Thursday, April 16, 2009

My Depression Medication

Sugary overpriced coffee-based drink, preferably from a non-local corporate giant: I love the feeling of not feeling guilt over wasting my money, buying into the consumerist identity peddled by Starbucks, AND supporting capitalist globalization, all at the same time.

Old podcast episode of This American Life playing on my computer: The tearjerkier the better. If I cry, I'm crying over other people's stories, not something to do with my life. It's good in it's own way. My favourite to date.

Pajamas: self-explanatory, I think.

Microwaveable ramen noodles: The spicier, the better. I especially like the stuff that was clearly made for actual Asian markets and imported here, but Mr. Noodle always satisfies if I can't find the real stuff.

Little jar of banana baby food for dessert: Classic freudian regression.

Monday, March 30, 2009

On Shame and Silence

I was reading this week's PostSecret and one of the postcards really struck me. As I read it, I realized that it was my secret, something that has been at the back of my mind, always lurking and nagging, for a very long time now.

I was molested once, when I was 12. I didn't tell anyone until I was a bit older -- just before turning 17 actually. By that point, it was too late. The person who should have believed me didn't. I've learned to live with what happened, and draw strength and wisdom from it. Maybe one day I'll feel strong enough to write about it in a public forum. For now, I want to discuss something else.

What the postcard got me thinking about was how I felt after he denied ever touching me. I felt humiliated. Just as I had felt after it happened. I felt ashamed, like I shouldn't have opened my mouth and talked about it. Because it made people uncomfortable.

I've talked about it with a handful of people. Only once did I truly feel empathy -- it was just after it had happened and I was talking with a school-friend who was being physically abused at home. I don't remember our conversation well and we were children, but I truly felt like she got it. She knew the hopelessness and the feeling that you just had to keep quiet. Every other time, I would stumble over my words and wish I'd never started talking, because of how visibly-uncomfortable the other person would become.

It has affected the way I deal with it. Sometimes, like after reading the postcard, all I want to do is talk about it. I want someone else to understand. To understand me. But I can't, because I feel like I should be ashamed and anything else would make people uncomfortable.

The thing is, inside of me, I don't feel ashamed. I feel strong and confident. I don't blame myself, I don't hate myself. I'm constantly on guard, but I'm slowly learning to relax. I'm not afraid anymore.

And yet, I just can't get it out. Can't get past the barrier.

People want survivors of sexual abuse and assault to be ashamed. It's expected. I've been thinking a lot about it lately. Sexual assault exposes the worst of patriarchal power relations. It is the dehumanization of one person by another. It's taking agency away from another person and turning them into an object of one's control and power. And talking about it makes people uncomfortable, because if they hear too many personal accounts of sexual assault, maybe they'll have to revise their beliefs that sexual violence can be blamed on the victim, that there is no patriarchy at work.

Now, it's pretty easy to shut up perpetrators of sexual assault. They have the law to worry about. They wouldn't get anything out of talking about it.

But survivors have a reason to talk. Whether it's to get justice, get the pain off their chests, or just gain some kind of closure or higher understanding, survivors can benefit from talking about it. But that would make people uncomfortable. It would make people think, and question, and reconceptualize. They might know the perpetrator. It's easier to pretend not to listen, or to put it out of mind, or deny it, but it's more effective to just shut up the survivors before they start talking at all.

So, there is a general, un-spoken dictum that tells us that survivors should be ashamed, and therefore shouldn't want to talk about it.

But why should we feel ashamed? Why should we feel as if something's wrong with us? We don't conceptualize perpetrators as ashamed, or at least not in the same way as we do survivors. Perpetrators have actually done something to be ashamed of.

And part of me feels like the stigma of being a survivor of sexual assault would begin to be lifted if survivors started rejecting the shame and speaking up about their experiences. It's easy to make sexual assault invisible when it's just a bunch of stats. Now, imagine rape apologists or deniers saying the things they say if they knew their neighbour had been raped. Or their mother. Or a friend.

And I know that in the current atmosphere, they would go on denying the reality of sexual assault and feel safe doing it, but imagine a world where survivors felt safe talking about their experiences. Where the stigma of sexual assault no longer fell on their shoulders.

That is why part of me just wants to tell the world exactly what happened to me. Every detail, exactly how it made me feel afterwards. I want to make people uncomfortable and force them out of their safety zones. Because that comfort is exactly what allows people to do nothing, or to deny the importance of sexual assault. And yet, another part of me is still too ashamed to do it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Guide to My Heart pt. 3

Food edition. (Incidentally, I'm writing this while watching CSI:NY.)

What is there to say about food, really? It's delicious and, some may argue, a precondition for living!

I have a bit of a complicated relationship with food. For starters, I can't cook it to save my life. I mean, I've cooked rice that required nothing but to be left covered on the stove to boil for several minutes, and I managed to mess that up. It's not necessarily that I don't enjoy cooking occasionally, but I tend to get impatient with the whole process. The fewer the steps, the better. Also, I tend to get confused if too many ingredients are involved.

At the same time, I love rich tastes, especially spicy and sweet. Salty's good too. It's why I'm so drawn to asian and south-asian cuisine. It's such an unfamiliar mix of flavours and spices. It's not that I don't enjoy traditional Bulgarian cuisine, which is generally light on spices (according to my tastes, at least), but it's a completely different feel. While Bulgarian food is comforting and familiar, foreign food is tantalising and new, something to be explored and experienced. It's like the difference between spending the summer in Sofia, visiting the extended family and refamiliarizing myself with the Homeland, and vacationing in a new spot, getting to know a culture and atmosphere completely unknown to me. They're both great, but the experience is completely different.

And god, don't get me started on the textures! Crispy, crunchy, soft, creamy, dry, buttery, noodly, liquid, juicy, thick, fluffy, flaky, melty, powdery, moist, crumbly, chewy, milky and all the combinations therein. Mmmmmm....

Of course, my issue has always been how picky I am with food. There are certain things that I simply will not eat. For example, cooked peppers. Don't get me wrong, I'll eat them when they're raw, but baked/fried/whatever peppers are a huge no-no. Same with tomatoes. I don't do oil and vinegar in my salad and I'm not too crazy about cabbage (unless it's in a salad). Bananas and eggs can only be consumed under a very narrow set of conditions. I could go on.

I'm also diabetic. Type 1, I've had it since I was five. It definitely makes it hard to eat whatever I want, whenever I want. I need to follow a fairly rigid eating schedule. I've recently started using a new type of insulin that gives me more flexibility, but every once in a while, I'll end up with a hypoglycemia when I'm anything but hungry and I'll be forced to eat something, or I'll be starving, but without my insulin, so I'll have to choose between staying hungry, or facing the unfortunate side-effects of high blood-glucose levels. I also need to balance my insulin intake and my food consumption very carefully. Usually, it involves a lot of guess-work. How many units should I take if I want that sandwich and my current glucose level is 11.8, for example? This all adds a whole new layer of importance to eating for me. I can't just say "I'm not eating anything today," but I also can't just go around eating anything I want without at least a minimum amount of planning ahead of time.

Another problem I have is with my appetite. If I'm under stress (exams, essays, whatever), I might be starving, but at least 8 times out of 10 I'll feel sick at the thought of eating anything. Not only that, but I'll put eating off in order to get whatever I'm doing done as soon as possible. Then stress is over and appetite comes back. With a vengence. I'm just going through such a period right now. I'm constantly thinking of food, of what I'll eat next, even as I'm eating what I'm currently eating (no, miraculously I haven't been gaining weight). And what I'm finding most often is that it's not so much the hunger making me want to eat, as the appetite -- the desire to experience all those rich, unfamiliar, exciting flavours and textures of food. What I'm craving isn't light snacks, but rich, decadent, strongly-flavoured, foreign meals.

It's the newness and excitement of it all. I need thrill and movement in my life, whether it's in the form of work, people, or something else. The school-year is nearly over, so my workload has lightened and I'm not really meeting any new people. I'm not going anywhere until this summer. So, I'm exploring food for the time being. I try not to overdo it, of course. Not only can my wallet not handle constant eating, but I think overconsumption is a pretty shitty thing to do in a world where the majority of people can't feed themselves adequately. Plus, there are obviously better ways to get out of a rut. But I'm also not going to let myself be ashamed of the fact that I love eating. It's part of the human experience and I want in!

Monday, February 2, 2009


When Obama announced that anti-gay minister Rick Warren would be giving an invocation at the inauguration, the LGBT community and its allies were rightfuly indignant.

One response to this was Dan Savage's contest to give a new definition to the term saddlebacking, à la Santorum, derived from Rick Warren's Saddleback Church. Well here it is: Saddlebacking.

Saddlebacking: sad•dle•back•ing \ˈsa-dəl-ˈba-kiŋ\ vb [fr. Saddleback Church] (2009): the phenomenon of Christian teens engaging in unprotected anal sex in order to preserve their virginities

After attending the Purity Ball, Heather and Bill saddlebacked all night because she’s saving herself for marriage. Unfortunately her parents found out because they got santorum all over the sheets.

Spread the word, all ye faithful!

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Guide to My Heart pt. 2

Five letters and one punctuation sign: CSI:NY. I love it. Everything about it (well, almost, but more on that later).

I used to look down on the CSI franchise. It was Law and Order's airheaded cousin. However, after realising that I'd pretty much watched every single episode of L&O:SVU (several times), I grudgingly decided to try and branch out. That's when I discovered CSI:NY.

It is, arguably, the least often played CSI series of the three American versions (ok, my own personal observation, probably influenced by the fact that I always crave more than I can find on television, thus emphasising its scarcity in comparison to the other series. But I digress). Up till that point, I'd mostly watched CSI:Crime Scene Investigation and a bit of CSI:Miami. Both of those shows didn't agree with my finely-honed crime-show tastes, so I'd concluded that CSI:NY couldn't be any different. However, most of the stuff that really gets under my skin about the other two franchises is not part of CSI:NY: The crimes are freakier than CSI:Miami's, nothing gets solved in a day's work, the characters are a bit more harsh and rough around the edges than CSI:CSI (seriously, what's with the name?), and, most important of all, there's no Horatio Caine!

CSI:NY has that one quality that I seek out desperately in almost any movie or television show: grit. It's dirty, bloody, freaky, jaded, and a little bit mean. Even the visuals appeal to me. All the clean light -- when there is light, as a lot of the scenes are shot in a night-time setting -- are a lot more pleasant to watch, for me at least, than the other two series' yellow-tinted light.

Not to mention that the characters are way more fun to watch. Most of them are typical, mean, world-weary New Yorkers. And they're hot! Total babes! Danny, Flack, Mac, Stella! Even Lindsey's growing on me.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, there are elements to the show that I don't like. For starters, most of the victims are sexy, young, white, middle-class women and often they are sexualized in death. It's not like there are never feministy messages in there (Stella!), but a lot of the time, the show does present a hegemonous version of femininity, ignoring women who don't fall within that version, and then disempowers it. Also, in the cases where the perpetrator is female, she'll have some pretty awful reasons for killing her victim. One example that comes to mind is a woman who completely remakes herself, becomes a cheerleader for the Knicks, and then throws it all away by killing a guy in a very conspicuous way, because he mocked her for being fat. Also, the episode that starred Nelly Furtado as a dental-hygienist-turned-personal-shoplifter was a HUGE mistake and a horrible blight on CSI:NY's history and it should be destroyed and never mentioned again.

That being said, CSI:NY is designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and that just happens to be freaky, sexy crimes and not-always-progressive characters. If I only watched shows that mirrored my personal politics 100%, I would probably just have to give up on television until the big tv execs have a feminist epiphany, and honestly, I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Public transportation not an essential service? That’s news to me.

Ok, so Ottawa is going through it's first day of a strike by the OC workers, who run the public transportation. As someone who buses everywhere, from school, to work, to friends, to my house, I am fucking livid! Both the city council and the union reps don't appear to give a shit about people like me, who can't afford a cab, can't walk for an hour to work in the fucking snow (yes, we got about 20cm last night, did I mention?), don't own a car, and if anyone thinks biking is a good option for getting around, as the OC's website helpfully suggests, I'd love to see them do it in a Canadian winter. Essentially, I'm being forced to choose between not going to work or going to work, but blowing my entire pay-cheque on the cab ride there and back.

Amalgamated Transport Union local 279 is representing the OC workers. Their president, Andre Cornellier, is the biggest jerk I've ever seen. He got a striking mandate from his union members on the city's last proposal, and now he's not even letting them see the revised proposal, let alone vote on it. Here he is, being a total douche:

We already pay an arm and a leg for inadequate public transportation. The City isn't doing much to change things. Both sides are flexing their muscles, and commuters like me are left stranded. My sister has to miss school for the rest of the week, because she has no way of getting there and back without buses. One of my friends had to sleep on a couch in the student lounge at the university, because he had a 9 am exam and couldn't get there on time without buses. Yeah, did I mention that all students are going through exams right now?

In Toronto, public transportation was declared an essential service last April, after one day, when their workers went on strike. This would usually fall on proviancial. In Ottawa, however, it falls in the hands of federal, because we have a few buses that cross over to Quebec. Federal, being unstable as it is right now, is unwilling to do anything, and city councillors decided this morning to not even try, because apparently, public transportation isn't so essential after all.

Given that I, as one of the people most affected by this strike, have absolutely no power to do anything else about it, I've been writing letters to local papers and politicians who do have power. I'll post here the letter I sent to the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun:

The ATU is holding Ottawa’s citizens for ransom, while city council is either weighing the monetary savings of a strike against the rights and well-being of residents, or is tragically out-of-touch with its constituency. What other motivation could push either side to decide that it would be reasonable to leave Ottawa’s citizens without public transportation, especially at a time like this?

The bus drivers, of course, should know riders well enough to realise that many of them do not have an alternate mode of transportation. As someone who takes the bus almost everywhere, including university and work, I count myself among those people. Today alone, I have lost $17 because I could not get to my second job for lack of transportation. While that may be pocket-money to a bus driver or city councillor, it is at least three lunches for me. And I am far from the worst-hit by this ridiculously selfish strike. School-children, students, low-income people and the elderly will all suffer because of this. The thing is, the people most affected by this strike will not be the ones who ultimately decide whether or not the OC workers get their scheduling rights and sick days.

The union and its members have demonstrated nothing but callousness during this strike. How could they, for instance, refuse to guarantee the safety of yellow bus drivers and students, thus forcing Ottawa’s school boards to abandon the plan for alternate transportation for their commuting students? The last I checked, education and safety are rights in this country, and the ATU is infringing upon them.

This does not, however, excuse the way city council has acted in response to the strike. Announcing that public transportation is not an essential service and refusing to present Councilor Bloess’ motion to declare it as such to the federal government is a slap in the face for commuters, especially the ones who are completely dependent on public transportation. But hey, with savings of $3 million a week in the event of a strike, who can blame ‘em, right? Lucky for the commuters, the City has published a helpful list of alternatives to public transportation. University students trying to get to their exams on the other side of town, for instance, could walk to school. The elderly should try biking in order to get their groceries. Minimum-wage workers and high-school students can take a taxi, can’t they? And everyone has a car-owning friend or co-worker with a compatible schedule and destination willing to drive them around town.

Of course, both OC workers and city councillors, who all make a decent-enough wage as it is, can rest easy at night, knowing that they are Right and the other guy is to blame! Meanwhile, the people suffering most are left with no way of getting around and virtually no say in the matter, either way.

I guess it’s a good thing that it’s not about the money, as Andre Cornellier keeps repeating self-righteously. No, stranded commuters can rest assured that it’s about dignity and respect! Well, I feel thoroughly robbed of my dignity as a citizen by both city council and OC workers, and any respect that I held for either is now lost.

I also left a rather nasty message on Andre Cornellier's answering machine. I honestly don't know what else to do. Luckily, I'm done with exams, or I'd be sleeping in student-lounges too. I really wanted to work extra hours during December to make some money for my tuition payments. I really do need it. And, unlike bus drivers, I don't get paid $25/hour. Sick days? Forget it! If I'm sick, I find a replacement and lose the shift and any money I might have made from it. Scheduling? I take what I can get, which often means giving up weekends. With the way the economy is going, bus drivers should be happy they have such well-paying jobs. I really think the City should tell them that if they want to stay on the payroll, they'd better show up to work tomorrow. I'm certain there are plenty of people who would be more than happy to take their jobs.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Review of "For The Bible Tells Me So"

So, I just watched For The Bible Tells Me So, a wonderful documentary about reconciling homosexuality with Christianity. It follows the stories of several strongly Christian families dealing with the fact that one of their loved ones is gay. Among the families interviewed are those of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and Chrissy Gephardt, the lesbian daughter of former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt. The movie also features several religious scholars, including Desmond Tutu.

The bulk of the movie is made up of the families' stories and struggles in accepting their loved ones' homosexuality. Some families are more accepting than others. For some, like the Wallner family, acceptance comes too late. Ms Wallner's daughter committed suicide before the two could reconcile. Others, like the Reitan family, are positively transformed by the coming out of one of their children. The Reitans became gay-rights activists, and Mary Lou Wallner went on to found TEACH Ministries. However, the movie also touches on some important aspects of Christianity's rejection of homosexuals. Alternate readings of the biblical passages dealing with homosexuality are briefly dealth with, in particular the passage which calls homosexuality an abomination and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Here's a taste (at the 1:24 mark):

The main argument, however, isn't in the possible alternate readings. The movie critisizes literalist approaches to the Bible, making the case that the Bible must be read with an understanding and consideration of the cultural context in which it was written. It also points out the way the Church tends to essencialize LGBT people by focusing solely on their sexuality, ignoring the fact that they are human beings deserving of the same love and respect granted to heterosexuals. It is argued that Christians who follow the Bible on this particular rule, but not on all the others, à la Jacobs, are picking and choosing passages to follow. Another thing the film rejects is the static view of religion adopted by anti-homosexual churches, which doesn't account for the many ways in which our understanding of the Bible has changed since it was written (ex: Women are no longer acquired by their husbands as a possession would be). Ultimately, the movie is about Christian Love done right.

It's definitely a powerful film, especially toward the end. I must admit, I shed a few tears (although anyone who knows me, probably knows what a crybaby I am). Tutu, in partucular, made a very powerful statement that really sticks out in my mind, so I'm going to try and paraphrase it as best I can:

I can't imagine God telling me, "I hate you, because you're black. You should have been born white. I hate you, because you're a woman. You should have been a man. I hate you because you're homosexual. You should have been straight."

Now, I know that when Hemant profiled this movie a few months ago on Friendly Atheist, some of the commenters said they didn't want to see a movie about reconciling Christianity with homosexuality, but would rather Christianity were rejected altogether. I don't think that's the point. I think that it's about being happy, and if you're happy being Christian, or Muslim, or Jewish, or Hindu, or any other religion (or no religion, for that matter), and you're also happy being gay, lesbian, transsexual, transgendered, bisexual, asexual, heterosexual etc., then noone should tell you that you have to pick one or the other, but not both. Religious belief and sexuality are both important parts of people's identities and they shouldn't be incompatible. And isn't that what Christian Love is all about - accepting and loving thy neighbour? I don't need to be a believer to know that that's the only Christianity I'd respect.