Disability and the politics of cure

In a comfortable study room overlooking Lake Mendota, a diverse group of scholars got together to discuss a new work by Eli Clare. Clare himself sat in with the group discussing an essay that touched on “the politics of cure” for a series on Accessing the Intersections: Disability, Race, + Gender at UW-Madison on October 12. That’s where I got my first taste of the “politics of cure,” a concept I would like to share here.

Eli Clare

Clare’s writings explore the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and ability, and he writes from personal experience. I read his work, “Gawking, Gaping, Staring,” this summer, and it opened my eyes (excuse the expression) to the “othering” experienced by people with disabilities.

I wish I could say that I have been aware and sensitive to the social justice struggles of peoples with disabilities as long as I’ve been interested in gender and race issues. But I’m learning. And so is the rest of the world, as the UN only adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006 (note: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women was adopted in 1979).

As the discussion on ability and ableism gains voices and volume, the experiences of disabled people also marginalized due to race or gender or sexuality shed important light on the similarities and differences of these groups. Clare’s writings eloquently explore his experiences and those of his friends and colleagues experiencing  the intersections of queerness and disability. I recommend them.

I’d like to return to the discussion group overlooking Lake Mendota where Clare, and other scholars, illuminated the politics of cure for me. Think about how we discuss cancer in the United States. The Susan G. Komen foundation sponsors races for the cure and another campaign encourages people to “Stand up to Cancer.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with striving for cures for ailments, but not all ailments have cures, and not all disabled bodies can be “cured.” So a woman with breast cancer may not focus on occupying and loving her body regardless of its cancer, because she is so focused on the life she will have after remission or after a cure.

I choose cancer as an example, because it’s widespread, relatable, and often “cured.” But consider the way that people with incurable diseases experience the politics of cure, the obsession with cure. Someone mentioned in the discussion meeting that muscular dystrophy funds have claimed a cure on the horizon for decades. And Clare mentioned Christopher Reeves’ constant striving to regain some functioning after paralysis. But Reeves did not recover from his quadriplegia and those with muscular dystrophy still live with it day in and day out.

Many people (i.e. nearly one in five) live their lives with physical disabilities and/or illness (both mental and physical). A constant quest for cures makes it difficult to accept and experience the present state of our bodies, regardless of their ability.

Sitting with Clare and the other interdisciplinary scholars, I realized I had much to learn about the sociopolitical challenges surrounding disability. I also have more to learn about the implications of cure. But hope for “cure” can translate to a non-acceptance of a disabled body. That doesn’t mean I’m racing away from the cure, but now I think about accepting bodies as they are, hoping for cures as an alleviation for pain not the restoration of a “cured” body.

“Cure” is not so simple as a pill or treatment

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International Day of the Girl

  1. International Day of the Girl took place last year on a much smaller scale, but this year it was supported by the United Nations. I loved following the conversation on Twitter on October 11 and into the weekend, so I’ve gathered a few highlights here. The day focused on  child brides and education for girls. It drew global attention towards the wedding of young girls to older men.
  2. pleziavi
    “#SecClinton announced new initiatives to prevent child marriage & promote girls’ education worldwide. http://go.usa.gov/Y8AP #DayoftheGirl”
    Sat, Oct 13 2012 15:48:56
  3. ONECampaign
    Today is International #DayoftheGirl. Help raise awareness by RETWEETING this fact: 25,000 girls become child brides every day.
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 06:38:45
  4. UN_Women
    #EndChildMarriage! Let girls be girls, not brides. Check out this new report by @UNFPA http://bit.ly/PZoYtV #dayofthegirl #IDG2012
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 05:01:53
  5. social_entre
    “Let girls be girls, not brides,” says Desmond Tutu. @TheElders’ video on why we shd #endchildmarriage http://bit.ly/p4B6Za #dayofthegirl
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 18:04:55
  6. BrittForPeace
    Oct 11 was Intl #DayoftheGirl but fight to #endchildmarriage must cont. 365 days/yr. Here’s why: http://bit.ly/WaqOf5 via @MailOnline
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 08:59:43
  7. ColleeninLondon
    Child Brides Denied Education, Face Violence, Health Catastrophes http://allafrica.com/c/-4c7Ad #africa via @allafrica #dayofthegirl #vaw
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 23:02:47
  8. zarasnapp
    1 out of 7 girls worldwide is married before age 15! #childmarriage #dayofthegirl #IDG2012 let’s end this and promote female education!
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 12:56:31
  9. Educating young girls gives them survival tools and impacts whole communities.
  10. WLP_Cal
    Girls Education = The FUTURE @10x10act #basicmath #dayofthegirl #IDG2012 http://pic.twitter.com/NlIm4x4R
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 13:05:57
  11. bridgetminamore
    “If you educate a man, you educate one person. If you educate a woman, you educate and liberate a whole nation” – Malcolm X #dayofthegirl
    Sat, Oct 13 2012 16:50:31
  12. USAID
    Educating #girls can transform entire communities. Learn how http://ow.ly/eqC33 #DayoftheGirl
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 17:15:07
  13. IDLONews
    #Girls in households without #water sacrifice livelihoods and education in order to wait in line at water stations #DayoftheGirl
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 11:17:02
  14. stellasglobe
    My first Int’l #dayofthegirl special story: Girl children of sex workers in #India finally access #education. http://bit.ly/SUWWxK
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 07:11:52
  15. mercycorps
    Girls who complete primary school cut their chances of contracting HIV in half. http://bit.ly/OrpZg8 #dayofthegirl
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 13:02:38
  16. ALupel
    MT @DFID_UK “Giving girls a good quality education gives us the biggest chance to break the cycle of poverty” B. Northover #Dayofthegirl
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 11:13:13
  17. AnnaSemanova
    “It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor” #NelsonMandela #DayoftheGirl via @NelsonMandela
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 11:16:27
  18. Day of the Girl provided a forum for many to discuss the Taliban’s shooting of Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old girl who advocated for girls education.
  19. Mechanic_mel
    #StandWithMalala #DayOfTheGirl http://pic.twitter.com/Rox30p4O
    Sat, Oct 13 2012 18:15:09
  20. Yogabilities
    What a difference one girl can make “@CBCNews: Thousands rally for Pakistani girl shot by Taliban http://bit.ly/WkeEAk”#DayoftheGirl
    Sun, Oct 14 2012 10:50:40
  21. These aren’t the only issues facing girls globally. Many in the twitter-verse spoke against Female Genital Mutilation and in favor of building self-esteem.
  22. sereyab
    #DayofTheGirl stop FGM! Girls need to enjoy all their body parts and stay healthy!!
    Wed, Oct 10 2012 21:55:33
  23. DrGwenPKeita
    This comprehensive rsrc on #teen girls covers self-esteem, body image, peer relationships, etc.: http://bit.ly/SS65Y7 #dayofthegirl
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 10:33:46
  24. For the girls out there 15 and younger, many remarkable women shared advice to their 15-year-old selves. The story showed up in re-tweets throughout the day.
  25. womenofbaycrest
    Did you follow the launch of the International #DayoftheGirl? Check out the advice of these remarkable #women http://ow.ly/eqW4A
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 10:49:47
  26. What advice do you have for your 15-year-old self? What issues would you like to see addressed on next year’s International Day of the Girl?
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Acknowledging Columbus’ Painful Legacy

Totem Pole, Washington state

The Trail of Tears took place nearly 200 years ago, and thousands of Native Americans died during this forced migration. Yet, in the United States we don’t often reflect on this black mark in our history. We do annually reflect on the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the America’s in 1492. An arrival that marks the start of the European colonization of the continent, as well as the subsequent death and subjugation of indigenous people and the establishment of the Atlantic slave trade.

Today marks Columbus Day — a federal holiday since the 1930s. It wasn’t until I heard of Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States (published first in 1980) that I began to reconsider the American history I’d learned as a child (which painted Columbus as a curious explorer and civilizing cornerstone). The arrival of Columbus in the Bahamas marked a dramatic shift in our nation’s history, but whether it should be celebrated or not is a question in a growing debate. Some activists have sought to change the focus of the holiday towards, “Indigenous People’s Day.”

In observance of the colonization and genocide that followed Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, I’ve gathered a few stories worth checking out today.

1. On Columbus Day, Indigenous Urge Celebration of Native Culture and Teaching of Americas’ Genocide: Democracy Now filmed this segment in Fort Lewis College, which hosts a large Native American student population and an event today called, “Real History of the Americas.” Three women affiliated with the college talk about alternative histories, identity, and cultural trauma experienced by generations of Native Americans.

2. Stand on the Side of Love with Native Women: This blog posted a reminder today about the tenuous position of the Violence Against Women Act facing congress. It’s fitting on what some call “Indigenous People’s Day,” that we remember the disproportionate rates at which Native Women continue to experience sexual assault and violence. One in three Native Women is estimated to be raped in her life.

3. Columbus’ Legacy of Categorization: The Yale student paper published a really interesting column from a Native American student addressing his take on Columbus day and his own identity. He explains how he struggles when people ask him, “How Native are you?” This piece indicates where we still have room for improvement in addressing our history of colonialism and it’s insidious, lingering effects.

Christopher Columbus

4. Columbus Day Vs. Indigenous Peoples’ Day: How About Happy Immigration Day?: Mediaite addressed the conflict of whether or not today should be a holiday. Author Philip Bump dismisses some of the arguments for Indigenous People’s Day with the explanation “People are — and always have been — selfish jerks… Our forefathers were oppressed and were oppressors.” He suggests forgetting the controversy and celebrating the diverse fabric of America caused by immigration. It’s an interesting piece, but it feels dismissive for the sake of a rosy conclusion.

Regardless of the name of the holiday, it’s important for Americans to observe the reality of our history. Acknowledging historical trauma on the Columbus Day holiday provides national validation and healing for part of our tumultuous history and a voice for our Native American fellow citizens.

What are your thoughts on Columbus Day? Is it antiquated? Is it important to maintain?

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Adult Witnesses of Child Abuse Held Accountable

On my parents anniversary a few weeks ago they reminisced about trying to secure a particular Catholic officiate at their wedding.  But the priest they selected was not permitted by his superiors to oversee a half-Catholic wedding, and besides, Ron Voss was already in trouble in the diocese for violating traditional practices like hosting mass in someone’s house.

The irony of the story, my parents continued, was that this priest’s most offensive act did not face sufficient punishment from the church. He molested children, and the church’s solution to the problem was to send him far away, to Haiti, where conflicting reports suggest Voss continued his abusive habits.

This anecdote from my parents revived an issue I’ve been mulling over since the Jerry Sandusky trial this summer. Protecting children from predators should be the understood responsibility of all adults. Standing by with knowledge of child abuse condones the crime and is criminal in and of itself. Within the unequal power dynamic of an abusive relationship, children cannot be expected to protect themselves from older, larger, and more influential figures in their lives who may try to hurt them.

The UN’s Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child (this is a human rights document) states that “The child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation.” While the US helped draft this declaration we have not ratified it and are not held to the terms. But many states on their own, have passed legislation naming mandatory reporters who monitor for suspicious treatment of children. Florida just passed an act that “criminalizes failure to report child abuse” in the state.

Reporting charges of child abuse can be painful to pursue. I don’t doubt this. No institution — be it the Roman Catholic Church, the legendary football program at Penn State, or any other establishment — wants to set aside their mission and reputation to deal with a scandal. And no individual witness likely wants to challenge people they’ve previously respected with an accusation of molestation.   Taking responsibility for knowledge like that requires courage, and for those who don’t have the will-power to speak up, the judicial system has started to hold them responsible. 

While former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky already received a conviction for sexually abusing 10 boys,  other cases are pending around the people who may have known of Sandusky’s abuses; related allegations include failure to report and perjury. A report from Louis J. Freeh, director of the F.B.I., outlined that many support staff suspected the abuses and choose to silence concerns, rather than address them. This alleged evasion of confrontation allowed Sandusky to continue to abuse minors over the course of several years.

[In an interesting side note, a primary witness in the case against Sandusky, filed his own suit against the university. Mike McQueary, a former graduate assistant, claims that Penn State used him as a scapegoat, damaging his reputation. His testimony played an important role in the trial, though his subsequent strife illustrates why some may be reluctant to expose the crimes of superiors.]

The Sandusky trial wasn’t the only sexual abuse case to come out of Pennsylvania this summer. In July, a Catholic official, Monsignor William J. Lynn, was sentenced to 3-6 years for concealing sex abuses by priests. This trial marked the first conviction of a Roman Catholic official in the U.S.  — although charges of sexual abuse of minors in the catholic church arose frequently over the last few decades.

A petition through Change.org started circulating recently to address a parallel issue in a Kansas City, Missouri diocese. Bishop Robert Finn “shielded a pedophile priest,” reported the New York Times. And the author of the petition, Jeff Weis, wants the bishop to resign his post.

I don’t think this is a tall order, requesting the removal of someone convicted of protecting adult offenders over vulnerable children. The criminal justice system must be careful of newly criminalizing offences, but when it comes to child abuse someone must advocate for children.  That means expecting adults to take information they probably didn’t seek or desire and share it with authorities to prevent further abuse. If adult witnesses don’t take action, more and more children will be subject to the predation of abusers.

FYI: Jerry Sandusky faces sentencing this Tuesday, October 9.

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Translating trans-prisoners’ rights to all

Transitioning from male to female or female to male is not an easy or inexpensive process. Considered by some insurance companies as an elective or cosmetic surgery, many transpeople must pay for gender reassignment surgery out-of-pocket and draw out the process over years. In many instances the process involves hormone therapy and surgical components.

The number of insurance companies covering sex reassignment surgeries is on the rise reported Huffington Post last December. Recent court decisions in Wisconsin and Massachusetts ruled that the failure to provide hormone treatment and other services constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. So if it’s a constitutionally mandated right for our prisoners to have access to transgender surgery, shouldn’t it also be accessible to law-abiding citizens?

The related Wisconsin case concluded in March of this year, and it began with a state law barring the medical care of transgender inmates. Lambda Legal and the ACLU challenged the state law in federal court and won in 2010. After being upheld in a court of appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a subsequent appeal, securing the right for current and future transgender inmates access to appropriate medical care.

The recent decision by a federal court in Massachusetts focused on the right to surgery, discussing the medical implications of gender identity disorder. The fact that convicted murderer Michelle Kosilek (born Robert Kosilek) attempted suicide and self-castration demonstrated the gravity of the disorder and the requirement of surgical treatments. I do, however, worry about labeling all transgender people as disordered. Mental illness and trans-identities are both already stigmatized in the U.S.

Implementing these new rules will be complicated for prison systems, which operate on a strict gender binary. Officials in Massachusetts worried about the added cost and security required to care for a transfemale in a male facility. But just because an transition is difficult doesn’t mean it’s not important and necessary – just ask a transgender person.

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WI Girl Scouts Event Boasts New, Empowering Brand

I dove into a cold puddle of mud for the first time this weekend, and it was an invigorating experience. The One Tough Cookie mud run I participated in felt like the most positive female-oriented experience I’ve been part of for years. The 5K course with obstacles promoted camaraderie and health.

Equipped with a new logo (shaped like a dog tag with a Venus symbol on it)  and a brand promoting strength and toughness, the event had the ingredients necessary to empower. Two female National Guard members who served in Iraq designed the course. All participants were female and ranged in age from 14-year-old Girl Scouts to older adult leaders. And the event raised funds for Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Badgerland. While men manned parts of the course and cheered on participants, the female majority lent itself to a non-competitive and sisterly vibe.

At the start line an emcee pumping up participants reminded us to be patient if there were lines at the obstacles. “This is a not a race, it’s a challenge,” he told us. And that set a cooperative tone for the whole event. I ran with four other women, and we stayed together throughout the course, cheering for each other and the women we didn’t know. My friend who coordinated our team even boosted up a complete stranger who struggle to climb an inflated wall on the bounce house obstacle (imagine something from American Gladiators).

Saturday’s event marked the first annual mud run by the Girl Scouts in Wisconsin, and the event had a few hang-ups. The lines stretched long and moved slowly, but I take that as a testament to the popularity of the event. At the finish line, young scouts presented mud covered runners with boxes of cookies and dog tags. I thought the tags provided a perfect stand in for medals, with every participant receiving one.

There was one odd supporter that stood out to me. All participants over 21 received a free beer after the event, but rather than having the option of other beers on tap, the only available free beer was Michelob 64. I imagine Michelob banked on sharing their low-calorie variety with a swath of fit females.

I skipped the beer, but enjoyed the all-female band. And my favorite part — besides romping around with friends — was the nostalgia I felt for my time as a Girl Scout, tramping around the trails and fire pits of local scout campgrounds. I also loved embracing the mud, dirt, and scraped knees.

Photos courtesy of Jonas Hackett

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Defining “Human Rights”

Over the last year I’ve been honing a specialty for my pursuits in the field of journalism, and on several occasions I told people that I wanted my beat to focus on human rights and social justice. But I feel like I’m only just starting to understand what human rights even means.

In my work for a course on “Women’s International Human Rights,” I have to keep a glossary of terms. “Human Rights” stands as the first term on my list, and I realized after a few class meetings that it’s a complex concept with a rich history.

The United Nations are largely responsible for the establishment of codified human rights, and that process began after the genocide of World War II. The UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, but it still didn’t have any teeth for reinforcement, and its language betrayed some gender bias.

In an intense criticism of the Declaration, Catherine MacKinnon asks, “Are Women Human?” citing the language in Article 1 of the document: “All human beings…should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Men would not feel included if that document suggested all humans treat each other as sisters, suggests MacKinnon.

Furthermore, Article 23 reads, “Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity,” yet women today still do not receive equal pay and many struggle to support their own families to a dignified existence.

The establishment of codified human rights did by no means put men and women on equal footing, but it proved to be an important step in universalizing the idea that all humans deserve life, and dignity, and other immutable rights.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights….Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (Articles 1 and 2)

Other rights set out in the initial UN Declaration go beyond the US Bill of Rights and the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” of the Declaration of Independence. In addition to the right of a fair trial and freedom from torture, the Universal Declaration states we all share the right to have a family, health, education, cultural life, leisure time, and more.

But the Universal Declaration does not do into depth about how to protect minority or underrepresented groups who experience systemic oppression. So more committees formed in the UN to monitor abuses against these groups and to support them. These groups include the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965) and The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), among others.

All these details about international human rights are new to me. But I’m thrilled to learn about which countries have adopted various UN treaties and how that reflects on state protection of particular human rights. With each new discovery of the fascinating history of human rights documentation, I learn about more human rights violations. And these rights are violated in the United States as much as the next country. In this blog I’ll be sharing my discoveries and criticisms around human rights issues as I delve in deeper this semester and beyond.

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Women in the Olympics: Five Headlines

As a female athlete, sports fan, and inhabitant of this planet, I am pumped for the Olympics. They begin this evening. The media provided a good deal of anticipatory coverage, looking at  the games from many angles:  London weather, steroids, sponsorship agreements,  projected outcomes, and the list goes on and on. A few headlines about women in the games held my attention longer than the others:

  1. More women than men representing the US

The US will send more female than male athletes to the games for the first time this year. The female total reaches 269, eight more than the men on the roster.

  1. But not so in Saudi Arabia

This conservative country only recently lifted a ban on female participation in the Olympics. Keep in mind that women cannot legally drive in this country, and they’ve only recently been granted suffrage. They will vote in their first election in 2015. Sporting leagues for Saudi women often remain underground. Considering such barriers to athletic practices, it’s not surprising that the country has few athletes of Olympic caliber able to compete now that the ban is lifted. A conversation continues around Saudi Olympian Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani and whether or not she can wear a headscarf during her judo competition.

  1. Ban lifted for women’s boxing

This will be the first year that female boxer’s will be able to compete in the Olympics. This sport held out as the last with no female counterpart until this year. Female boxers finally have the opportunity to demonstrate they have a place to fight in the ring, and not just ornament it as bikini-ed ring girls.

  1. Sexism remains

Not surprisingly, female athletes are still held to traditional standards of beauty. Regardless of the sport or skill, Olympians tend to get extra attention if they’re considered beautiful or hot. One article on the US women’s soccer team faced criticism for its focus on looks and disregard for skills. That article began, “All of a sudden, the Olympics have got sexy. Really sexy.”

  1. There are only two genders in the Olympics

While the beautiful and feminine athletes get attention for their looks, the less feminine athletes face scrutiny. South African sprinter Caster Semenya had her gender called into question in 2009. After a series of confidential sex verification tests, Semenya was found to have high levels of testosterone and submitted to “treatment” to place her on more equal footing with her female competitors.

Regardless of the controversies humming around women and the Olympics, I am looking forward to seeing weeks of gender balanced sports. I like watching men compete too, but this is the only time every two years when female athletes vie equally for international attention.

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Musings on Mustaches and Masculinities

I spent an afternoon mustached last weekend, and it was fun. At a beer festival in St. Paul, The House of Shandy handed out tattoos of thin ‘staches and furry adhesive ones in various styles. I donned “the smarty.”

I was curious to spend the afternoon with this symbol of masculinity across my face, though admittedly I was pretty far from masculine in my sun dress. My recent completion of a gender studies course in masculinity inspired the temporary transformation. And it was well received. I wasn’t the only person (woman or man) to wear the House of Shandy’s party favor, thus it became more of a playful accessory than a commentary on gender. Thirteen different men complimented my mustache. Some pretended to be jealous. Two women gave me positive feedback. I did get one confused query about where I got it and why I would wear it, but nothing hostile.

me (mustached) with my partner

But there is quite a difference between a satirical, temporary mustache on a female and a woman’s acceptance of her own natural facial hair. Rebecca Nieto makes this distinction in her piece “Hair Trigger,” in which she chronicles her own desire to remove upper lip her at age 12. She also examines the growth of mustache popularity in queer communities, versus its rise in hipster popularity.  If you don’t recognize society’s fierce protection of mustaches as a symbol of masculinity, check out this commercial for the prescription Vaniqa, a product intended to reduce women’s facial hair. In the commercial a beautiful, smooth-skinned woman’s voice drops to a baritone when discussing how her facial hair makes her feel manly, presumably a tragedy for any women trying to leave the house.

Some women, queer or not, have begun to let their – facial – hair down.  Not only is it liberating to free onself from the hassle of waxes, razors, or lasers, but it also sends the message that women can be women without perfectly smooth and hairless (dare I say prepubescent) bodies. Or, on the other hand, women can be choose to be a little masculine with their facial hair.

Gay men arguably took to mustaches as a way to confirm their masculinity in the 70s. R.W. Connell writes about the Castro Clone trend  in his book Masculinities. Gay men are often excluded from hegemonic (i.e. mainstream) masculinity because of their sexuality. By accessorizing as a tough, manly man (think Ron Swanson’s ‘stach), gay men affirmed their masculinity despite attempts to feminize them.

While I wore my temporary mustache I couldn’t help but consider the politics that center on these two to three square inches of hair. A hairy upper lip says a lot. And even though my experiment with it didn’t shock or shatter stereotypes, it’s fun to play with people’s perceptions. Nieto concludes, “With every imitation and copy, the mustache is warped, destabilized from being a symbol of purely masculine citizenship, and brought to a place of queer play.” And really, the mustache has only the power that we allow it. It remains a symbol of masculinity, but it doesn’t have to be confined to a male body.

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Battered, Pregnant, Looking for Ride

A woman on the street in downtown Madison asked me to help her find transport to a battered women’s shelter today. She was tired, articulate, and African American. She sought transportation to a shelter just south of Madison. The local domestic violence shelter was full. The local women’s shelter is open only at night and will not house people long-term. The buses don’t run that far out of the city. YWCA couldn’t help her either. She shared this sequence of setbacks with me, and the fact that she’s pregnant.

I wasn’t sure what to do to help, but I felt sympathetic. I know that it requires a great deal of courage to leave an abusive situation. I feared that if I didn’t help her find assistance, she would return to her abuser. So I called the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence and passed the phone along to the woman. I listened to her repeat: “I know, there’s just no funding.” She had already tried the suggestions I brainstormed on the spot. I was out of ideas. And I didn’t have a car.

So we talked about taking a cab, and between us we didn’t have enough money to pay for it — $35. She decided to panhandle for the balance, then take a cab when she could. She offered to exchange numbers so she could pay me back in the future, after she gets help, and a new job.

What she said when we parted really struck me, “I guess I shouldn’t have come to the city, as a minority, looking for help.”

Downtown Madison, Wisconsin

 * * *

I walked away from this experience feeling sad, helpless, and doubtful. This woman went everywhere I could think of for help, and they didn’t have the resources to assist her. I fear that she will fall through the cracks of an under-funded, well-intentioned system of advocacy organizations. But I hope she makes it to the shelter she set out for.

Any advocates out there recommend different options or suggestions for the future?

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