Sometimes it’s about me


Something I had forgotten until today is that fresh pineapples contain an enzyme (it’s called bromelain) which helps to digest protein. That’s great if you are a big meat eater and like to have a slice of fresh pineapple on your gammon steak. Not so great if you are a vegetarian and if you and your three-year-old child devour a whole pineapple in the space of an hour – she had about a quarter, I had the rest – the stuff begins to digest your tongue! Ouch. Ariel had it worse than me (or else she is just less brave and stoical) – but then she is probably less than a third my size and so proportionately she ate at least the same or possibly even more pineapple than me.

In other pineapple-related news, we saw on Storymakers some while ago that you can plant the top of the pineapple and it will grow into a new pineapple plant, and we are experimenting with this. I told my mum about this and she said “oh, yes, I’ve been doing that for years and it never works – everybody does that when they are a kid.” Oh, no, mum not us! Why, why, why were we so deprived? In any case, it never worked for my mum because she didn’t have Google. We do have Google, and it has taught us that Storymakers lied – you don’t just stick the top in the soil, there is all kinds of preparation to be done. Sigh. I may have to dig the thing up and do some work…

Meanwhile, the springfever gardening urge continues unabated. Since the last update, we have done some serious tidying in the garden (we even mowed the lawn, which ordinarily happens only about 5 times a year so that in itself is an event), planted out some sweet peas, sown some spring onions and American land cress and volunteered to help out in the family garden at Ariel’s nursery. I’m also eyeing up the possibly disused community plots at our local city farm, with a view to me and a friend setting up a community group and blagging any plot that may be going begging (Tredworth Women’s Gardening Collective, here we come…) We’re going tomorrow to collect some fleece for felting and will try to find out more about the gardens then.

PS My dad has not thrown his usual cold water over my gardening enthusiasm and is even mildly supportive – horrors! – his new perspective is that it doesn’t really matter if you don’t get a lot of veg, it’s still a wonderful hobby… hm, is this really my dad?

PPS I’m still, as you see, determinedly Blogging Lite, although I do have some actual feminist topics up my sleeve for when I feel up to it. :)

As a woman who has been married and who has a child to show for it, I am usually assumed to be heterosexual.

As a fully satisfied celibate woman who has no intention of getting into a relationship with anybody any time soon – and certainly not a man – I generally permit that assumption: it is habitual, comfortable; it is not (overtly or immediately) detrimental; it is easy just to let it be. And why question if it makes no difference anyway?

This is why, when listing my privileges (the ones of which I am conscious, I mean), I have fallen into the habit of describing myself as “more or less” or “pretty much” heterosexual. What I mean by that is that all of my sexual relationships and 98% of my sexual adventures have been with men. What I mean is also that I have experienced het privilege all my life, because I have always performed, and always been read as, a heterosexual woman. What I also mean is that even if this has not been exactly contrary to my natural inclinations, certainly it has not involved the full expression or development of my natural inclinations.

If I were in a free universe I would almost certainly not identify as heterosexual.

It’s difficult to know how I would identify. Based on my life story to date, I would identify as a woman-loving celibate. But the only reason I have that life story, the only reason that I have come to be a woman-loving celibate is because I do not live and have never lived in a free universe. So who knows? In that mythical free universe I might identify or not as anything I pleased, whenever I pleased, and who knows what would please me if I had not had this heterosexual indoctrination?… But stop! I don’t want to get side-tracked by imagining how things might have turned out different in some parallel but fundamentally freer universe. What a waste of time. ;)

I am not in a free universe, but I am free in some places. In my real-life heart I am free, and in my real-life heart I can and now do identify myself, to myself, as a woman-loving celibate. That’s a start.

In the real world outside my own body, I am not free and as such I am… a single woman presumed heterosexual who is troubled by all that this means. Because I don’t actively sleep with women, I am claimed almost against my will by the heterosexual in-group, the ones who don’t even realise that they are a group, the ones who generously assume that you are “normal” just like them unless and until you start putting evidence right in their faces that in fact you are a deviant.

I can’t abandon heterosexual privilege, because short of wearing a sign on my head that says “I AM A LESBIAN”, there is no way to prevent heterosexual people from lazily assuming that I am One Of Them. In truth, “can’t” may be an excuse for “won’t”. Although I wish that there was no such thing as het privilege in the first place, now that I have it, I can’t honestly stand up and claim that I even particularly want to abandon it in favour of the oppression that would replace it. I don’t know what abandoning the privilege would mean, what it would look like, how it would play out in my life, whether anyone would even take me seriously, and in any case – what would be the point?

I have heard a lot at various times about political lesbians and in all honesty I can’t see any appeal in that “identity”. It sounds too much to me like privileged straight women, purposefully single, magnanimously extending sisterhood to real lesbians, garnering feminist credibility for pretending to abandon their heterosexual privilege, without actually examining or understanding the very real differences in their experiences of privilege and oppression. Without try to see how it all works in real life, how it might feel as a real lesbian to be “offered” sisterhood (read, to be claimed in sisterhood) by a bunch of privileged singletons who think they have some sort of clue what it is like to actually live as a woman-partnered woman. I wonder how many of those singletons would be willing to walk around with an “I AM A LESBIAN” sign on their heads?

Where does that leave me? I’m pretty much back to square one, except for this:

At least in the places where I am free, I will stop aligning myself with men by referring to myself (even with qualifiers) as heterosexual. Instead, when called upon or otherwise moved to identify myself, I will identify as a woman-loving celibate. This plays well in my heart, much better, much more aligned with my own self than the labels that I have hitherto felt forced to apply to my lived reality.

In the context of acknowledging privilege, I will not pretend that I do not have heterosexual privilege because that would be inaccurate. That would be denial. But I will prefer to express it as something like “closet privilege” rather than het privilege. Because “closet privilege”, although it sounds kind of lame and evasive, also expresses well how this privilege feels to me. It feels like a privilege that stifles, that forces me to pretend to be someone I am not in order to be accepted by those around me.

******************

I have more to say on this, about how it fits in with my growing consciousness of race privilege, my thinking about the privilege of lightness as being of a kind, in some ways, with closet privilege. The two separate ideas connecting, banging together, exploding into brightness that hurts and cleans at the same time.

In the meantime, I just wanted to link this post of Dark Daughta’s and the Marilyn Frye piece Dark Daughta refers to, which have both been a part of the analysis I have brought to this post and to the one I will write soon on lightness.

I would like to distance myself from women who use their children to demonstrate their own credibility as whatever it is that they want to be.

I would like to. Can I though?

Let’s warm up with the simple stuff. I have ostentatiously fed, changed and interacted in public with my daughter in ways that were self-consciously coloured by who was watching. Hey, look at me, I use cloth nappies! Look, a breastfeeding mummy! Oh, see, now this is how you get your child to behave beautifully in supermarkets, look, see how I do it! Watch me performing perfect motherhood, watch and learn! Give me cookies!

My child: the ultimate parenting accessory, a unique demonstration tool.

Oh, yes, those curls, well her daddy is black, you know. His family are from Jamaica. Yes, that does make me rather special and unique, fancy giving birth to a coloured child, how brave, how progressive, how very revolutionary. Where’s my cookie?

Have I done that? Of course I have. Maybe not often, maybe not in so many words: I have a more subtle approach. I also don’t actually use words like “coloured” – those are just the words I see in the eyes of white women and men when they learn that my child is not white. I do it because it makes me feel superior – more radical, more interesting, more colourful. I get the sudden urge to prove that I am one of the good guys. Right.

Maybe I get points for even recognising (a) that I do this and (b) that it is really, really not cool. Maybe there is mitigation in the fact that I have been actively refusing, on a conscious level at least, to take radical feminist credit for my non-white child, for refusing to make her into my fluffy blogosphere credibility poodle. Right.

Is there any point to this castigation? Will it be cleansing? I hope so. At least, it will be getting some of these maggots and worms out in the open, ready for processing.

I keep trying to write something measured, something that takes the personal out of the political, not entirely, but enough for me to feel that I am not using my little girl, that what I spew is safe for publication. It doesn’t work, it isn’t flowing, it gets tangled in this bottleneck of thought that makes me ache with love and regret.

Long before I was married, before I was pregnant, my ex told me during our (first) big breakup that he didn’t want to be in a long term relationship with a white woman, that it would be too complicated, and some other stuff that came completely out of the blue because it was the first time he had ever started or entered into a conversation about race in my presence, let alone with me. At the time it seemed purely an excuse to cover up the “real reason” for his rejection, even more so later when I discovered that he was at the time in what we might call an overlapping relationship – with a woman who I can only assume was not white. And although I still think there was a lot of that, the fact that it was the only possible explanation I had for this sudden sharing of his non-white perspective shows you how far up my own colourblind arse I had reached.

I used him as a trophy, too. He was my wonderful black boyfriend/husband. Not too black though, just black enough to be the forbidden exotic. He was just dark enough that being with him felt like breaking a taboo, like a rebellion against my racist upbringing. I’m not about to start feeling sorry for him, but I can at least start to sort through my own junk and come clean. Was his exciting but always unmentioned darkness the reason why I saw only his charms and never, not until too late, his faults? Why I saw what I wanted to be there and not what was actually there? He was charming, urbane, witty, bright, fun, reckless, knowledgeable, well-read, captivating. All those things. He was also selfish, self-centred. There was a wall around him, impenetrable. He was unmoving, unchanging, there was no sign of growth, exchange, development. He gave without taking, took without giving. He broke me. I broke myself, hurling my soul and my body up against that wall. Maybe I would have seen it coming if I wasn’t so pleased with myself about my wonderful black boyfriend.

No good guys here. Just mess.

But a few feet away from me, there is a good person, a clean person. She is sleeping, she knows none of this.

And if I don’t watch out she will see it. She will see her mummy playing the White Mother of Colour card, she will see me looking expectantly, watching for the cookie, just for being her mother. So I need to sweep this childish need for validation and praise away fast. And I need to be ready to acknowledge the maggoty brain-worms and to let her know where they came from. To let her know that I am not playing games with her.

I don’t regret her. Obviously.

But I am becoming increasingly aware of how unmindfully she was created. We weren’t trying to have children – no way – she just came along, and although the whole idea was initially unwelcome we embraced it, we chose not to – I chose not to – abort* the pregnancy. We weren’t trying to have exotic little mixed race children either to coo over, or to brandish as revolutionary symbols, or to raise with intentionality and political consciousness. I had no race consciousness (I was colourblind in the worst sense. After all, if I could love a black man, I couldn’t be racist, right?) and my ex’s awareness of the racism he personally experienced never translated into a political position, an analysis or critique of race or white supremacy. It was just there. Somehow unposken. And in such circumstances, how could I mindfully choose to procreate with a black man, with that black man? I didn’t, and couldn’t have, even aside from the fact that my pregnancy and our parenthood was itself wholly unplanned.

[*This whole post but this paragraph in particular, that word in particular – it is hard to write because I can imagine her reading this blog one day – hi sweetheart – and seeing all this which I have kept down and hidden, kept away from her, until today. Writing about aborting her feels bad, even if all I’m saying was that this was a viable option that was not chosen. (I say viable option – it was never a real option with me, not this time – it was others who wanted that, not me. Not me, not this time.) Honey, even those in favour, they never talked about aborting you. We didn’t even know you.]

So.

That I conceived her unmindfully is bad enough.
That I birthed her unmindfully is bad enough.
That I have spent the last three years with her unmindfully is bad enough.

This is the day that it stops.

This is the day that I let the noise in, let it crowd around and try to strangle me if that is what it comes to do. This is the day that I start opening all those cans and looking for the source of my stinking issues, so I can pull them out and look at them and own them and strip them down and come out of it all as some kind of mother.

I want to be clean.
More than just feeling clean – I want to shake out the mess and be clean.
I don’t know if I can ever be clean.

This is the day that it starts.

I have been sorting out some pictures today, trying to print some* to send to my sister-in-law. I’ve written her a letter too, and re-reading her letters to me has made me look at these pictures of Ariel that I have printed with a different eye.

[* I’m actually very pleased with the prints – the first time I’ve tried to do proper photo printing at home on glossy paper – they are almost like “real” photos, with the advantage that you can select and edit before you print – I’m happy :) ]

Let me backtrack a little.

Before, when my sister-in-law would write to me I would have trouble reading her notes and letters. Trouble because it made me think too much of her brother, and all that sad jazz. So much so that I didn’t take much in, and rarely even wrote back, and when I did it was light and superficial, small talk, a duty letter. My bad. Anyway, I feel ready for it now, ready to face his family if not him, especially as she is not aligned with him (and never has been in fact) in the whole situation between us all, especially in my growing realisation that I must not leave it too late to give Ariel a real shot at knowing that side of her family, of her heritage. I feel so grateful at how hard my sister-in-law has worked at maintaining the link, and sorry to have evaded the relationship for so long. I had reasons, but still it was not the right thing to do. And all this is why I’ve re-read some of her older letters, remembering her words before I set down my own.

In a couple of her letters my sister-in-law talks about how her daughter is very light-skinned (the father is white) and looks almost white, rather like Ariel does.

From my perspective as a white mother, I saw the light skin, on some level, as a practical convenience in that Ariel would be able to partake of white/light privilege, and I wouldn’t get pegged as a “race traitor”, as some white mothers of non-white children seem to feel they are… I mean, I recognise the fact that her lightness is a complicating factor in many ways, allowing me (and others) to erase her heritage if we aren’t careful, for one thing. But I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that the accessibility of white/light privilege didn’t strike me, selfishly, as something that would be a benefit, albeit undeserved, for Ariel personally.

My sister in law, as a black mother of a light child, has a completely different take. She says that sometimes people do not think her daughter belongs to her (I remember my mother-in-law once saying something similar about her son who was very light, even blue-eyed, as a baby – they thought she was his babysitter). She says that his white family feel entitled to take control and custody, which she thinks is intimately connected with my niece’s lightness. She worries that this same beloved daughter, privileged for her lightness, might in the future be ashamed of her darker mother.

Thinking on this, I look at the pictures I have printed and all I see is lightness. The blue-grey eyes. The lightish brown hair: a little sun-bleached in the summer pictures, in one beach snapshot it is almost a golden halo. The very light skin. Her father is in her slightly broad nose, her slightly full lips and, just a little, in her brown curls which are a mixture of my dead straight fairness and his kinky black.

Nobody will think that I am the wrong mother for this light child.

I will send her the pictures anyway, and I will wonder what she makes of Ariel’s lightness and of her privilege.

My sister in law seems hesitant about these comments she makes. She no doubt wonders how I would react to her talking of race and racism. In another note she apologises for “going on” about race and her daughter’s white family; and acknowledges that white mothers have their troubles too. She worries what I will think, yet she speaks her truth anyway. I’m glad.

My ex-husband always discouraged any friendship between me and his sister, successfully since he managed to keep me away from her (and indeed his family in general) and was always the gatekeeper on those occasions when we did meet. They don’t get on so well. I know her more from letters than from real life. Isn’t that sad? Yes, it is. I am touched by the honesty and clarity of her words, I am touched by her directness, by her unwillingness to pretend that everything is fine. Her brother called her complaining and manipulative – the things that men always say when a woman will not fall into line. Although I have long suspected his – objectivity? that’s a nice bland way to put it – it is only now that I’ve truly stopped believing him and started to hope that there can be something good to dig out of it all, some hope of salvaging a positive relationship for Ariel with his family that does not have to include him.

I’m so happy today. Apart from being a bit ill, I mean (hence daytime blogging, so there is a silver lining for every cloud).

I’ve found a really simple way to help me read blogs and other website that otherwise would hurt my eyes – those with light text on a dark background. I’m so happy because in the past I’ve just had to give up on women with great things to say because reading their posts just hurt. Eyestrain is so not cool.

So obviously I need to share. The first thing is that this particular trick only works if you are using Firefox – if you are using some other browser you will either need to switch to Firefox or find another trick. Anyway, if you want this *really easy* fix, then you need to go here and read this article which explains how to do it. It really works!

Thank you, Kathy Frederick.

Apparently today is the gloomiest day of the year. Nothing to look forward to, festive period well in the past, totally skint and payday still a week away, resolutions all broken, spring still far away, skies still dark, SAD well and truly setting in…

Pshaw. Humbug.

In fact, today is the day when I first had a sense that the days are lengthening again. It is still pitch black when the alarm goes off in the morning, but the afternoons are getting longer. Coming home from work, I could see actual light in the sky. Not bright light, not what you would call daylight. But not nightdark either. The days are getting longer! They are, they are!

And it is always in about January that I get spring cleaning fever. I have been tidying up. My living room is still remarkably tidy, I’ve organised most of my books (and have a decent pile for chucking out) and installed a new bookcase for Ariel’s books. I’ve been actually cooking again, proper food. I’ve finally shaken off the winter bug that I’ve had since before Christmas. I’ve done about seven hundred loads of washing, including blankets. I am keeping resolutions I didn’t even make. We are going for walks again. Gloucester hasn’t flooded.

Spring is coming. It is, it is.
The sun is returning, and soon there will be flowers.

[Image taken by me in July 2007 – wild raspberry found in a garden crevice.]

This moving post at SecondWaver (and comments) got me thinking recently about my own experiences of feminism as therapy.

When I found myself disappointed in marriage – understatement of the year to date – I was left with feelings of failure, bewilderment, anger, guilt, pain. I found the courage and spirit and self-belief I needed to recover from it all because I found feminism.

Feminism gave me what I needed to turn all that raging twisting savage pain outward, to locate the blame outside of myself. It helped me to understand my experiences not as a personal failure (I chose the wrong man, I didn’t work hard enough at it all, I didn’t handle the relationship well, I made too many mistakes) but as the unremarkable, routine suffering of many wives and mothers in a social and political system that dishes out this sort of thing to all sorts of people: not just me, not just me. Not just me.

Feminism gave me righteous anger. And let me tell you that, after even the briefest brush with post-natal depression, I will take righteous anger as therapy any time. Calming it isn’t, but at least it doesn’t make you want to disappear. It makes you want to exist. It gives you reason to exist. It helps you make it through to a time when, finally, days pass by and nothing much seems to hurt and your small corner of the world seems safe. Righteous anger saved me, if not from anything so dramatic as serious illness or death, at least from misery and self-pity and from being doomed to make the same mistakes all over again.

Oh yes. Feminism has taught me that, although I am not to blame for the mistakes I made, I can avoid making the same mistakes again. It showed me that having a man is not compulsory, it gave me the strength and self-love to stand alone in a world where aloneness is seen as failure and weakness and a cause for pity. It showed me that I do not need to compromise, to accept a relationship in the hope of being loved, if in despair of happiness. It gave me what I needed to enjoy freedom instead of craving union.

So the idea of political analysis as a tool for survival and emotional / mental health is one that has been in my brain ever since I found feminism and caught hold of it as my own personal lifebuoy (lifeguirl?!), something to help me pull myself out of the swamp.

And surely I am not the only one who has been saved by feminism.

Miserable because you’re fat? Don’t try dieting, try feminism.
Miserable because you’re ugly? Don’t try beauty “treatments”, try feminism.
Miserable because you like women? Don’t try exorcism, try feminism.
Just plain miserable? Don’t try self-loathing, try feminism…

Of course I’m not suggesting that feminism is a magical cure-all. But equally, I firmly believe there are plenty of women out there who would be a lot happier, and healthier, if they had the opportunity to learn what I learned – that we aren’t the problem.

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