The Failure of Western and Alternative Medicine: An Anti-Capitalist Perspective

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In my experience as a patient with mysterious chronic illness, I have witnessed the astounding failure of both western and alternative medicine. By western medicine, I mean the established medical community, primary care doctors, specialists, hospitals, institutionalized “care”, etc… By alternative medicine, I mean the diet industry, supplements, vitamins, nutritional therapy, and specialists outside of mainstream medicine, such as acupuncturists, Chinese herbalists, and counselors.

Western medicine treats the chronically ill patient with drugs that cause a myriad of side effects, often without bothering to understand the patient’s underlying problem. Western medicine does very little to intervene in the Standard American Diet (SAD) because it is of the same for-profit nature as the corporations that dominate the food industry. Doctors consider alternative treatments to be signs that the patient is “crazy” or “witch-like,” prone to magical thinking.

Of course, there are some doctors open to alternative treatments. Some of them practice integrative medicine, which includes both alternative and western approaches. Some doctors do more to help patients with their diets than others, but even alternative approaches are deeply flawed.

Alternative medicine is also profit driven. Supplements and services claiming to cure the chronically ill abound. Foods that offer “health” are higher in price and increase the profit of corporations like Whole Foods and other “community” health food stores engaged in the process of gentrification.

One advantage of western medicine is the availability of resources to fund new studies and support health care decisions with scientific research. Western medicine offers some definitive tests through blood, biopsy, or scans. It sometimes provides patients with a diagnosis, which can help them find resources for healing even if those resources lie outside the scope of western medicine. However, many chronically ill patients cannot be understood by scientific inquiry because their illness is difficult to study or because the medical community doesn’t anticipate a profit from their proper care. A patient’s experience of being under scientific study is often highly objectifying, dehumanizing, and humiliating. Proponents of western medicine point to the scientific quality of medicine and the fact that it has research supporting it while ignoring a patient’s continued suffering and obvious discrepancy with their treatment protocol.

One advantage of alternative medicine is that it emphasizes the patient’s relationship to themselves and their environment. Changing one’s diet is usually less risky than taking a toxic medication. Patients do their own research if they’re able to and try a variety of approaches, which may emphasize one’s connection to nature and prove to be a rewarding and spiritual journey. However, alternative medicine doesn’t care about the patient either; it is similar to the democratic party in that it pretends to care about you, but really it’s a facade to serve capitalist interests.

I wish to distinguish between alternative medicine and patients who take the rocky road of trying to heal. These patients do not represent capitalist interests, for it is in their best interest to heal. Not surprisingly, some of the most useful information for chronically ill patients on the internet comes from patient forums.

Beware the poor handling of chronic illness by both alternative and western medicine communities. As a patient, you deserve so much better. I am slowly finding my path, using mostly knowledge that I gained from alternative medicine, but it has been a difficult relationship to deal with such capitalist interests when I am trying to rescue myself from the private hell of my body.

Remember that in your healing journey many people will criticize you for “disturbing” them. The failure of both forms of medicine is triggering to many who have to push out that reality from their consciousness rather than do the work that it takes to have solidarity with people who are chronically ill. One thing that alternative medicine is right about is that nutrition is an important topic, and we live in a society that has a nutritional crisis, which has nothing to do with the mythical “War on Obesity” (People have always had different bodies) but has a lot to do with the corporate, GMO, for-profit production of food at the expense of everyday people’s health.

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Interstitial Cystitis: One Patient’s Journey (ongoing)

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In June 2012, I had flown to Chicago to meet up with a poetry friend and attend a socialist conference. After having a great time with my poetry friend, I went to the conference, which soon led to an excruciating couple of days in which I spent hours on the toilet with painful and frequent urination. I kept my anguish a secret. When the plane landed in Boston, I already had a doctor’s appointment for the next day. The doctor did a urine test to run a sample by the lab and he figured I had a routine UTI, so he prescribed an antibiotic. The antibiotic, however, didn’t work, so after coming home again, this time from Portland, OR, I again went to the doctor who never got results from the lab but gave me another round of antibiotics anyway. A week and a half later I returned in even more pain radiating throughout my lower pelvic area into my back and chest. This time the doctor said there was no presence of bacteria found in my urine, so I must not have a UTI. He referred me to see a urologist.

This was actually the second time I had seen a urologist. In my early 20s, I went to see a urologist after spending a night in the emergency room over a severe UTI, which doctors called pyelonephritis, a urinary tract infection so serious that it infects the kidneys. I remember the doctors in the emergency room arguing with each other. One said, “The leukocyte count is only plus 2. That isn’t serious enough to indicate an infection like pyelonephritis.” The other doctor said, “It could still be pyelonephritis.”
After that, I went to see a urologist who did a test of my urine, but he said everything looked good. He claimed, “Well, there is nothing wrong with you.”

So, it was my second time seeing a urologist. My girlfriend at the time was with me. During the visit, we regularly exchanged glances because the doctor was so rude and idiotic. He claimed that I must be sipping too much water to cause so much urinary frequency. He said, “Lots of women have bladder problems. Just go home a wait six weeks. You’ll get better.” He also performed a pelvic exam, which was pointless because he did not get any information from it.

After that terrible visit and still in terrible pain, I asked the Doctor Finder phone line operator to please find me a female urologist. After a long wait, the Doctor Finder person admitted that there aren’t many urologists who are female. In fact, there was only one that was coming up in the system. I made an appointment with her. Right away she said I had a condition known as Interstitial Cystitis, a chronic inflammation of the bladder lining. She said the cause is unknown and the condition is incurable, but the problem can be managed with diet and medication. She handed me two slips of paper that detailed what foods to avoid, such as citrus, processed tomato products, citric acid, coffee, caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, soy, chocolate, vinegar etc… Over the course of many months, I tried taking antispasmodics and an antidepressant, neither of which seemed to help that much long term. I cried in her office many times. She was very cold and detached, ready to dispense medicine, but that was about it.

My primary care doctor noticed my distress and wrote in my medical report, “Patient has anxiety and depression.” He wanted to prescribe me an antidepressant. I refused to take that medication, and I soon got off all medication. I read the Better Bladder book written by a health care professional who has Interstitial Cystitis (IC) and has spent a decade researching the disease. The thesis of her book was that patients with IC should not eat gluten or dairy. In November of 2012, I realized that I really wanted to go gluten and dairy free, but I felt lost. Gluten and dairy are the primary foods in the Standard American Diet (SAD), which I had grown up with. I remember going to Morrison’s, a smorgusboard, where my favorite foods to eat were creamed corn, Mac and Cheese, mashed potatoes with gravy, and chocolate milk. I loved the combination of pizza and ice cream. The temptations seemed overwhelming. How could I give up such food? On the other hand, I worried about becoming disabled. If my health kept spiraling out of control, I would lose everything. I was already becoming isolated from the major relationships in my life. I hated my painful body. The standard for a good day consisted of a day in which I could imagine that one day I would actually be able to touch myself again without wincing from pain. I wanted to heal from IC more than I wanted to eat delicious American foods, so I tried going gluten free first. The reason that people with mysterious, seemingly incurable health problems go gluten-free is because sometimes there is a theory that their condition could be an auto-immune disease. One theory is that the consumption of gluten is difficult for the body to digest, so food particles seep out through the small intestine, get into the blood stream, and cause the body to attack itself. Another theory suggests that consuming gluten-containing foods leads to inflammation in the body. Dairy can have a similar affect when not properly digested and can also cause inflammation. (Think of how a bowl of ice cream makes you have more mucus when you have a cold.)

It was a terrible month-November 2012. I didn’t know much about going gluten-free. I ate a lot of broccoli with rice pasta, day after day. Even now, certain kinds of rice pasta make me feel sick because I ate so much of it. I also forced myself to eat salad even though I’ve always hated salad. Because I couldn’t have vinegar, the only dressing that I knew of was olive oil. At this point, I was still trying to be vegetarian. I had been vegetarian for five plus years and didn’t want to go back on that commitment.

At first, I gave up on gluten-free because I was still in so much pain. It didn’t seem to help. But taking the medicines didn’t help me either. I was lost. I made a YouTube video about the failure of Western AND Alternative Medicine in the treatment of IC. I was so angry and hopeless and worried that I would have these razor blades in my private interiors forever. I considered whether or not life was worth living with such a broken body. Then the idea of being gluten free came back to me. I decided I would make one meal a day gluten free until that felt comfortable, then I would make two meals a day, then three… I needed to try again because I wasn’t sure if I had given the diet a fair shot. By March 2013, I had finally worked up to having all three meals be gluten free, and I had learned things along the way, how to make gluten free bread in a pan, how to saute vegetables, how to eat a lot of asparagus and sweet potatoes, how to make green smoothies. I realized the error of my ways. I had been gluten free in November but I had not considered eating anti-inflammatory foods, like greens in green smoothies. I also had relied heavily on grains for my calories even though grains are inflammatory (some more than others). And I had been using canola oil rather than something less genetically modified and less inflammatory like coconut oil.

Since March 2013, I have been completely gluten free, though I may have experienced some accidental exposures. I also added in being dairy free a few months later. I wish I could say that I am completely better, but I’m not. I’m a little better. I’ve also struggled with yeast infections since May 2013. The $60 probiotics that I bought at whole foods didn’t seem to help at all. I’m now trying a new probiotic called Restora and am feeling a little bit better, but I have my ups and downs. It’s too early to tell if it is working.

I’ve also been experiencing chronic dental problems, which is a whole other can of worms, but might be related. My dentist cannot find anything wrong with my front two teeth despite the chronic pain that I have in these two teeth following an infection in one of my front teeth that resulted in a root canal and an additional surgical procedure to remove the tip of the root.

I’m thankful that I moved into a gluten-free dairy-free home at the end of August. One of my roommates has Celiac’s, one has a kidney condition, and another is healthy but health conscious. Having the support at home is so important, but it’s still challenging when I work two jobs and attend a weekend school. I don’t have time to prepare enough food. I’m almost always hungry. This whole experience has resulted in me dropping 30 pounds. No one said anything or noticed that this happened, however. I tend to keep it a secret, my private turmoil.

To make matters worse, people often think of being gluten free as “elitist,” because gluten free foods are more expensive and buying organic is also more expensive. I feel like I don’t belong in public spaces when I go out unless I take a risk. I hate this American mentality that in order to belong somewhere out in public you must buy something. In order to use the restroom, you must buy a croissant. Toilets should be available to everyone who needs them whenever they go out. Instead, I have peed on trees in the Arboretum and in places behind bus stops. I have taken shits behind gas stations. 

Obviously, I have a lot of anger. The food system created my illness by getting me hooked on gluten, dairy, processed foods and sugar. Without these foods, I probably wouldn’t have gotten sick. But once you damage your body, it’s hard to undo the damage. I believe that we’re all addicted to the foods we eat. At least, I was. I would eat candy instead of a meal sometimes. I would really have to think about the last time I ate a vegetable. It’s easy to not eat vegetables in America.

I have so many questions: Am I allergic to gluten or does going gluten free simply decrease the amount of inflammation that I have? Is IC an autoimmune disease or an un-treatable infection without a trace? Should I consider going on the GAPS diet ( a very strict diet of no carbs and a lot of broth? Or should I stop torturing myself with diets due to the stress that they cause? 

Unfortunately, I think the GAPS diet is my next journey. I’m reading the book right now. It involves following a very strict diet of broth and low-carb. My IC symptoms are less severe, and I don’t have urgency or frequency as often now, but I still have severe yeast symptoms, which I’ve had since May 2013, and the current month is January 2014. That’s more than 8 months! Can you imagine how horrible that is? Have you ever had a yeast infection? How long did it go on before you felt insane? Doctors simply cannot help me. All they want to do is give me antidepressants or antibiotics, two medicines that are partially responsible for the decline of my health. I’ve used various alternative treatments for yeast, such as Grape Seed Extract in pill and tincture form, Baking Soda with water, garlic, Oregano Oil, Probiotics, Herbal Detox for Candida, Green Smoothies (raw foods) etc…  So far, no consistent luck. That’s why the GAPS diet appeals to me because it is the one thing I haven’t tried, but I do worry that I’m making a mistake. What else can I do? 

I’m tired of people thinking that I’m “crazy.” Recently, I had a doctor’s appointment in which the doctor’s aid responded to my dietary restrictions by saying: “Really, what do you eat? How do you go out with friends?” He didn’t understand why I would be on a strict diet when I don’t have Celiac. I’m frustrated with the lack of understanding that people have toward those who are on medically necessary diets, particularly if the medical necessity is determined by the individual patient rather than a doctor. Doctors do not know what causes IC or how to effectively treat it. Alternative medicine doesn’t have all the answers either. Overall, both kinds of medical communities are failing IC patients. Therefore, IC patients are the experts on the disease. We should be taken seriously, even our questions and confusions are an important part of the puzzle. 

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Struggling to see myself in a sexist, cissexist world hostile to genderqueer femme identities

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Sometimes I imagine myself still that freshman in college crouched over her computer screen as she engages in an instant message conversation with a trans-man who she met on Myspace.  I remember that my heart was beating fast, that pieces of myself were unpacking from a strange, unrecognizable suitcase that had seemed a mirage my whole life.

Eventually, Jake would stop messaging me after we exchanged angry words. Jake was complaining about women, Oh women, he would say, and I’d imagine him sighing exhaustively to boot. He was going through a break up and dealt with it by saying that he didn’t understand women. Because Jake had mentioned that he was bisexual, I suggested that he should date men if he was so sick of women. He responded furiously that I simply did not understand him, that his bisexuality had to do with his sense of gender and where he fit in the world of dating, not anything to do with being sexually attracted to both men and women.  I actually already knew that subtle yet important distinction from the fact that I had come to deeply relate to this online stranger, this person who also became an idea of myself that I could not approach directly. At the time, I blamed myself for the fact that Jake and I never spoke again, but, as more time has passed, I realized that, offended by the sexism of blaming women for his problems, I had lashed out against him rather than offering him a compassionate vision with which to replace his anger.

Annually, I went to see a performance of the Vagina Monologues on campus. It was always one of those magical nights where my heart was beating fast again and my mouth was agape without shame. I couldn’t believe that I would be so privileged as to hear the stories said out loud, rather than to live the story in silence.  After witnessing the incredible performance, I admitted to one of my new friends who was avidly a feminist and queer activist that I had never heard the word clitoris before.

This became my easy narrative.  I came from a high school that, like most high schools, was very conservative with their abstinence-only sex education. They weren’t even comfortable putting the word “sex” into the title, so they called it “health” class instead. But this class was anything but healthy. It pushed us to wait until marriage to have sex, never mind bothering to define what sex was to make sure we knew what not to do. This class was emotionally draining and anxiety provoking. At one point, they brought in a preacher or somebody who acted like a preacher who surrounded himself with caskets on stage and yelled at the top of his lungs that we should imagine ourselves inside of the open casket if we ever thought about having sex before marriage or drinking and driving. Oh, right… because drinking and driving is exactly the same social problem as having teenage sex?

Anyway, it was easy for me to say that I had never heard the word clitoris and that must be what was wrong deep down. That must be the wellspring from which my pain emerged each morning when I woke up in a panic, surrounded by my growing knowledge of a world where one must be man or woman.  Of course, it was sexism’s fault that I didn’t recognize my body, that I had been trained to not recognize the presence of other women. When I was at the Vagina Monologues’ I had freaked out, ushering in years of panic that I blamed on the gender problems of being a woman.

Little did I know that there was more to my struggle than sexism and the problems of being a woman. There was a hidden part of me that didn’t know how to socially exist, that kept focusing on others’ bodies, erasing and rewriting their presence over and over until this repetition created the rough draft on which I would construct my imaginary friends, except they weren’t actually imaginary friends. Yes, they were imaginary, but, no, they were not my friends. In fact, we did not know each other. This became the shape of my deepest emotional pain.

Not only did I revisit my tendency to blame myself, a problem that women are socialized to have, but I also reinterpreted and re-framed an old narrative– the belief that watching the Vagina Monologues’ was difficult for me due to ignorance over female bodies. Yes, sexism and overall cultural ignorance about human sexuality played a big role in my disorienting mesh of emotions; however, I was also very proud of my ability to appreciate self-pleasure. Who cares if I didn’t know the name for clitoris? I sure as hell knew how to stimulate it since I was 3 years-old. Did you know that they have found ultrasound evidence that even fetuses masturbate?

Seeing the Vagina Monologue’s caused me a beautiful pain, stumbling upon a very important voice that I had been repressing most of my life.  It was the voice that taught me to see that I was gender queer, a term that I learned about in college to signify people who identified as gender variant, as not exactly a man or a woman or as both genders.  I felt disgusted with myself for realizing that I was gender queer because I was “too femme” so to speak. I was identified as female at birth and I fit what other people seemed to expect of women. I had been well socialized as a woman and I knew that. Throughout the average day I would witness myself acting as I thought a woman would, especially when it came to self-blame. For example, if I went to the beach with a group of people I would have to nag them about wearing sun-screen because if anyone got sun burned I would wallow in how guilty I felt for not protecting them. I was the kind of person, and I still am, who will spend whole conversations admitting that I don’t know this or that. I talk about my flaws so openly that the line between honesty and self-deprecation blurs.  Because I know this is a problem, I have improved on this issue and have become less annoying to myself and others over the years.

Plus there was my body. Growing up in a small town in the south, male neighbors had proclaimed me a “real looker.” I have a zillion memories of being stopped because of my feminine appearance. I remember coming of age to the male gaze. Look at all these men looking at me! I would think, without any real excitement, though their vision offered to satisfy a need that I very rightly had—the need to see myself, to really see myself.

If I am going to live in a world that will provide space for seeing myself as I am, I need to live in a world that does not diametrically oppose the feminine with gender queerness, especially if you’re labeled female at birth or self-identify with being a woman. I see no reason that we should continue conflating gender identity with gender expression. Yes, some women are feminine. Some women are masculine. Most are both and neither, it seems. There is no reason that being masculine gives you the potential to be less of a woman any more than being feminine gives you the potential to be more of a woman.  I am not any less gender queer than the next person who identifies as gender queer; however, it is important to note that I have a lot of cis-gender privilege because of the way I am perceived as fitting the gender expectations in this society. This helps me gain employment, housing, and a myriad of other privileges that come along with those things.  Because of this privilege, I often worry that I am doing the wrong thing by identifying as gender queer. In fact, I have doubted myself so much that I decided to just call myself a woman so as not to spread misinformation.  You see, it all comes back full circle, the inner-workings of sexism and cissexism pinned against a growing fear that I do not have the option to genuinely express my gender identity in this society. How many times did I tell myself that I was not a woman? And how many of those times could I neatly extract sexism and cissexism from the picture and still have a story to tell? And, yet, sometimes the part that has the power to destroy the whole picture when it goes missing also lacks the power to represent the whole picture by itself.  So I imagine myself that freshman in college with a strange suitcase that keeps unpacking. I can’t believe I’ve draped and worn so many of these estranged pieces on my body. A lot of days I don’t recognize myself, but this pain creates motivation to connect with other people. Through our interactions, I begin to understand my body and myself again. I’m so thankful that radical queer people exist, for without them, how would I ever come to see myself, to really see myself?

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The Dead Babies that inhabit the Marriage Equality Narrative have feelings too!

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Let me get this straight (no pun intended). While the Supreme Court decides whether or not marriage is only between a man and a woman as well as whether or not to extend federal marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples, congress quietly passed bills to cut funding from social security AND to prevent us from halting the use of genetically modified seeds should a health crisis arise.  Meanwhile, my eyes have seen so many red equal signs on Facebook, I am beginning to have blue dots floating around in my vision. Never mind that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has honored Goldman Sachs with a “Workplace Equality Award,” even though it’s the same investment banking firm that wrecked the economy in the first place. Never mind any of that… my unalienable gay rights are about to be delivered!

You mean when the food that I consume is poisoned and making me sick every day I still have the right to use my body to share my queer love? Because I have a universal body that never gets sick and would never be diagnosed with a chronic inflammatory illness directly caused by the overuse of GMOs and the ignorance about nutrition that is paid and delivered to you by the food industrial complex’s lobby. That’s right kiddies, drink some more milk because it doesn’t deplete calcium from your bones. Wear a rabbit’s foot around your neck while you’re at it!

You mean my generation that has been robbed of affordable education, fair health care “benefits,” and a living wage… now our unalienable gay rights are arriving stamped with the promise that you too can gain inheritance rights for the fortune of debt that has so tantalized my desire to Anna Nicole you?

Because there is nothing classist or ableist about the marriage equality narrative. There isn’t an abused and neglected child inside of me that was damaged by marriage’s perpetuation of privatized childcare (a.k.a. latchkey/video gaming/dissociative generation). There isn’t any part of me that wants to see the end of unequal power dynamics between my partner and I. Let one of us have all the economic clout and the other one do the house hold chores. Let’s mix in reproduction on top of that inequality and do some unwanted pregnancy violence upon my chronically ill body to see how much longer I can live with the expectation of a universal body before I start repeating, f*@k you…
Now seriously folks, I try to be nurturing.  When my little sister (from the Big Brother Big Sister program) and I were out with her god sister, I learned that her god sister had to duck beside a police car to avoid being hit by bullets just outside her school. Daily, kids make fun of her and call her “pregnant” even though she is only 11-years-old. The guidance counselors are involved in her case and trying to help her, but do you think that not being able to marry is a violence wholly separate from the bullets that managed to escape this child’s body? Do you think that not being able to marry is also separate from the Iraqi child that was born with a twisted mess of legs and feet heaping out of her abdomen because she had been poisoned by the depleted uranium contained in US weapons? Do you think that your right to marry is about to be delivered to you without its head severed, its limbs crushed, its heart swallowed?

I would never vote against marriage equality, but I wish that the political spectrum under consideration actually included our existence as the queer, disabled, broke, radicalized and pissed off people that we are. I am sick of activists who give up on reforms and say that all authority is bad authority because that belief marginalizes my voice too, and I am sick of activists preaching that marriage equality is such a working class issue without regard to the classist, ableist norms that it supports.

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My College’s T-shirt, indicative of Rape Culture

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Recently, it has come to my attention that my college’s honors program created this t-shirt with an image of a stack of books and the slogan, “I’d hit that.”  Proponents of the T-shirt claim it stands for education and also that “it’s funny.” They say the honors program students voted on this t-shirt design democratically, and they enjoyed “laughing” about it.  To criticize this shirt, they say, would be insensitive to the person who designed it. Never mind that when I was at Hood, fellow feminist students fought tooth and nail against the out-of-date sexual harassment policy after a severe mishandling of a sexual assault on campus. Never mind that the city in which this college is located, like so many cities across this country, is one in which sexual harassment and street harassment is a daily nightmare, especially for women. Frederick, Maryland is a city of Civil War aggrandizing, where people carry confederate flags down Market Street without much protest from locals, where the rich condo owners overlooking Carol Creek phone the food bank to ask that the poor people stand behind the building so they don’t have to “see dirty people.”

This t-shirt is really just a small drop in the bucket of the kind of inequality and daily injustice that happens in Frederick.  I can’t imagine wearing a shirt that says “I’d hit that,” inviting even more sexual harassment than I already experienced on the streets of Frederick. I remember when a man told me to take off my hat, and I refused. He then found out where I lived and called me a filthy bitch every morning. He would wait for me in his car at the intersection and suddenly make his car go forward right when I tried to cross the street, as if he was about to hit me. He would make his car go up on the curb when I was walking on the sidewalk, which also gave me a terrible scare that I was about to get hit by his car and possibly die or be horribly injured. Mind you, I had no way to avoid this kind of harassment because I had been sexually harassed and assaulted at my first full time job after graduating from Hood. The only way to avoid my perpetrator was to take a different road on my walk to a new job location, which also meant putting up with this kind of daily street harassment. Men on the corner shouted at me: “Hey girl, want to get pregnant… Hey girl, nice legs but they need a tan.”  I didn’t need a degrading message like “I’d hit that” on my chest for all of this violence to come my way, but I don’t have the privilege to “laugh” at this t-shirt, which brings up horrible memories of the sexually objectifying abuse that I experienced in Frederick.

What I am trying to explain to the honors program at Hood College is that not everyone is so fortunate as to be able to disentangle the expression “I’d hit that” from the context of sexism. That should have been a consideration and the fact that it was not makes me concerned for the culture that produced it. It saddens me that this t-shirt contributes to the Rape Culture there at Hood, in Frederick, and everywhere, “a society in which rape and sexual violence are normalized. Where rape is perpetuated by every aspect of our culture: in the media, the justice system, the prison industrial complex, our own government, music, advertising etc. Rape culture is victim shaming and blaming. It is 1 in 6 women being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Where 75 percent of all survivors are assaulted by someone they know.” (Boston Feminists for Liberation Statement)

Let me be clear: I’m not angry at the students who voted for this t-shirt. I assume that they did not mean to send out a message of rape and sexual violence; however, the flippant handling of this messaging is indicative of the lack of intellectual and radical feminist culture in the honors program and on campus in general. I remember when Mary Daly visited Hood College and spoke of how we cannot be afraid to call ourselves feminists, that we must speak out against injustice. I hope by writing this blog/letter that I have contributed to that legacy of resistance at Hood College of which I am truly proud.

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Poetry, Activism, and Self-Esteem: An Experimental Feminist’s Approach

If you’ve ever read about self-love and self-esteem, you’ve probably found a great deal of writing about owning yourself. First of all, the whole notion that we each have a self is difficult for a poet steeped in experimental feminist literature.  For example, the feminist punk author Kathy Acker who I will be in the Dead Poet’s Poetry Slam on Halloween, believes that the Self isn’t real, at least not an authentic self. To express oneself authentically through writing– a patriarchal system– you are accepting the patriarchal “I.”  This isn’t self-evident to everyone. You have to be sensitive, the kind of kid who cried about denim hurting your skin. The idea that some people won’t understand makes me anxious, an anticipated lack of compassion for what I mean but can’t explain exactly. Just think of it this way: The idea that owning yourself will help you love yourself is problematic for anyone sensitive to issues of oppression. Then I need only prove a connection between the use of “I” and ownership. You can certainly experiment with using “I” in different ways, but this language system is set up to trip you. Sure it’s better to own yourself than other people owning you; but isn’t the best possible reality that the self not be owned? And that I avoid language that implies ownership of something that I do not believe should be owned?
 
Amidst this struggle, I’m currently putting together a collection of poems called How to Love the Poison in Your Own Heart, which will be a chapbook that includes a lot of my writings about being involved in activism or living a life of resistance. Many of these poems come out of energy from the Occupy Movement, though I am having trouble sorting through some of the poems that feel drained.  When you’re close to something or someone, you don’t know how to see what you’re looking at. It can be that way with your own writing–self-invisibility, for lack of a better term, intersecting with the poison in your own heart. Self-invisibility surrounding anything that you do or create is an irritant that can bring out your worst sides. Last night when I read Brenda some of the poems that I was considering for the collection, she agreed that she liked some of them, others she didn’t like so much. I was grateful to get her feedback, to help shed light on some of my self-invisibility.  However, Brenda also admitted that she doesn’t like poetry that much. I totally respect that perspective. A part of me doesn’t like poetry either even though I write it. I think that’s because how poetry is traditionally defined can be really disheartening. Whether or not you get any pleasure out of poetry is really subjective. I want to be the kind of poet who gets people interested, especially if they don’t like poetry– a goal that comes from my connection to performance poetry communities, especially the Cantab Poetry Lounge.
 
Nonetheless, I found myself getting upset. Questioning everything. Considering that I might quit poetry. Feeling tired of pursuing a dream that doesn’t look like anything. I know I’m not the only one. My poet friend Michael F. Gill (I have to use his whole name because I know too many Michael’s) says that he feels like he doesn’t have any good work to read at Cantab sometimes, which is completely ludicrous because he has a large body of outstanding work.  What is it about creating art that leaves one feeling empty, as if the act of creating and the thing created never happened?  Is it because the poems are a branch of my self-invisibility? Given that I can’t foresee untangling myself from self-invisibility, how will I live with this kind of disconnection? That’s the question I’m trying to answer. By “answer” I mean “exploration” rather than singularity of meaning.
 
The life of a reclusive poet like Emily Dickinson seems completely absurd to me. I definitely do not live a life of isolation. Most days I jump from work directly to a new and different land of artist communities and activism. Certainly, there are some overlaps between work and art– in the morning I have time to write a blog like this, in the afternoon I enjoy being around creative teachers and students. But there is a big rift between community and work, as epitomized by a parent when I asked her about what she does for a living and if she likes her job. She immediately said she loves her family most of all and chose not to focus on answering my questions too closely. I loved that she responded that way! I don’t believe human beings are supposed to experience this rift between community and the bulk of their adult working life.  A great deal of my self-invisibility stems from this rift causing alienation.
 
We don’t just stand behind a curtain and pick out the features of our lives and how they will define us. We are dealt various kinds of alienation. Owning myself, having high self-esteem and self-love is not a solution if the approach to this topic makes alienation invisible. I don’t know how to love the poison in my own heart, but I want to believe it’s possible. The doubts that I have about my poetry– It isn’t good enough. I don’t seem educated. I’m missing something. I’m not good at this or that. I’m not theatrical enough– all form the poison. Now how to love these imperfections, self-invisibility, first and foremost…
 
That is hard to accomplish. I will probably fail. It’s the effort that counts.
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What would the factory farmed chicken say about Chick-fil-A protests?

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What the Factory farmed Chicken says to queers protesting Chick-fil-A’s stance against same sex marriage.

I sympathize with how you’ve endured physical and emotional violence against your own natural desires.
We chickens live with the daily murder of our desire to be social animals.
In the packed slaughterhouse, we have less space to exist than your average notebook paper.
You could call the inability to move our version of The Closet,
but trying to reassure me by saying, “You’re not alone,” is a moot point among mass murder.

On the bright side, the crowd of Right Wing Christians at Chick-fil-A is actually quite small.
You should check out where I’m imprisoned.
I’m in here with 10,000 plus beakless birds.
You should see the ones who keep phantom pecking despite their de-beaking.
Those are the ones who love the hardest,
whose entire bodies have become bloodied with the weight of hope.

The nature of the dialogue gets so distorted.
Nobody is asking, “Have you ever seen a pasture before? Have you ever been able to walk?”
They keep saying it’s our fault. There are just too many of us bird brains.
I want to tell them to stop saying “Did your Momma make you gay?”
and rephrase the question as “How do we genuinely love ourselves and each other?”

I need you to make out for me.
Make out in front of Chick-fil-A to show them you’re proud of your beaks.
If I had a beak, I would speak baffled bird,
punching holes through your cheeks until I side swipe your tongue.
I would steal this flag of your hunger until it becomes a rainbow underneath which
any two consenting adults can marry each other.
In return, I would expect you to eventually get around to liberating us from the factory.
I mean, once you’re done fighting for your rights and all.

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