Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Canadian government has decided to stop funding gender reassignment surgery for trans prisoners. The Bilerico project has more.

Let your mps knows that this is NOT ok:
You can look up your local mp with your postal code on this site.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wisdom vs Willful Ignorance (or: My Grandma Rules and So Do I!)

A piece about intergenerational revelations by Aditi Ohri

The one time I fought with Badima*, she won – more or less. I still think I was right, but all things considered, she made me realize that she was far from wrong.
We were arguing about my parents – those SCOUNDRELS – and their impending divorce. It had taken them 12 years to get to the point of signing the damn documents that legally unbind them from one another. I realize there are couples that never manage to divorce even though they should, so even though I was complaining, I was also celebrating. My celebration, however, was the source of some disappointment from my dear Badima. She was all shame and anger about the incident; she even used the word ‘disgrace.’ Rash, foolish, 19-year-old me reacted immediately; I told her that I found her ‘retrograde politics’ disgusting. I wrote it all off to her ‘traditional and conservative Punjabi upbringing’ without taking the time to think about what that might actually mean. I even had the na├»ve gall to question her feminism.
My gracious grandmother, of course, took this in sage-like stride, told me to drink my chai, go for a walk, and eat a chapatti. So I did. My sister and I had a pleasant jaunt through a park nearby Badima’s New Delhi apartment. We walked for almost an hour. We bought sweets and stuffed our mouths with gulab jamun, samosa, and all the oot-patang* that spoils your appetite. We were just a couple of carefree girls going for a long stroll, enjoying the humid monsoon season and thinking “what is her problem.” Like perfect brats, we saw nothing unusual or remarkable about this disagreement, writing it off to the inevitable inter-generational rift that exists between us.
At home, Badima had left out for us a large box that resembled a treasure chest. As soon as we came back we could not resist looking through it. It was stuffed with family heirlooms --- old silk saris, Wedding jewelry, really really really old gold, silver rattles for babies, gorgeous rings made with semi-precious stones, strange old coins, photographs of people long dead who had my nose, my cheeks, and my teeth long before I did… It was incredible. There was one piece, however, that was impossible to figure out. It was pure silver and felt heavier than a packed rickshaw. My sister and I first guessed that it was a chandelier, but it was not at all decorative. There was something harsh and ugly about the whole thing.
Badima took it into her hands and explained that it was a set of silver chains that once belonged to her mother. “From the day she was married, my mother was forced to wear these silver chains around her ankles,” she told us, “This was not an uncommon custom for Punjabi women back then.” Those chains must weigh over 20 kilograms. My great-grandmother likely never left her house. Even inside the house, people would have always known her location because they could hear her chains rattling as she moved. She was closely surveilled and physically disfigured because the public world of late 19th century India was understood to be simply unfit for a Hindu women of her class and caste.
That is when my jaw dropped and my head exploded. That this was my great-grandmother’s lived reality is a painful and shocking fact to comprehend – I don’t know that it will ever make sense to me. That Badima was even able to leave her family home in her twenties and pursue a teaching career in a neighbouring town is an astounding thought. Of course we disagree, I realized, we have completely different ideas about mobility, freedom, identity, commitment and the fluidity of marital relationships! That my grandmother could have grown up watching her own mother be physically bound to the domestic sphere and still be so liberal as to encourage me to pursue any career I can dream of, to have boyfriends, to be queer-positive and sex-positive – is incredible!!!
So, Badima won. She tamed the arrogance of my youth with love, patience, and context. She gave me a renewed appreciation for a freedom she cannot experience and an imprisonment I could never imagine. Even though we continue to disagree about my parents’ divorce, we can appreciate each others’ worldviews and seek out our differences as points of personal growth. Something my grandmother refuses to do is to judge or condemn others, and this is something I hope I can learn to do as I grow older and – hopefully – wiser. Sometimes, it is not important to agree, or even to agree to disagree.
This is not a parable and is not meant to make anyone feel guilty. I like to share this experience because it is always on my mind, and with squirming pink-faced sincerity, I can honestly say that it changed my life. It was humbling because it made the brutality of my own ignorance so apparent. Rather than dismiss Badima’s opinion completely, I came to an understanding where I could at least attempt to validate her vantage point. Whenever I return to this experience, I am inspired to remember that I am of able mind and body, and this fact puts me in the unique position to reflexively assess my own position in a world that makes so much invisible. And of course, it reminds me that my grandmother is the coolest person in the world and I can’t believe she is even real she is so amazing!!!!!!!!!!!

*grandmother, literally meaning “Big Mom”
* junk food

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Broken Arrow: Native Men's Writing, Art and Culture

Broken Arrow is the result of a weekly writing workshop run by Toronto author Emily Pohly-Weary at the Satagey Native Mens Residence in Toronto's West End. A literary zine filled with poetry and prose of from the writing group, Jorge Antonio Vallejos has as an indepth review:

"Everyone has a story but not everyone is willing to share his or her story.  The men at Sagatay don’t hold back.  Honesty, bravery, and humility are displayed throughout the pages of “Broken Arrow”.  Whether writing of street life, different forms of abuse, loves lost, and the ever present colonization of Turtle Island now known as Canada, these men shoot arrows at their targets with perfect aim..."
Read the rest at Racialicious.

Blogwatch - Visualizing Women' Rights in the Arab World

Check out this project: Visualizing Women's Rights in the Arab World.
The project consists of a blog cataloging different techniques used to visualize and organize information about social and political issues. It's the on-line space for a series of workshops taking place in Jordan in early December.

Here's some neat projects they've highlighted:

Ninjabi - A comic strip about a young hijabi wearing girl growing up in the States and her close circle of friends. The strip's name is taken from putting the words ninja and hijab together.

Open Street Maps - a wiki mapping project that creates maps through the collaborative efforts of everyday people. The mapping project has begun collective mapping of the Occupied Territories of Palestine with the goal of helping NGOs and aid organizations working on the ground.
their website more fun infographics and visualizing projects.

Scrawl through their website for more fun infographics and visualization projects.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Break -Up Songs for the Weary

The most amazing thing about break-up ennui is how every pop song relates to what you're going through. Perhaps it's more of a comment on the vapidness of pop song lyrics (or their genius) that you can twist basically any song with the words "you, love, want, need, hate, lonely, jerkface, die" in it to be about your pain - even if the song formally related to your rosy new relationship. When I was going through my break-up, every fucking song was about it in the same way I used to our coupledom reflected in each loving romcom (even if all those romcoms were about heteros...)

Here's a select few break-up songs:

Mariah Carey - Shake It Off (the maker of manya break-up ballands, this one's for the righteous break-up. She also has one's for heartbreakers, obsessed exes, exes that are still in love but need to be apart for emotionally responsible reasons, and exes that deeply and truly belong together). I don't care if she can't dance, this woman is a genius.

Eamon- Fuck It (Don't Want U Back)
This little gem snuck on to my iTunes under the guise of a Beyonce song. Who knew I was soon to discover the perfectly soft r'n'b atonality of a scorned lover's angst? My great dream is to karaoke this song. It's yet to be happen, but trust me, dream's gonna come true.

Art of Noise - Moments in Love
Ethereal and eerie, a perfect reminder of how creepy all-consuming love can be (and probably was).

Bettye LaVette - Stand Up Like A Man
Though this song is about LaVette helping her lover achieve maximum masculinity, I alternately imagine that she's singing for me to find strength or singing about my ex's lack of courage. Both were equally satisfying.

Janet Jackson - What Have You Done for me Lately?
A question we should all ask ourselves from time to time. Also, the video opening is amazing. I love the way Janet's friend 'tudes late-ly.

And here's a podcast on break-up management from the amazing Queer Fat Femme Mafia's femmecast - including a hilarious performance called What Would Joan Crawford Do? about a true tale of heartbreak and revenge- can be found below. Scroll for episode 2:

Post your own break-up songs and tips.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Who makes digital art (and what to do they make)? Reinforcing the male gaze in cyberland

Apparently digital photographers and artists are all dudes who spend most of their time either creating cyboronic babes or photographing beautiful women and then retouching their skin. These magazine covers reinforce the idea that men dominate the technological sector, whether that be in digital photography, photoshop, or as avatar artists. By putting babes on their covers, not only do they reinforce the assumed male gaze and boy-culture of the technorati, but in sexing them up they implicitly say: "our consumers are lonely gamer dudes who whack off to Lara Croft." Gamers, fight back - don't buy into the stereotype of yourself as male nerds with sperm covered keyboards! You could be so much more.

These magazine covers also reinforce the disturbing trend of the submissive female cyborg (better know as a fembot). This reoccurring figure can be seen in Svedka vodka, Heinken, and Philips ads. There's also been a series of Axe ads airing on Canadian television where a boy wakes up and has a team of female-machine hybrids buff and shave him (as if he was a car going through a wash) to start his day. These ads are disturbing because they position embodied technology as female, subservient and invisible. In these fantasies, feminized technology exists to support their male masters while the men often go about their day using the technology without even acknowledging the system of support that the fembots are giving him. Strange links to Habermas' construction of the public citizen as predicated on the work done in the invisible and domestic private sphere? I think so. The fembots of Philips and Axe ads are so invisible, they melt into the background - straddling the threshold between object and subject so well, that they basically create a vaguely sexualized landscape by their presence (because landscapes are never sexualized).

Also, let it be noted that these magazines are placed near implicitly male magazines, focusing mostly on nature, business, and cars. Ms, Bitch, BUST, Herizons and the Canadian Women's Studies Journal were all tucked beside TeenVogue at my local suburban Chapters.

Oh, occasionally Digital Photographer will have a front cover featuring a sprawling landscape. Bully for them.

Scrawl through the back issues here:
Digital Photographer
Digital Artist
Advanced Photoshop
Photoshop Creative

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Leatherdykes and Beaver Dams: Unholy Harvest, A History of Ottawa's Kinky Thanksgiving Weekend

"It's funny, in our quest to find Canadian leatherdykes, we actually kinda made them."
-Andrea Zanin
Coming back for its fourth year, Unholy Harvest gives a little twist to your Thanksgiving weekend. As Canada's only annual leatherdyke and transfolk BDSM weekend, the event has been a foundation for the growing Canadian leatherdyke community. Twatterr catches up with co-founders Jacqueline St-Urbain and Andrea Zanin to talk about the upcoming weekend, the history of the event, and the nascent queer-kink communities cropping up in Canadian cities.

Twatter [T]: Let's talk a little about the history of the Unholy Army; the group you started in Montreal before Unholy Harvest. Why did you start the Unholy Army?
Jacqueline St-Urbain [JSU]: I started the Unholy Army because I wanted to laid. I'd just gotten out of this kinda disastrous marriage and I wanted to find the leatherdykes. I was working for a women-run sex shop in Montreal, and being an out leatherdyke people kept coming up to me and asking "where are all the leatherdykes? where can we find them?" Well, I didn't know, but I figured if I started it, then they would come out of the woodwork. I wanted to meet like-minded people; people who thought the way I wanted to fuck was feasible.
After the tenth person came up to me, I started collecting names and put them on a listserv which became the Unholy Army. I'd send out an email and we'd go to the Funhaus, where all the kink events were. The idea was we would have a critical mass at kink events. The names grew from seven to one hundred and fifty people!
Andrea Zanin [AZ]: I wasn't a co-founder of Unholy Harvest, that was really Jacqueline's baby; but, I was an original member. It was this weird exprience because we were hoping to find elders or mentors, people we could learn from, but we became them. I must've been 26...
AZ: Oh, that's right. 25. Way too young to be an elder. Just by virtue of starting it we became the elders. I wasn't an elder, but I knew more than others just because I'd been curious and poked around.
JSU: I never found the people I wanted to learn from; the crusty o'd leatherdykes. I had a membership to the local dungeon and knew, like, three people by name who were involved in the scene- and that made me experienced.

T: Do you find it's very different in the States? In places like San Francisco?
JSU: The wife and I went to this event in San Francisco [Ed: possibly Wicked Women, notes unclear]. It was three-thousand square feet and just packed with hundreds of women. It was a dyke play space for four days, and women were there who were fifty and seventy years old! Some of them had been on the scene since the seventies; the people who wrote Coming to Power*. They really started from scratch, I remember them saying: "We're so grateful to our bottoms, we learnt on them."
AZ: That's when you know someone is your very good friend: "Hey, just let me try out this really dangerous thing on you that I have no experience with!"

T: Why do you think there's such a huge difference between the States and Canada when it comes to the leatherdyke community?
AZ: Actually, this is what my graduate thesis is on. There's a different history: culturally, militarily, censorship laws, etc. Also, critical mass - the amount of people it takes to create a community, one that's visibile enough that we hear about an event twenty years later.

T: How did Unholy Harvest come about?
JSU: In 2006, the wife and I moved to Ottawa.
AZ: And I moved to Toronto to be with my partner in 2007. Jackie had this idea of creating an event, a weekend somewhere in between Toronto and Montreal, and I said I was totally in to help.
JSU:And I said: "Oh I thank god!"
AZ: We missed Montreal, but we also made a conscious decision to step back from the Unholy Army and let that be run by people who lived in the city. We still wanted to be involved with the community. Through all the connections we'd formed over the years, we knew there was enough people to sustain a larger event. There's a certain core of people who travel back and forth between Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa and you'll see them at all the events in the different cities...
JSU: We call it the MOT Triangle.
So we wanted to get those people involved.
JSU: It was originally supposed to be a smaller event in Kingston. A ten person weekend with a couple of hour-long workshops. Andrea agreed. She said "Great, but let's make it a hundred instead of ten."
AZ: We became pretty aware early on that this was going to be really big. It became a needed channel for something bigger that was brewing.

T: Have you two received any negative responses to the event?
JSU: The community has been really supportive. The response has ranged from just a "good for you!" to "here, have a hundred bags of condoms!" People who are offended by it chose to think it's not there.
AZ: We've gotten lots of support from all quarters. Dykes who aren't into kink still think it's great. I can't think of one person who reacted negatively. It's not the sex wars anymore; anti-porn, anti-sex, talk comes across as an out-dated message. It's not that feminism decided kink was okay, I think it just dropped the issue because it wasn't sure what to do with it.
JSU: It's really amazing, actually.
AZ: Just think about what it would've been like during the sex wars!

T: Why is it so important for you to create a women-positive play space?
AZ: It's not because we don't like men. Let's make that clear.
JSU: We were very heavily influenced when we started the Army by several people who insisted women's space meant women-only space. What I was told at the time was, "If you include trans guys into women's spaces, then you're saying they're guys." and I definitely didn't want to do that. I totally wanted to give trans-men props as men.
AZ: Trans-women were never question. They've always been welcomed.

T: but you eventually opened the space to trans-men...
AZ: The question of including trans-men came up in the Army and Harvest at the same time. A big piece of it was that I'd been spending a lot more time in the leatherdyke scene in Toronto and, no matter who was sleeping with them, a lot of trans-men were an integral part of the community. We didn't want to start excluding people.
It's not because we don't think trans-men aren't real men. It's that there's a certain subset of transmen who used the be dykes - and not all transmen were dykes before- still maintain close ties to that community. We've come under fire for it, but transmen are totally welcome if they feel at home and comfortable in women's space.
JSU: That was such a water shed moment for me. That if you say "men comfortable in women's space are allowed" then only those who were comfortable would walk through the door. Part of it was horniness, too. We'd both found ourselves increasingly playing with trans-men. It also didn't mess with the overall feel of the event.

T: How does the tone and energy of an event change when an event becomes mixed?
AZ: Jackie and I have both happily played with cis-men and we spend a lot of time in mixed communities. It's not that women are better or that all women are great, there's no guarantee that an event for dykes will be good. It's more about creating and maintaining a very specific culture. For instance, dykes love blood play. That doesn't happen as often at mixed or gay-male events. We have, what, four blood play workshops coming up this weekend?
JSU: Intro to cutting, advanced cutting...we call it 'the blood stream.'
AZ: Also, let's face it, patriarchy still exist and me often take up a lot of space. I have this pet dream of an all-queer event. The guest list starts with dykes, and every man in the room would be invited by a dyke, and all those men would be the good ones.
JSU: It's about a maintaining a critical mass for a particular culture. It's not about a safe space, it's a women's space but that doesn't mean it's a safe space.

T: What are some of the workshops you're most excited about this year?
AZ+JSU: All of them!
JSU: And ASL for the kinky. It's a such a coup, we're so excited.
AZ: I've been taking ASL for over a year and am so thrilled that Harvest can become more accessible to the queer deaf community.
JSU: It's not so much about bringing the dyke deaf community to us, but that we can pick up kinky deaf dykes!

T: What have you done to make Harvest more accessible?
AZ: This year we worked really hard to make Harvest accessible. We have a scholarship program and a list of accessibility features on our website.
JSU: Unfortunately, our main space, Breathless, is up 30 flights of stairs, but our satellite space - where most of the workshops take place- is completely wheelchair accessible.
AZ: Also, we promote a culture of kindness. A small community can be full of drama, so we're really careful to minimize a cult of personality or pretension. If you don't know what you're doing, you're as welcome to be here as someone who's had thirty years of experience.
JSU: We ask people to look out for one another and be kind to one another.
AZ: As organizers, we really don't have patience for bullshit.

T: Has the leatherdyke and kink scenes in Montreal or Toronto changed since you started the Army and Harvest?
AZ: Our vision for Harvest was to create a space where a Canadian leatherdyke culture could emerge. It's important to note that dykes in the the states developed their BDSM culture around a specific legal and cultural structure. We also wanted to create a place for first-time and Canadian presenters. We have a habit in Canada of simply importing from the states without being critical of it. There's also a culture of celebrity that surrounds workshop presenters, and we wanted to avoid that.
JSU: The internet is also a phenomenal way to organize and reach like-minded people. Even if you're in Iqaluit, you can still be on the Toronto listserv just so you know there's other people out there.
AZ: There's also been a lot of groups popping up that aren't related to Harvest, but are in the same spirit. HOWL in Ottawa, FRISK in Toronto, and AWOL out East. You [JSU] and I would've been thrilled if these had existed when we were starting out.

T: How has Harvest grown and changed over the past four years?
JSU: We worked our tails off convincing people to do workshops, travelling to events, flirting... I created a workshop designed to give curious people the tools they needed to create a course and become presenters.
AZ: The first year I think we got three submissions. This year, it was so amazing, we got twenty-seven submissions and we only had eighteen slots.
JSU: It was so great to see, because most of them were people who are regular Harvest attendees and now are going to be first-time presenters. It really feels like we're harvesting everything we sowed in the last four years.
AZ: It's funny, in our quest to find Canadian leatherdykes, we actually kind of made them.

T: How do you fund Harvest?
JSU: We're not really funded. We have a couple of amazing sponsors, such as Venus Envy, Breathless and Pink Triangle Services, but we do as much as we can for free. We're completely grassroots and we try to keep the registration fee minimal. Really, we run on the blood, sweat and tears of some amazing volunteers. Lots of people who attend come back every year and are really willing to volunteer. They have this amazing sense of goodwill and ownership of the event.
AZ: Also Miss Jenn, the proprietress of of Breathless, is totally our hero. She does so much amazing work for us year round.
JSU: My wife has a saying that goes "I'm either getting paid or laid" - well, we get laid this weekend!

Unholy Harvest will be running this weekend. Registration is $100 CAD and there are still some spots left.

Note: *Coming to Power: Writing and Graphics on Lesbian S/M was released in 1981 by the Alyson Publications and written by the Samois collective; a lesbain-feminist BDSM organization based in San Francisco that operated between 1978 and 1983. The collective included renowned SM theorists such as Pat Califia and Gayle Rubin.

News and Headlines for Oct 7/2010

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Headlines and Links for Oct 6/2010

  • Public Inquiry Demanded for the G20 (again). I guess that internal police review wasn't exactly the unbiased voice for the 1000+ people arrested, hm? http:/// 
  • Vancouver police turn a blind-eye to gendered violence occurring in Vancouver's East End. "...the director of Battered Women's Support Services, Angela Marie MacDougall, told the Straight that the VPD is not paying sufficient attention to drug-debt collectors throwing women out of windows and shaving women's heads. She alleged that a 22-year-old aboriginal woman, Ashley Mashisknic, was murdered on September 15 after being raped by three men and then tossed out of a window at the Regent Hotel"
  • Three activists have been arrested in Vancouver for occupying the Vancouver Police Station. The activists demanded the police investigate the murder of Ashley Mashisknic, and stated they would not leave until they met with Police Chief Jim Chu. You can watch a video of their occupation here:
  • or read more about the arrest and charges:
  • Beaver Barracks, Canada's first sustainable renting project, is almost complete:
  • A tougher criminal code, courtesy of your Conservative government, equals a rise in prison population.
  • Zijad Delic, the executive director of the Canadian Islamic Congress, was banned from speaking at the military's Islamic History month event this past Monday. The Post has some excerpts from his unspoken speech:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Canadian radical queer shout out from Ponni Arasu

Courtesy of Joshua Valentine, an interesting article from Ponni Arasu reflects on intersectiontality and solidarity in the Canadian radical queer movement as a jump-off point for a reflection about where the queer movement in India is heading as gays continue to make legal strides.

You can find the article here.

Ponni Arasu will speaking in Ottawa on Oct 20th. Full details here:

Voices Against 377: Decriminalizing same-sex activity in India
A Presentation by Delhi-based legal rights activist Ponni Arasu

Wednesday October 20th, 2010
Alumni Auditorium, 85 University, University of Ottawa
Reception at 6:30pm, Talk starts at 7pm
For more info: or 613 230 3076
Event is in English. Contact us for French / ASL translation
Notify us 48 hours in advance for child care.

Ponni will speak to her experiences as one of the core activists who worked on having gay sex decriminalized in India. Ponni will focus her
talk on the legal aspects of queer rights struggles in India, and will
reflect on how effective this approach is, both in India and

This panel is a co-presentation with Outlaw (a radical law
group at UOttawa), Queerfaction (a radical queer group at UOttawa) and OPIRG-Ottawa.

Bio: Ponni Arasu is a queer feminist activist from New Delhi, India. She has worked with the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore, India, as well as with the Law and Society Trust in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Her work involves a range of human rights issues including gender, sexuality, labour and conflict. Since 2003, Ponni has worked with Voices Against 377, a coalition of women’s groups, child rights groups, human rights groups and sexuality groups formed to initiate discussions on sexuality and the law. Voices Against 377 filed an affidavit to strike down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the section that criminalizes gay sex.