremely recommend this article by Jamie Utt, but I think it is important to add these couple of things here:

  • To prevent the powerlessness that comes with (un)learning your privilege and to move past privilege guilt, keep in mind that it’s not your fault you have certain privileged identities. It’s pointless to feel guilty about something you can’t really change.
  • However, you should feel guilty if you have checked your privileged and just sit there feeling bad instead of taking some action.
  • You shouldn’t guilt-trip yourself over being heterosexual, or being white, or being wealthy. You are not a bad person. Oppression is systemic, not individual; but it is reproduced with individual actions. You should, however, become conscious about your place within society’s power structures and the impact of your actions. This way you can devise ways to become a more inclusive and empathetic person.
  • Again, understand your role in oppression. Quoting Jamie, “understanding the fundamental ways in which I, as a person of privilege, collude with oppression every day, empowers me to act”. 
  • In desperation, my mentor Mark Spokes always referred me to the Serenity Prayer. I am not religious, but it makes you reflect a lot about what you can realistically change with your actions so you invest your energy where it is necessary. Burn-out effect is not fun.

As Frances E. Kendall says, question your privilege by asking questions such as “what does it mean to be ________ in this situation?”, “if I were to be _________, would I be listened to?”.

This leads me to the second most difficult task that we need to perform as allies: to really listen.

Listening as an ally is more than just listening to one person of a marginalised group and calling it a day, because this person does not represent the stories of every person of that group. Listening as an ally is more than being friends with a person of a marginalised group and say I’m not homophobic or racist or classist because I have a friend from a certain group.

Listening is just another way of challenging current relations of power. As Jamie Utt explains here, having identity privilege comes with the assumption that our worldview is (or at least should be) right, simply because we are the norm. And refusing to listen to those who are different from us is just another mechanism of silencing them. This silencing is done to remain in power and this silencing reproduces oppression.

If we really listen, we are opening our hearts and minds to someone else’s perception of the world. We are recognising their full humanity by acknowledging that their voice, even if different from ours, is equally valid and worthy of listening.

Listening sometimes means leaving one’s ego behind and accepting that the role of an ally is not to be the centre of the movement or cause they support, but to facilitate and respect safe spaces for marginalised voices to be heard. Most importantly, listening as an ally is to know that an ally’s place is not to talk over or act on behalf of people from a marginalised group, it is merely to recognise the power of their voice and their full humanity.

Pokèmon Allies! Credit: http://golbatsforequality.tumblr.com/

Listening means to be genuinely open to learn the unique experiences of a person and to unlearn preconceived assumptions, negative and positive stereotypes about a certain group of people.

Listening means learning to accept that we will be called out on our privilege and that we need to apologise for it. We become better allies by trying to do better after someone called out our privilege. If we make a mistake, we need to apologise for it and truly listen. We don’t need to get defensive about it because it is most likely that we messed up. It is part of our learning experience on listening to other voices.

To be able to really listen, sometimes we need to shut up. Plain and simple, like Mia McKenzie says here. Once we recognise how our voice as privileged people has so much importance in our society, we need to shut up to give other voices the space they need to be heard.

Other Words of Wisdom

To facilitate the process of listening and to always keep our privilege checked, as allies, we should never take credit for the work of people from marginalised groups as our own. Those people have tried for a long time to get their voices heard, it is not fair for us to take advantage of our privilege and promote their ideas as our own. This only reinforces oppression as the privileged come up with all the solutions for those who are marginalised (Ugh). Those are not your words or actions, so why would you say they are?

As allies, we need to know that we are not the centre of the movement or cause we support. It is not about us. It is not about how we feel. It is not about how this can be convenient for us. It is about furthering the reach of voices that have been traditionally marginalised and inspiring others to take action towards a more just society. It is about supporting the work and the voices of those you are allies with, not about being the spotlight and centre of attention.

As allies we do not proclaim ourselves as allies. This is just weird. As Jamie points out here, those who we want to ally ourselves with must make that call based on how much they can trust us as allies. And, we can’t just say “oh, we are allies to this” because being an ally is about acting, not about our intentions (because intentions don’t have impact) and certainly not about the fanciness of the title. We are always becoming allies through our actions.

We must know that we can’t just pick and choose when it is convenient for us to act as allies. This is taking advantage of our privilege since we can choose when to act or not act against oppression. As Jamie Utt points out here, people of marginalised oppression do not take breaks from being oppressed!

This is something I personally struggle with because sometimes I feel it’s going to be a lost-battle trying to make a point about racism or homophobia with some of my friends (or even extended family!). And even though I am all for getting to know my energy levels to choose when to deal with this stuff, I want to have more courage and engage in these situations more often. Courage is important because the most effective way of being an ally is to to talk with people that share our identity privilege about the struggle of marginalised groups. This might offend the people with privilege since they might have never been called out before! I did this when I called out a friend of mine for being transphoic. As a cis woman, I tried to help my cis friend to understand why transgender is just another gender in the gender spectrum.

As allies, we need to know that we are in a never-ending learning process. We need to be on top of our game and to do this we need to listen and we need to read. Yes, we need to read and educate ourselves. We need to inform ourselves about current affairs and the history behind oppression (capitalism, anyone?). We need to know about patriarchy and, more specifically, kyriarchy.

It is necessary that we educate ourselves about intersectionality. This way we can understand how people experience the intersections of oppression and privilege in different ways and how this disproportionately affects others. For example, within the feminist movement, White Feminists need to learn how to be better allies to Women Of Colour by amplifying their voices and their work. As my fellow feminist Sarah Glassman pointed out in our discussion last week, we need to learn how to be better allies within our movements. Within the LGBTQIA+ movement, class-privileged white gay males are the population with more advantages and there needs to be space for recognition and support for other individuals that identify as trans*, bisexual or asexual, for example. There are power dynamics in every circumstance we find ourselves in, and we always need to think how to be better allies in such situations.  

Mainstream Feminism – Credit: Tumblr.

This post is long enough already (Oops!), I just recommend reflecting about the groups you want to ally yourself to and how small actions can have a big impact. For example, asking for the preferred pronoun of a person, becoming aware of the language we use and how words can hurt people, what media we are consuming and the need to expand it or not to mansplain are good places to start, depending on your identity.

So yeah, as you can see, being an ally is definitely tougher than it looks! Please, don’t feel overwhelmed or disappointed because you realised you’ve made some mistakes. This post was made to encourage everyone to keep learning and keep improving every day because allies do play a big role in social justice movements. Never forget that! 😉