Introducing the PhantomFemme

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PhantomFemme is a Queer-Crip, intersectional Feminist riff, in words and music – sometimes together and sometimes separately, on the story and character of the Phantom of the Opera.  It is the name I’ve (finally) come up with to describe my gender/Disability/Deformed identity, so I took it as a stage/pen name as well.  I’ve loved the Phantom since I was ten, because his story, especially as told in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical,  spoke powerfully to my own experience of being different as a Disabled person.  But it also spoke to my desire for creative resistance, and gave me a powerful example and a rich symbolic language with which to enact my resistance!  Thus, Phantom was a key catalyst in inspiring my activism.  But it/he also gave me a life-long love for music and the performing arts, and an abiding awareness of their potential for transformative power.

 

It also, however, sent me on a long, and probably not over yet, journey of thinking/feeling through gender. Because, deformity/bodily difference is very gendered in Phantom, and, at least on the surface of it, in some very problematic ways. The masculine figure of the Phantom gets to be deformed, but Christine, the feminine figure who is his love-object, doesn’t. But that leaves a girl who’s Disabled and Deformed in several kinds of dilemma, especially if her particular deformity (or one of them anyway) is more than usually? disruptive of her ability to perform normative femininity! LOL Oops! Yeah. Look up the term “hirsutism” and you’ll know what I mean. Anyway, clearly the story needed/s some creative Queering in order to bust open that dynamic without loosing the magic we all love so well. Or rather, the Queer possibilities already implicit in the story, especially in the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage-musical (as originally staged by Hal Prince and designed by Maria Bjornsen), need/ed to be creatively brought forward and explored. So the figure of the PhantomFemme is my on-going attempt to do that through my music and my writing, and through their live performance!

 

My art as PhantomFemme is also how/where I explore the connections and interconnections between different modes of othering and oppression – gender, sexism, racism, environmental racism, ableism, classism, etc, as I very much understand all those systems as being inter-related. But don’t worry, it’s not all serious :-)! Resistance is just as much about creating joy, fun and celebration as it is about calling out the bad shit, because that’s how you create hope and the space to imagine new and liberating possibilities. So there’ll be plenty of just plain entertainment too. After all, I enjoy a good party as much as the next Femme! 🙂 Although, I generally prefer my parties to involve black capes, organ music, and lots and lots of candles.

 

All that being said, not every single song/story/poem I do is obviously or explicitly Phantom-related/derived, or even implicitly so. LOL I do have other interests/sources of inspiration as well! Although, many of those other fandoms/interests/inspirations have themes and/or traits in common with POTO. It does mean, however, that Phantom provides much of the symbolism and imagery I use in my music, lyrics, poetry and other writing, not to mention in my costumes and staging.. 🙂 But, yes, there will, of course, be a significant number of pieces that are explicitly POTO-related! Naturally! LOL Like I could resist? Though, obviously, I can’t actually use material from the show itself, as that would piss off the powers that be. Yeah, I know!

 

As for what you’ll find on this site, I’ll mainly be posting general life updates and updates on my work. But I’ll also be posting reviews and opinions of events, books, movies, etc, that I find awesome and/or inspiring. 🙂 And, of course, reviews and squees whenever I manage to go to Phantom!

 

So that’s who the PhantomFemme is and what she’s about. Feel free to check out my Facebook, and/or follow me on Twitter at @phantom_femme. And, of course, do check out my work and enjoy! (Sub-pages for my music and writing coming ASAP.)

 

P.S. If you feel that PhantomFemme describes your political gender/ability identity too, then absolutely feel free to use it! I cannot exclusively own an identity! Indeed, part of the reason I use it as the name for my artistic practice is so that the term and the idea are out there in the world and available to others. 🙂 Maybe just add a number or your location or something to it on social media so the world can tell us all apart?

 

P.P.S. A word about my use of the word “Deformed”, as I realize my describing myself that way may shock some folks. I use it here capitalized to indicate that it is more than simply a descriptor, although it is that – a word that describes the lived experience of my body in this culture. But it is also a word that I’m claiming as a political identity, like Disabled, Femme, Queer, etc,. I was inspired to do this by Mia Mingus’s absolutely amazing blog-post “Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability”, which has been hugely influential in helping me think through the PhantomFemme!

 

P.P.P.S. I am in no way affiliated with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Really Useful Group, or anyone officially in charge of Phantom, and I plan to keep it that way. LOL I don’t think they and I would dig each other’s politics, especially with regard to copyright and intellectual property!

 

P.S.4. That being said, one of my dreams in life is to participate, in some significant capacity, in the mounting of an ecologically sustainable, fair-trade production of Phantom! After all, since, to me, POTO is a story about the need for justice, it’d be awesome if it’s staging could walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Plus, I’d just love to show that it can be done!

Meltdown Bingo: Autistic Edition

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I came across this a while ago, and it was what really, finally made me think/allowed me to think that I might, actually, be somewhere on the Autism spectrum. I’d never thought so before, because all the Autism stereotypes – being hyper-logical, being extremely literal, being unable to grasp the concept of self and other, etc, – didn’t seem to fit. But this piece really fits a lot of my experience! Like, 90 percent or more of it’s right on! As in, I can’t think of the number of times I’ve been in many of the situations described here. So yeah, really helpful!

Source: Meltdown Bingo: Autistic Edition

Very successful Open Tuning Fest! #OTFest2017 #MusicTheatrePunk

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So the show on Saturday went awesomely! It’s always tough doing an out-door gig on a really hot day. But it went really well in spite of that! And thankfully it wasn’t nearly as hot as it could have been. Not like today! Yikes!

So the water held out through my whole set thank goodness, and the tech behaved. And the songs I did seemed to go over really well too! I did a bunch from Dark Resistance, as well as some covers of a couple of my favourite songs. And the people working the PA/sound-board were really great! Thank them hugely! They did a fabulous job balancing me and my accompaniment tracks and generally making me sound smashing! 🙂 And huge thanks also to Ysabeault aka Sister Comrade (also aka Mom) who advised me on my costume. She did a great job making me look awesome as well as sound great! And I really rely on that because, although I’ve learned pretty well how to put together a sharp outfit that fits the style I’m trying to cultivate, it can still be all too easy for the idea I have in my head to not actually work in reality. And, as a Blind performer trying to work in a culture where image counts for so much, that help avoiding fashion gaffs is an incredibly critical piece of accessibility support!

🙂 Btw, one of the covers I did was of one of Ysabeault/Sister Comrade’s songs, the title track from her forthcoming EP World On Fire! Her own stuff’s much more country/folk, so I did up an accompaniment track to do it in my style. And it worked awesomely! And Sister Comrade came up on stage and sang it with me, which rocked! I’ll be singing on World On Fire when it comes out, too, so I thought it’d be great to bring that into my set!

Anyhow, we got some video, too, which I’ll get posted ASAP. So stay tuned for that! LOL It might be a couple of weeks at least, though, because I’ll need to renew my Vimeo Plus subscription to be able to host larger files again. And that’ll have to wait till pay-day! Also, the image-quality may not be great because it was an out-door venue. And, because of where the stage was set up, I was apparently kind of back-lit, which I know isn’t the greatest on camera! So I’ll have to go through the footage (with the help of some one with sight) and see if any of it’s workable. 🙂 But hopefully I’ll have some stuff to put up soon. And huge thanks again to Ysabeault/Sister Comrade for personing the camera while I was on stage, and to the person from the crew who ran it during our duet! Much appreciated!

My only regret about the day is that I wasn’t able to see/hear as much of the rest of the festival as I’d have liked. LOL, by the time I got off stage, Ysabeault and I were both really exhausted and starving! As I said, doing an out-door gig in summer heat can be tough. Plus, I’d been up late getting last-minute stuff done. LOL So we folded early! I did get to hear and support some of my fellow performers, though, which I was really glad about!

Anyway, that’s it for another year. 🙂 Though I’m looking forward to next year’s festival already! And huge thanks to Open Tuning and to Kop’s Records (the venue where I sang) for having me. I’m looking hugely forward to doing it again in 2018!

So I’m thinking of doing a podcast! Would love advice on getting started, though?

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LOL Yes, I know, on top of everything else I’m trying to do. But it’s a case of “if what you want to hear isn’t out there, do it yourself”! And for a long time now I’ve been really craving a good podcast that explores Phantom and Phanship from the kind of intersectional, but Disability-centred, perspective that I try to do here. Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing interviews with POTO actors and with Phan artists! And I’d love to do that stuff myself if/when I get this up and going. I’d just dearly love to hear/have a show offer a deeper analysis as well, though, given how incredibly rich Phantom is in its layers of meaning!

But, although I listen to a lot of podcasts, I’ve never attempted one before myself. And I’m so not technical!!! So I’d definitely love some advice, from those of you out there who’ve done this already, on how to get it up and going (ahem, on a budget which is, at present, non-existent). Like, I know, or at least I think, I can record episodes that are just me alone talking in Garage-Band, and edit them together with an intro and outro the same way I edit my songs. But is it OK in terms of podcast etiquette to pre-record like that, or are you expected to do all or most episodes live-to-air? Also, I gather WordPress has a widget for uploading podcast episodes to a page. But apparently you have to use an ftp to do the uploading? I’ve never used one before, and I have no idea if they’re accessible! LOL I barely understand the concept in fact. So I feel a bit out of my depth! I’m hoping I can use that widget on a sub-page of this site to post episodes, because, A, that would keep everything nice and straight-forward rather than having tons of separate identities floating around, and B, LOL I can’t afford a whole separate domain and hosting right now! But we’ll have to see how it goes as I figure out how all this shit works LOL!

Anyway, I’m hoping to get that started some time this year, maybe even this summer if I can. So stay tuned! And any of you experienced podcasters out there, 🙂 would love some guidance! Thanks!

OK! Venue and Time confirmed for PhantomFemme at Open Tuning!

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Wow! So it’s just two weeks till the festival! Two weeks from today, I’ll be preparing to go on and perform for all of you, and you’ll, hopefully, be preparing to come down to Seaton Village and hear great music! Seaton Village is the part of down-town Toronto that’s in the square bounded by, going clockwise, Dupont, Bathurst, Bloor and Christie. I’ll be one of around 130 incredibly diverse acts, ranging from acoustic singer/song-writer type things to full punk bands to hiphop artists, and from youth and amateur musicians to seasoned performers. It’s going to rock!

So where I’ll be in all this awesomeness is on the stage set up in the garage behind Kop’s Records. You can check out the Facebook event page to see where that is, and also to see who else is playing there. I’m the second act up, so I’ll be on at 3 PM. I’m really excited about it! It’s going to be a great afternoon! LOL Though, the next two weeks are going to be bonkers busy getting ready for it. 🙂 But I’ll be doing some great songs, both from Dark Resistance and, hopefully, beyond, and I’ll be sharing the stage with an awesome line-up of other bands! So check it out!

We’re also using this really cool app called Sched to share the festival schedule. So you can go onto the app, bookmark your favourite acts and when we’re on, and make yourself up a customized schedule that you can download to your phone, iPad, etc. And it has bios and info for all the acts as well! (Or it will as soon as we get everything filled in.) So you can find out all about us and decide who you want to hear!

Anyway, it’s going to be an awesome day. So be there!

Me at #OpenTuningFest again! #OpenTuningFest2017

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Uh, I really hope I’m doing this right (LOL this time)? 😦 This is my third try getting there to actually be text in this post instead of just the title! I’m trying out the WordPress app for my iPad, which I downloaded in the hope of making posting from said iPad easier. 😦 But, so far, not so much! So we’ll have to see if I get the hang of it eventually. Here’s hoping!

Anyway, LOL as I begin every post it seems, terribly sorry for being so long to update! Yikes! I checked my stats a while ago, and it’s been four months! Ye-Gads! But, A, school and “extra-curricular” political activities have kept me quite busy, and B, technical difficulties. 😦 Alas, the computer I was using has had to go into retirement, as it was starting to crash badly and often. So I’ve been getting set back up on a new system! The good news, though, is that said new system is much more powerful and has tons more storage-space. 🙂 So now I can finally get back into serious recording without fear of a massive crash, which is an enormous relief! LOL So I might actually, finally, be able to get Dark Resistance done now! Yeah, I know, not a moment too soon.

Anyway, as some of you know, I’ve performed for the past couple of years at the Open Tuning Festival in Toronto. And I’m really excited to announce that I’ll be doing it again this year! I don’t have my exact venue confirmed yet, so stay tuned for that here and on my social media (see my “Intro” post for links and handles). But it’s going to be a totally awesome day I can guarantee! 🙂 It always is!

Better yet, I’ve been volunteering on the planning team for this year’s Festival to work on accessibility. So this year, the day should be far more accessible than it has been! And, of course, we’ll keep working on it in years to come and keep improving. But I’m really grateful to everyone else on the team for really taking accessibility seriously, not letting themselves be (too LOL) daunted by the admittedly significant challenges of making a low-budget, DIY music festival (it’s all volunteer – no government funding or corporate sponsors) as accessible as possible, and for really taking to heart and trying to implement the recommendations I’ve offered. 🙂 You guys rock! And the Festival will be much awesomer and more fun for it!

Anyway, I’ll most definitely post again once I’ve got my venue confirmed. So do stay tuned for that! 🙂 And, of course, do come out to hear me and all my fellow acts on June 10th, as it’s going to rock!

It’s a new year! LOL So where the heck’s the EP?

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So, yeah, meant to actually kick off the new year with an update. LOL But got running behind! Because it may be a new year, but some things definitely remain consistent. Plus, lots of school stuff! Some loose ends to tie up from last term, and then, of course, my first comp to finish (LOL arcane Ph.D.-speak, in case I haven’t explained this before, for Comprehensive Exam, aka a great big project where I read a ton of stuff and then write something to prove I understood it)! 🙂 But the awesome part is that, the way I’ve worked my comp, I get to talk about Phantom!!! 😦 The sad part, though, is that it’s getting close to being done. And, in my next comp, I probably won’t get to talk about POTO again. At least, I haven’t figured a way to work it in yet! Unless…? Hmmm.

Anyway, I thought I’d update in case some one out there’s wondering where the hell the re-release of my EP is. LOL I know I have been! And, sadly, I can’t say, except that I definitely plan to have it out some time within 2017. For one thing, of course, it has to share life and time with my school work. And that can be a tricky balance! But also, it’s kind of gone through a complete, and somewhat unexpected overhaul!

When I first started putting my music out there, I was really into symphonic metal. And that’s definitely still a huge influence, as you can see if you visit my “links” page! I love the way it blends that hard-rock edge with a classical, music-theatre, or even operatic sound. That’s so awesome! And I love the way it, in doing so, kind of takes classical, music-theatre, and even opera out of the realm of the preppy. Which, love all those other genres though I do, they can all too often be! But I’ve been finding lately that, although it’ll likely remain a huge influence for all those reasons, I don’t want my own stuff to be straight-up metal, even symphonic metal. For one thing, metal’s a very virtuostic genre instrumentally! LOL And, what can I say? I’m just not that good a player on any instrument. But also, I’m finding that I really want to leave room in my music to incorporate a softer sound as well – to really bring some of the sound of the 80s and 90s pop-rock and music-theatre that I grew up on into my own stuff. LOL Yes, shameless nostalgia! So sue me? But there’s a joie-de-vivre about those genres (or there can be anyway) that I really want to incorporate. And I especially want to bring that stuff into the EP/album I’ve been working on because it’s somewhat autobiographical – or maybe mythobiographical to borrow Audre Lorde’s term, and those were really the sounds that I grew up on and that shaped me. 🙂 But don’t worry, I won’t neglect the pop/rock and music-theatre that’s emerged since then! In fact, I’m dying to finally hear Hamilton. Can you believe I haven’t yet? Yikes! And I’d welcome any other recommendations of what’s good out there, too. LOL Half the reason my musical tastes are so far behind the times is because I’m totally lazy about getting out there and finding new stuff! That all will have to influence later work, though. LOL I’ve got to get this album finished first!

So, as you can perhaps tell from the new tag-line on this site, I’ve decided to call my sound and (hopefully) performance style music-theatre punk. And hopefully that encapsulates all the things I love about that genre! – the sound, the acting and story-telling aspects, the influences from both Broadway and the West End, and the importance of costuming and stage-craft. But hopefully it Crips both rock and music-theatre a bit, too, by allowing me to work with my limitations – of musicianship, but also of movement on stage because of my Disabilities – instead of having to disappear them as I would if I were to try to do any of those genres (though especially music-theatre) “straight”. In fact, I’ve kind of re-conceptualized the EP as a one-being musical! And it might even go in for a name-change, thus my having not mentioned the title so far. We’ll have to see! Although, Oo! I think I just had a good idea in that regard! 🙂 Not telling yet, though. You’ll just have to wait and see!

So yeah, that’s where that’s at. As I said, I plan on getting the EP, which, having been re-conceptualized thus, is more likely to end up full album sized, out within 2017. But, within that, I have no idea! LOL I’m not even going to hazard a guess, because, every time I’ve given a release-date before, I’ve run behind and missed it! And I know it’s going to take a shit-load of work to really do it right. And I have no idea how long that’ll take, especially as it has to share life with school! And it really does. Because, my academic work, especially the Critical Disability stuff, is a huge part of what fuels my creativity as weird as that may sound.

🙂 So that’s the plan. And now, off to get working on it! So keep watching this space for further updates!

Loving call-out of #ableism from @PhantomOpera. #PhantomoftheOpera

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So a week or so ago, while reading through my Twitter feed, I came across the following tweet from the official Phantom twitter, @PhantomOpera, which represents the show worldwide (although the London, Broadway and U.S. tour productions do all have their own). And I really wanted to respond, because I found it really disturbing coming from an official voice for the musical! But I knew I couldn’t possibly condense why into 140 characters. I really wanted to say something, though, because I didn’t think this should be left without a response! It was part of a discussion on why the Phantom comes out for curtain-call in his full costume, including the hat and mask, when both have been removed during the Final Lair. And @PhantomOpera’s answer was that they wanted to end the show with his “iconic” look rather than his “broken” look, to which another discussant asked if they thought the Phantom is broken. To which @PhantomOpera replied, and this is what I find problematic:

“A little bit. I think the character behaves less refined when he doesn’t have the wig & mask & that’s not a good image to end the show with”

You can (I hope, if I’ve done this right) find the tweet in question here, and you should be able to call up the rest of the discussion from there.

What I find so problematic about this tweet is that it, in fact the whole discussion at least as far as I saw, equates the Phantom’s revealed “deformity” with his being “broken” as though there were some inherent correlation between the two. It makes this correlation by suggesting that he is less “broken” when he conceals his deformity in order to appear more “refined”. And this is classic ableism! Yes, the Phantom is broken, and, yes, he does have low self-esteem (see further tweets in the discussion which describe the wig and mask as props to bolster the Phantom’s low self-image). But this is not “just” because his face is “deformed”. That’s how ableism operates, though. It locates brokenness in the individual body of the person with the bodily/mental/cognitive difference, and, therefore, treats depression, self-esteem issues, feelings of isolation, etc, simply as part of their “condition”. It treats those feelings/psychological states as part of the person’s individual set of problems rooted in their bodily “deficiency” rather than as legitimate responses to the way society treats them. Thus, the “cure” is understood to be to make the person as “normal” as possible so that they can love themself and fit in, not to change society at large to one that can accept them. This is because, to put it baldly, ableism believes that it is the person’s body that is wrong, not society’s inability to embrace them. And therefore, it maintains that to change society would be neither possible nor, in fact, desirable. Thus, in the case of this tweet-discussion, then, it seems to be suggesting that the Phantom’s self-loathing and depression derive from his having a facial “deformity” rather than from society’s exclusion of him – an inevitable, if tragic, reality (Christine’s ultimate acceptance of him being a one-off, miraculous exception) which, if he were “sane”/”well adjusted”, he would have learned to accept. And the phrasing that he “behaves more refined” when hiding his “deformity” implies that his doing so is a good thing – a step toward “normalcy” even if he is, ultimately, too “broken” to achieve it fully.

As I said, I find the above really disturbing, especially from an official voice for the show! Because, to me, Phantom is and should be about countering and resisting ableism. Yes, the Phantom is broken, but not by his face. He is broken by a lifetime of marginalization and exclusion by a society that’s decided his face is too different to be accepted. He is depressed, yes, but because of a lifetime of being told he’s unloveable because of his “deformity”. He behaves in a deranged and violent manner because he can’t take it any more – because Christine’s fear and seeming rejection, coming on top of this lifetime of experience, were the straws that broke the camel’s back. This doesn’t excuse his behaviour or make it OK. But it does put it into its social and, yes, political context. His problems do not inhere in him. They do not inhere in his face. They were created in him by a society which ranks people’s worth – which ranks people’s very right to exist and survive – according to their ability to measure up to a standard based on the young, White, able, “healthy”, cisgendered, preferably “beautiful” body.

But the answer to that is not to conceal the brokenness. It is not to mask oneself to try to measure up to the very standard that excluded you! As the Final Lair itself suggests, it is to recognize the social, psychological and spiritual harm done when we marginalize and other those who do not measure up to that narrow ideal, and begin to make reparation. That is why that line “Pitiful creature of darkness, what kind of life have you known? God give me courage to show you you are not alone!” (Act II scene 9) is so powerful! Admittedly, the gendering can be way problematic – a discussion I’ll definitely have here at some point because it’s absolutely necessary. But, even so, it is the moment when Christine recognizes that it is society that has done this to the Phantom, not his own inner nature. And it can, as I have argued elsewhere, be read almost as an apology on the part of her whole society and an attempt at reparation! And this is also what makes the Phantom’s choice to then let her and Raoul go free so powerful too – not because he has refused that reparation out of some recognition that it’s really all his own psychological fault or problem. But, rather, exactly because he has accepted her reparation. He has recognized and accepted her compassion and, with the strength that has given him, taken at least a small step toward refusing to buy in any more to society’s dehumanization of him. He has finally understood that Christine simply loves the other guy, and that her not loving him romantically truly has nothing to do with his face. And that understanding, combined with her compassion for and comprehension of how he has been marginalized, gives him the strength to stop behaving in a dehumanized way – to stop passing on to her and Raoul the violence he himself has endured.

Considered this way, then, I would argue that the Phantom with his “deformity” and brokenness, yes, but also re-found dignity revealed is exactly the image with which to end the show! And I wonder how audiences would respond, given this, to him coming out for curtain-call unmasked and without the wig, or perhaps to re-unmask while taking his bows? Because, I suspect that audiences would get it, and that that could actually be really powerful! At the very least, though, I’d like for those who represent the show – actors, crew, media spokespeople, etc., – to understand the Phantom’s actions and behaviour in their proper context, and to please not use ableist tropes to present the character as exotically tragic or tragically exotic. Don’t re-marginalize, either the Phantom, or those of us for whom his story resonates as our own!

Note: I’ve put the words “deformed” and “deformity” in quotes to indicate that these are socially constructed concepts that derive from the belief that there’s only one “correct” way for a face to look. Recently, however, I have seen a number of activists reclaiming the word “disfigured” and using it to make the same argument with regard to both congenital and acquired facial differences. Because, as they point out, both are othered for their differences in appearance, and in both cases that stems from the idea that there is only one proper and pleasing human figure. And I totally cheer on these activists’ awesome and courageous work! Indeed, I recently heard the term “facial equality” coined by one such person, which I absolutely love! I use the language of “deformity”, however, because that is the term used in the show (Act 1 scene 10, Act II scene 2) and which, therefore, has tended to be used in the Phandom.

Note 2: The above might, perhaps, make it sound as though I am arguing that the Phantom is better unmasked because that is the “truth”. But that is not quite what I mean to convey. Indeed, I love the Phantom in his full regalia and, in fact, find it smoking hot, especially when played by an actor with the right voice and stage-charisma! But, to me, though I suspect to other Phans as well, the power of his “iconic” look does not come from the fact that it hides his “deformity” and makes him more “normal”. Because, in fact, it does neither. It neither makes his mind and heart less broken by the exclusion he has suffered, nor does it allow him to successfully “pass”. However, and this is something I’ll discuss more in future posts, because it is an attempt to claim dignity even without being able to successfully pass, the Phantom’s Phantom persona and, therefore, regalia can be understood as a form of resistance. And that, for me, is what makes it so potent.

Solidarity with #StandingRock! #NoDAPL #WaterIsLife

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So now onto some of the current stuff. And I know this is way over-due! But, believe me, although it’s taken me a long time to get around to posting about it, I haven’t been oblivious! I’ve mostly been following through Democracy Now‘s superb coverage and on Twitter. But I really felt I had/have to post something too!

What’s been happening at Standing Rock is unbelievable in the twenty-first century! We should be way beyond sending cops armed with military-grade and military style vehicles and weapons to brutally repress and displace people who are only trying to defend their land, their water – not to mention the water-source of several million other people, and the burial grounds where their people have been laid to rest. I mean, how would you feel if some corporation barged into your community and basically said “we
re going to do this project whether you like it or not, and we don’t care if it endangers your drinking water, and by the way we’re going to bulldoze your cemetery, too, because it’s in the way”? But then, that doesn’t happen in White, middle/upper-class communities. Does it? And the fact that it’s happening anywhere should be unbelievable in 2016, except that we should be way past where cops can just shoot people for traffic “violations”, too. But we’re not! And when people get rightly pissed about it, what do we do? We send in the cops with armoured vehicles and rifles! We should be way past this shit by this time, but, sadly, we’re not! Racism and colonialism are alive and well! And what’s happening at Standing Rock is a classic instance of both, with environmental racism on top.

And it’s not just Standing Rock either. We have similar struggles here in Canada too! Although, so far, things haven’t been escalated by the “authorities” to quite such a degree yet. I hope? If I’m wrong in that, then please correct me! Though, I hope to God not! But, here, too, we have extraction projects being pushed through the lands of Indigenous people who’ve said a loud and resounding “no” – TransMountain, Northern Gateway, Kinder-Morgan, Line 9, Energy East, and, of course, the tarsands themselves. Not to mention the Site C dam! And the government is still trying to persuade/arm-twist communities in the paths of these projects to accept them, in spite of Justin Trudeau’s promises to respect Indigenous rights. In many ways – not only this, but on Bill C51 and electoral reform too – he’s behaving very much like his predecessor, all the while trying to conceal it behind his good looks and affability.

The good thing is that the folks at Standing Rock and all these other sites of struggle have world-wide support. They’re most definitely not facing this shit alone! Protests in support of Standing Rock in my home city have been large, loud and powerful! And they’ve made a point of making the connection/s between Standing Rock and those other struggles, and, indeed, to the struggles of other marginalized people for justice and dignity – Black Lives Matter, the struggles of migrants/undocumented people, the struggles of Queer and Trans people, especially Queer and Trans people of colour. So efforts at “divide and conquer” aren’t working thank God!

Anyway, my thoughts/prayers/good energies/etc, are most definitely with the land and water protectors right now. I’m in absolute awe of their courage and determination! And I hope, for all our sakes, that they succeed! Because, not only would DAPL contribute to the worsening of the climate crisis by allowing for the expansion of fossil-fuel production, which is absolutely the last thing we need right now, but, as the defenders point out, if that pipeline breaks, which is a “when” not an “if” given the track-record of these kinds of projects when it comes to safety, it would contaminate the water-supply for 17 million people. And for what? So already rich people can get richer? Because the fracked oil that it will carry is not for local use. It’s all for export (they’re still desperately hoping there’s a market for it in Europe or Asia)! And the same is true for the pipelines here in Canada too. They’re all meant to carry oil to ports for shipping over-seas. And meanwhile, Indigenous and other marginalized communities’ lands and waters get polluted and wrecked, disrupting subsistence ways of life, and causing major health impacts. In the words of a song by one of my favourite hiphop groups, WTF?!!!

But the land and water defenders have said they’ll keep defending as long as they have to to stop this evil – this totally unnecessary destruction. And thank God for their devotion and dedication, and may God/Spirit give them what they need to do it! And we, their allies, will continue to support them in whatever ways we can too. because, we’re all in this together! In the words of another song by that same group:

“Protect Mother Earth don’t settle for less!
This is Turtle Island don’t you ever forget!
Resist till the colonizers settle the debt.
This is Turtle Island don’t you ever forget!
We got one planet let’s protect what’s left.
This is Turtle Island don’t you ever forget!

Last of #WSF2016: #Cities, #Ableism, #Disability and more!

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So I know that, once again, I’ve been away from posting for a really long time! Really sorry about that! It’s been a really busy couple of months with school and, of course, extra-curricular political activities. But I’ve been meaning to get back here for ages! It’s just taken me a while to have the time and the spoons.

Anyway, before going on to all the current stuff, I wanted to finish my “coverage” of the World Social Forum from back in August. Because, I definitely didn’t cover everything before! Warning, though, that might make this post a bit long. Sorry about that, but there’s a lot to pack in!

So we did actually make the workshop on Friday morning that we wanted to, which was the one from earlier in the week that got rescheduled on “The Fight for the Global City”. And boy was it awesome! There were three panelists – two from Latin America, and one from India. And they talked about various struggles for social justice in their cities, but also about various initiatives to make their cities more just and sustainable. Unfortunately, it’s been such a long time since the workshop that I can’t remember the details. But I’ll look them up as soon as I can, and post links if possible!

The most interesting idea to come from that workshop, though, and the one that’s really stayed with me as something to think about, is the idea of struggling against and resisting what they called “urban extractivism”. They suggested that, under the current neoliberal capitalist economic system, cities are looked at, not as places where people live and have community, but as resource-deposits from which profit can be extracted. So, for example they talked about real-estate markets as a form of extractivism in which land and housing are viewed as resources to be “mined” (not the exact wording, but a similar analogy). Similarly, they talked about how, in this paradigm, urban populations are looked at as a resource to be extracted – as labour, as advertising recipients, as statistical data, as heads to be paid by the number of (as in hospitals and prisons where funding as allocated according to number of patients/inmates, so more bodies = more money). It was a really interesting way to think about those processes! We tend to think of extractivism as something that happens “out there” – in mines and oil and gas extraction sites, but not as something that happens in cities. If anything, we tend to think of cities as the beneficiaries of extractivism. So I thought it was really interesting how these speakers showed how it’s not that simple! And, of course, they noted that this urban extractivism is applied differently to different urban populations, falling hardest on the urban poor.

Then, in the evening (LOL if there was an afternoon workshop I don’t remember what it was), we went to the last of what they called the “Grand Conferences”, which were basically panels of speakers on various issues that had been focussed on throughout the forum. We’d already heard one on neoliberalism and health, which was interesting if depressing, and one on LGBTQ+ struggles around the world which was really cool!

The Friday night’s, though, was on ableism. And it was fantastic! The first chap who spoke did an absolutely brilliant run-down of what ableism is, and of the difference between ableism as individual prejudice and what might be called structural ableism. I really hope his talk was YouTubed, as it’d make a great “ableism 101”! I’ll try to find it and post a link. In fact, I’ll try to do that with as many of the talks as I can, as they were all fantastic!

Then, my friend Laurence, who’s a colleague from way back when I was doing my MA, gave a really great talk on Disabled struggles in the Francophone world. She spoke about the struggle to find a way to define the issue in French without simply borrowing either the English terminology or that coming out of the academy in France, as it may not translate well since different words, with slightly different connotations, are used in different French-speaking regions. For example, she talked about how slightly different terminology is used in France vs in Quebec. And the point is, as has been done so effectively in English with the word “ableism”, to find a term that takes the presumed natural superiority of the able-body and turns it on its head to show how it actually supports a hierarchy. So it was a really interesting talk!

Then the final panelist signed about the emergence of Deaf culture and Deaf arts, and her own emergence as a Deaf poet. Again, really interesting! And I was really thrilled to hear the issue of ableism given such a prominent spot in the WSF. Because, as the title of the panel pointed out, it’s the one system of prejudice that’s all too often forgotten, even among those who are trying to organize for justice and change! So it was good, and refreshing, to have that recognized and an attempt made to do differently. Granted, the attempt could have been more successful. Sure! But, A, at least it was there, and B, that just means there’s more to work on. And the logistical challenges – of making an event like that accessible with all volunteers, a minimal budget, and an organizational structure that tries to be as horizontal as possible – are formidable! So I certainly didn’t get the sense that the access failures that there were, and there were, came from lack of trying. And they certainly seem to be open to learning how they can do stuff better in the future!

Anyway, the next day was the closing events – a sort of wrap-up conference to summarize and assemble everything that had been decided through the week in terms of actions going forward, and then a big closing concert. Mom and I didn’t go to that stuff, though, because, by then, we were both pretty exhausted! LOL We did try to go to the concert, but got seriously rained out! It was a great week, though. I’m really glad we went, and so’s Mom (LOL kind of in spite of herself)! And I very much hope I’ll have the chance to go to another WSF in the future now that I have a better sense of how the whole thing works. I think I’d get much more out of it next time, and be much better able to contribute! We’ll have to see, though. But I hope that might be possible, as, for all that it was incredibly exhausting, I had a really awesome time!

#WSF2016 Workshop: Building #Cosmopolitan #Solidarities for effective #Allyship

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So the next workshop we went to at the World Social Forum was on Thursday afternoon (Aug. 12). LOL Again, we meant to go to one in the morning too, but sleep intervened! But we made the afternoon workshop we wanted to get to, and, again, were really glad we did. It was another great one! Though, at first, I wasn’t sure it would be. But it turned out very effective and productive!

So the workshop was on building what it called “cosmopolitan solidarities”. And the way they were using this language was to mean building solidarities between groups who do not necessarily share the same agenda, goals, or even underlying beliefs/political orientations. We seemed to focus on building solidarity and, ultimately, allyship among diverse groups and people. And it’s an extremely important topic! Because, if you want a broad-based movement, you need to build that kind of solidarity. And it hasn’t always been easy!

What was great, though, was that many folks in the workshop had a lot of on-the-ground, hands-on experience with doing that kind of organizing, so they were able to share a lot of wisdom. One guy in particular had some fantastic stories from the collective he had been part of! And another woman had a lot of insight from her days as part of the collective running a Feminist paper. And the woman who facilitated the workshop had a lot of experience, too, organizing with refugees and around the refugee crisis in Germany where she’s from, and where she’s, in fact, doing her doctorate on this very issue. So it was really great!

In the end, what we arrived at was not a set of best practices, because the one thing that really came through loud and clear was that there is no “one size fits all”, but rather a set of best attitudes or best mindsets. And I hope I can remember all the “ingredients” we came up with! Because, we ended up thinking of it as kind of like a soup – a recipe that could be blended differently depending on the needs of the situation. But we decided that the basic ingredients were: respect, flexibility, real listening, humility – being willing to admit that you don’t have all the answers, awareness of and responsiveness to the needs of the situation and the particular people in the group, reliability, but also awareness that people have to contribute according to their abilities, a sense of humour and an ability to have fun, creativity, and an ability and willingness to adapt. If anyone else who was there reads this, have I missed anything?

Anyway, although the above definitely isn’t news or anything Earth-shattering, it was still a really great, productive workshop. It was really fantastic to hear about everyone’s experiences in actual organizing so that it wasn’t just a theoretical discussion! And I really liked the list of best approaches we came up with. I thought it really useful as something to think with going forward into future work!