Tag Archives: Barking Back

Finished this book: The Invisible Empire: A History of Racism in Canada by Margaret Cannon

The Invisible Empire: Racism in Canada book cover image

The Invisible Empire: Racism in Canada book cover image

This book was published back in 1995 and I remember quite liking it then. I was at the tail end of my Women’s Studies degree and quite impressed with my own knowledge and open-mindedness. A book about racism in Canada was right up my alley. Not only would it look impressive when I read it on the bus, but it was also unlikely (I was certain) to challenge me in any real way, given all the recent reading and learning I had done around the intersections among race, class, power, sexuality, and gender.

Rereading this book almost a quarter of a century later has been a sobering experience. I don’t recall exactly what I thought and felt about this book back then; I just had a general feeling of it being an interesting look at the then-current state of race in my country.

Now, however, I am surprised that I would have bought a book by a white woman to learn about racism in Canada. Particularly not a person who is writing from such a place of power and privilege, with access to the media as a journalist, private school for her daughter, etc. It amazes me that I thought this might be a useful perspective.

There was some interesting information and research about such things as how the Heritage Front is constituted and connected to other people and groups (and how these groups exist to basically protect middle-aged white, middle-aged women like the author), some history of  immigration in Toronto, etc. But overall I was pretty disappointed in this book now. To put it in today’s terms, I felt it smelled strongly of #notallwhitepeople.

Things that made me feel this way:

  • lots of pointing out how different ethnic groups also dislike or discriminate against each other (felt like: “they do it too”)
  • lots of “trying to find the truth” between the lived experience of POC and the feelings of white people (felt like: “both sides of the story are equally valid and have to be heard”)
  • a discomfort with naming racism, hatred, and consequences clearly (felt like “try to remain polite”)
  • not enough analysis or placing of events / issues in a context of systemic oppression, but rather more explaining the way things are. Perhaps this descriptive rather than analytical approach comes from the writer’s journalist background. But description by a member of the oppressor’s group is not neutral.
  • too many protestations of the goodness of individual white people (for example, “June Callwood did so much good for the community and is being persecuted for this mistake / misunderstanding”; and, regarding the ROM Into the Heart of Darkness / Africa exhibit: “but the curators did a brilliant job; it’s just that people didn’t understand the cleverness and intellectualism and irony of it all!”; and how opening a new theatre with a production of Showboat was was a more of a lapse of good judgement than actual racism
  • blaming multiculturalism for a lot of these problems (which felt like: “immigrants should just adapt to our ways and there wouldn’t be a problem”

 

While Cannon does seem to be pushing her own comfort zone in this book, especially when venturing out to attend Heritage Front meetings and the like, and does seem to move toward an understanding of the fact that racism extends beyond the confines of actual “hate groups” to include the beliefs and actions of “ordinary people like you and me” (with the definite assumption that “we”—she and her readers— are white people), she does not take her understanding further to embed this in a systemic context.

On the one hand, I understand that this was a fairly new concept for a lot of us white people back in the nineties, but on the other hand, at that time, I certainly owned and worked hard at understanding an expensive pile of textbooks talking about this exact systemic dynamic, textbooks which would certainly have been accessible and parseable by someone with Cannon’s writerly qualifications.

I will put this book in the giveaway pile and wouldn’t recommend it now, but it was very interesting to take this trip backward and see how much my own views and understanding of racism have changed over time. It makes me wonder uncomfortably how much more I have yet to learn, and how another quarter century will (I hope) change my views and deepen my understanding of the toxic webs of systemic oppression and my place in them.

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Very Important Note: None of the phrases in quotation marks are direct quotes from the book.


 

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Being Queer on the Exam Table

During my recent medical checkup , I discovered that my healthcare practitioner is homophobic.

It has been four or five years since she asked about any sexual activity on my part, probably assuming that after my divorce I wasn’t hooking up with anyone. But now that my new partner (cis male) has moved in, she was asking about birth control, a possible STI check, and general questions about my sex life.

When I replied to a question by saying that no, PIV / penetrative sex is not the main kind of sex I have with my partner, she looked confused. So I added: “Well, I’m queer, right?” (I don’t know what I thought this would explain, but I felt sure this had come up at some time in the past, and I thought I was reminding her…?)

She still looked confused so I added “Like, bisexual?” (trying to dumb it down) “Like, I’ve had lots of sex where there wasn’t even a penis in the room?” and then she looked super surprised and said “You mean you have relationships with women outside of your relationship at home?”

No!” I exclaimed, scooching my naked butt down to the edge of the exam table for my pap test. And she looked flustered as she busied herself unwrapping the speculum: “…but if you’re…?”

I put my feet together and dropped my knees outward so she could head into my vagina with her gear. “This relationship is monogamous,” I told her. “I mean, sex is sex. If you adore blondes but you’re with a brunette, that doesn’t mean you have to sleep with blondes on the side, right?”

But then I dropped it, because the cold speculum was going in and I felt really, horribly, uncomfortably exposed and anxious and unsafe in a way that had nothing to do with the pap test in progress.

Her assumption that as a queer (or I guess “bi,” since she didn’t really seem to understand “queer”)  woman, I would of COURSE be screwing women outside of my relationship at home shocked me. Not that I want people to assume that everyone is monogamous, either, but the assumption of promiscuity—relationships with women, not with a woman—I don’t know how to explain it; it was a combination of word choice, tone of voice, and body language that made me feel as if all the negative and conservative connotations of “promiscuity” were running through her head (as opposed to, say, a respectful grasp of the concept of non-monogamy).

Because look. Being queer or bi doesn’t mean I can’t be monogamous. Being a cis woman who was married to a cis man for years doesn’t mean I can’t be queer. Being in a monogamous relationship and screwing someone else would make me a cheating asshole. Whether we’re monogamous or polyamorous or cis or gay or trans or whatever the hell we are, we deserve to have our healthcare providers ask respectfully—or at the very least, professionally—about these things rather than assuming and presuming *the worst (*it’s hard to articulate this because while in my world it’s 100% fine to fuck as many people as you want any way you want as long as everyone is honest and consenting, the attitude I was getting from my practitioner is that these “relationships with other women” were putting me in the “slut” category which personally isn’t a word I stigmatize but obviously carries negative weight for her… does that make any kind of sense?)

The assumption that a queer / bi woman has to be fucking both men and women (never mind the assumption that “men” and “women” are the only ones out there). The assumption that the sex life of a cis woman and a cis man would obviously consist mostly of penis-in-vagina sex. The assumption of heterosexuality in the first place. The confusion and surprise and discomfort she could not even suppress in this interaction.

I am disappointed that some healthcare providers are still so ignorant about LGBTQ* people. I am enraged that the same old, tired, ridiculous assumptions and stereotypes are present even in a professional setting. I am shocked that this particular provider didn’t even know enough to shut her mouth about her biases.

But mostly I am sad and hurt and feeling bleak about our continued working relationship as well as the difficulty of potentially trying to find a new healthcare provider.

She made me feel alien. Other. Misunderstood. Judged. And ultimately unsafe.

Those are terrible feelings to have about the person I have to trust with my iffy health.

 

 

 

Finished this book: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

tigana

There aren’t a lot of men on my list of favourite authors, but this guy is one of the exceptions. I’ve read most of his books many times. They are “comfort books” for me: lovely stories well-told. This is probably my tenth or twelfth re-read of Tigana, and I’m keeping it to read again.

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“The Miracle Thyroid Diet,” My Ass!

Almost nothing makes me as hostile as seeing people wreck their health to meet bullshit arbitrary beauty standards. So I was enraged a couple-three weeks ago as I stood line at the grocery store reading the magazine headlines (my sole source of celebrity news) and saw the following:

thyroidcureimage

Really, people? REALLY?

Hyperthyroidism is no joke

I am currently in the middle of my third round of hyperthyroidism. It is no fucking joke. It can have long-term effects on your body (even after being treated) including increased risk of such fun things as heart attack, stroke, atrial fibrillation, osteoporosis, congestive heart failure, and even serious vision impairment.

This is how hyperthyroidism feels for me

When I’m hyperthyroid, I get anxious to the point of fear, I get palpitations, shakiness, and trembling hands, I’m hungry all the time, eating four or five full meals a day and pooping twice as often (and as much!) as usual. I randomly break into sweats. At first, before the thyroid hormone levels get too high, I get up in the morning with incredible bursts of energy but it is jittery and unproductive, as if I’ve had three hours of sleep and seven cups of coffee. As time goes on, I am just tired and hyper at the same time, my heart racing but the rest of me just wanting to rest. Having a shower or folding my laundry can suddenly make my heart race and my whole body break into a sweat, leaving me exhausted. However, no matter how exhausted I am, I can’t sleep a full night, as my pounding heart wakes me up at 120 or more bpm. My already high blood pressure is exacerbated. I can hear my own heartbeat like somebody’s bass played too loud a few houses down. My arms and legs are weak and I can’t do my normal daily things like walk the dog or run up the stairs. This is worsening over time, and will not improve until my hyperthyroidism is fully treated, which can take months.

Weight loss, hair loss, and bug eyes

The first time I was hyperthyroid, I didn’t know what was going on, and it took quite a while for me to get myself to a doctor for it. By then, I was losing weight no matter how much I ate. A “silver lining,” one of my aunties called it, and I almost decked her. That kind of weight loss is horrible. I did not become fit and toned. No, I was loose-skinned and bug-eyed, and my hair was falling out. I lost close to half my hair at that time.

And back to the bug eyes for a minute: Grave’s disease, an autoimmune disorder which is the form of hyperthyroidism that I have, can also have permanent unpleasant effects on your eyes. They bug out from the pressure of inflammation. This can lead to permanent difficulties with vision. Today as I write this, I have blurred and double vision, as my eyes are not tracking together due to uneven pressure. So I’m also getting frequent headaches, as my job involves sitting at a computer all day.

Hyperthyroidism outweighs your petty cosmetic concerns

So my question is, why would anyone want to simulate this? When I was trying to find an image of the magazine cover I’d seen to include in this blog post, I was angry and shocked at just how many magazine covers there are out there touting hyperthyroidism–or, as we should be calling it here, thyrotoxicity–as a reasonable weight loss tool. I am horrified and frankly disgusted that anyone would see thyrotoxicity as a good idea for losing weight. Honestly, and with all understanding and due respect for the way society pressures us to conform to beauty standards and also for all the ways in which our own damaged self-esteem makes us feel that our worth depends on meeting those standards and and also for all the ways we can be devalued for not engaging in the project of trying to be outwardly the whitest, thinnest, blandest Barbies in town, I honestly have to say if you are that fucking desperate to lose weight for appearances, get yourself some goddam therapy, or research the Health At Any Size movement, or stop hanging around with assholes who judge you for your appearance, or god, I don’t know but just STOP

STOP STOPSTOPSTOP STOP

STOP!!!!! damaging your HEALTH and your LIFE and your HEART and your EYES for the sake of losing weight.

There is NO WORLD in which thyrotoxicity can be reframed as a healthy way to lose weight. Don’t even go there. There is no fucking silver lining, dear auntie. Inducing or prolonging hyperthyroidism to lose weight is self-destructive and ridiculous. I don’t wish this disease on anyone, but if you’re going to do it on purpose, well, one potential outcome of hyperthyroidism is death. Be careful what you wish for.

What I Learned from my Dog about PTSD

When the Brindle Dog was young, she was amazingly strong and focused. Her parents were bred for police work in the Netherlands, and that likely would have been her destiny as well if I hadn’t scooped her up as a house pet.

She could swim or train for hours. She would never give up on a task unless called off. She could joyfully chase a ball or Kong in the park for hours with breathtaking stamina and endurance. She took pride in her ability to execute commands perfectly, and she was also an enterprising problem-solver.

As she aged and got sick, her stamina waned. She weakened. She started to get confused. As her cataracts spread, as her hearing diminished, and as her cancer extended its tentacles and tumours further into her body, the Brindle Dog began to stumble and fall. Her back legs would sometimes give out. She would struggle to right herself and keep going, but I stopped taking her on walks, and just threw sticks (her favourite game) in the yard for her.

The day came when I couldn’t even throw sticks for her anymore, because she kept falling down when trying to chase them. I had to just drop the stick a foot or two in front of her, and she’d grab it.

It was heartbreaking. She used to have the strength and drive and form of an Olympic athlete. She was tireless! Her enthusiasm for work and play was incredible. And now she was a tottering little old lady, half-deaf, half-blind, exhausted from severe anemia, barely able hold her bladder for more than a few hours. I was angry and miserable. Fuck cancer! Look at how age and illness had taken this amazing dog and pounded her down!

But at the same time, I was so glad to be able to provide palliative care and to sweeten my dear dog’s last days with extra love and attention. As she drew closer to the end, and as I turned myself away from the “extraneous” things in my life to be as present as possible with her, I noticed one particular thing I had missed:

In her younger days, when she chased a thrown stick or toy, she would pounce on it with pride and enthusiasm. As she got weaker, her desire to chase that stick never waned, even though her body was failing. And near the end, when I would drop the stick pretty much right in front of her nose, she would still pounce on it with all the energy and drive she could muster, then look up at me proudly, panting from that slight effort, her gums white and her eyes cloudy, but still full of anticipation, wanting me to ask for the stick back so we could do it again.

She was always and only and forever living in the present. She was in pain, but she wanted that stick. She was confused, but her love of this particular game never left her. And whether she had raced across a field to retrieve that stick, or had pounced on it right at her feet, she was happy. She was doing a thing she loved, and it made no difference to her that she used to be able to do it better, or that other dogs could do it better, or that she would never race across a field again.

And that was the thing I had missed. It is okay to be happy doing the things I can do, even though my life will never be what it could have been without abuse and trauma. I will never have a life where my past didn’t happen to me. Therapy isn’t going to take it away or make any of it okay. What I do have, if I let myself have it, is the ability to pounce on that stick even if I’m confused or in pain.

The shit that was done to me will never be gone. I guess somehow I thought that recovery or healing meant I would be done with it. PTSD and the accompanying depression and anxiety mean that I am living with some very real limitations that have consequences in my everyday life, and I may or may not be able to change (some of) those. It’s hard not to be angry and bitter about the fact that my life is smaller than it could have been because of abusers.

But now I realise that recovery and healing, for me, are about figuring out how to live my life with joy and anticipation despite the pain. By example, the Brindle Dog showed me how to accept limitations and just keep living as fully as I can. If I can’t race across the field, I can still grab the stick at my feet with pride.

 

The Brindle Dog died peacefully last week. She carried her stick to the car on her way to the vet. She walked in to her appointment on her own wobbly legs. I cuddled her until she was gone. She was the best dog ever.

 

 

 

Finished this book: The Seventh Mother by Sherri Wood Emmons

Cover of the book The Seventh Mother by Sherri Wood Emmons

Cover of the book The Seventh Mother by Sherri Wood Emmons

 

This story is told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of Jenny, an eleven-year-old girl, and Emma, her seventh mother. Jenny and her dad live a nomadic kind of life as her dad takes seasonal work around the USA. Along with the seasonal work, Jenny’s dad picks up seasonal girlfriends, and although Jenny had grown attached to most of them, she also knows that none of them will stay for long. But Emma, Jenny hopes, is different.

All three of these characters are white, and the treatment of race in this book is handled in a way that is weirdly gentle and unflinching at the same time. This didn’t take up much space in the book but was probably my favourite thread.

Jenny’s dad, Brannon, is a loving and devoted father but he has an angry streak that he shows to others. Emma falls for him and excuses his angry moments (initially they are only moments, of course), forgiving him and explaining it away as proof of his love. Classic red flag stuff and the kind of thing that would have me running for the hills.

As the story progresses, Jenny wants to settle down and go to school, to have a “normal” life with her dad and Emma. Emma wants a “normal” life as well, a husband and children and a house. But Brannon isn’t a Happy Family kind of guy, as Jenny finds out when she stumbles across the real reason why the past mothers / girlfriends who were in her and Brannon’s life are now gone.

Books about dysfunctional families fascinate me, and yet I approach them with trepidation. With this one, I got nervous as soon as I saw Brannon’s temper, and I put the book down for a while because I wasn’t sure I could read about domestic violence. But one thing I really loved about the book was that Jenny’s perceptions and feelings were almost always validated by the people around her. Her dad loved and protected her, her “mothers” were nice to her, Emma loved her, and the parents of her best friend also listened to her and believed her. That part seems to be a bit fairy-tale-ish to me, since it’s not the way I think most young girls are treated in the world, but I did enjoy the fantasy.

Later in the book, there was a bit too much god-talk for me. Like, I get in when characters in a book go to church regularly the same way I understand it if they diet regularly: it’s not part of my life, I don’t understand it viscerally, but I “get” that it’s part of that character’s backstory and lived experience and will influence how they see the world and blah blah blah. But when the plot starts hinging on faith or calorie-counting in a way that assumes I, the reader, will agree that’s a legit basis for life decisions, I start losing interest. Sure, I know that these are very important things to a lot of people, I really do, but for me they are actual disincentives to stay engaged with the book. (And also with real live people who can’t stop talking about their religion or their weight loss regimes.)

Overall, it would have been a fast read if I hadn’t put it down twice for days, once when Brannon started getting mean, and once when people started ascribing events to a god. Jenny is a very sympathetic character, and Emma would be if she wasn’t so naive about Brannon. No, that’s not exactly it: I liked the character of Emma but I felt the path her life was taking was just too predictable from the reader’s perspective.

It makes me kind of sad when a book full of characters doesn’t have GLBTQ* people, or people with disabilities (in this case, one person used a cane, but that was obviously because of her age, which we know because of references to “the old lady”), or characters with some awareness of their class position, and so forth. I guess it’s always a bit disappointing when the characters in a story all seem to strive for a “normal” life, which to them and to the author means the status quo. There are ways to write characters like that while the book itself interrupts that idea of normality, but this book isn’t one of them.

It was a decent book that will now go into my giveaway pile.

 

 

The Shit People Say at Work (or, Flashbacks at my Desk)

Content warning for discussion of flashbacks, child abuse, domestic abuse, and trauma.

 

Workplace cubicles don’t allow for privacy.

On the small floor where I work, a small second floor perched like a hat on a larger building, the windowed offices ring a large area which has been packed with cubicles. At one end of this rectangle is the access stairwell. At the very far end from that stairwell is my workspace. The cubicles end, and my desk and filing cabinets are in the stub of space just past the fire exit stairwell.

It’s an old building. The heating and cooling are iffy, approximate, and likely controlled by someone in a different time zone. As a result, people tend keep their office doors open to improve air circulation.

This means everyone hears everything. We all know about each other’s kidney stones,  grandchildren, car troubles, and how well we all slept last night.

 

(Content warning for below the cut)

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