“I’ll Be Right Here by this River.” by Lisa Marie

Hey!!

Just wrote this song “Right here by this River.” This came through at 4am the other morning when an angel woke me up to stare outside my window, watch the sunrise and the birds fly.

I was pondering what I was tuning into. Because I felt like someone may have passed away. It felt like a very important moment for me to be awake, and felt so powerful to channel this song. I bawled my eyes out. I went for a nature walk, then I got the news that a friends brother had passed away.

I also relate this to anyone passed away in this life or last lives, including my dear mother Mary Ann. This song runs deep. This song felt as if I had translated the birds or something. It just came through so clearly and powerfully.

I call this song “I’ll Be Right Here by this River.”

Yours Truly,

Lisa Marie
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Following your gut when interacting with predatory people. PART 1

Following your gut when interacting with predatory people

Or

Existing in a setting that does not apply your value structure.

 

– What is the ideological predator?

The ideological predator is a person that seeks to replicate their ideology in an aggressive and universal manner. This is a simple the structure. You see it in any type of ideology which seeks to take precedence over others without integrating them towards a larger picture. It is a linear type of thought  that creates hierarchies in which the summit is the one the person arguing holds. Sexism is a type of ideology that uses the predatory structure. The sexist seeks to diminish the other until disappearance. The ideological predator does not seek to have discourse, they seek to establish dominance in a field via the discourse. Usually , a type of structure of thought is habitual, which means you don’t just hold that type of structure for one thing, and one thing only. We think with analogies. We replicate patterns, we attach knowledge.

Some people think in social terms, others think in positivist terms. We can hold different patterns of thought in our heads, but it’s unlikely each thought, each ideology we touch on will have its individual structure. This is why science often comes in paradigms, which permeates various fields. Knowledge leaks through from field to field and help us have a more  unified view of reality.

For example, someone with a constructionist structure, will tend to doubt their own certainties and question every piece of data presented to them. This meta epistemology will force the interlocutor to hold back from certainty, and give more credit to voices who have experienced a phenomenon as opposed to a positivist recounting of quantitative data.

So an ideological predator, while they might not will themselves into predation, will tend to adopt similar structures for different ideologies. The ideological predator may not be directly in a sexist interaction with you, but may let you feel rather quickly that this sort of structure is in their mind.

An ideological predator is not in himself a bad person. In fact, it may be very interesting and challenging to speak to someone who does not hold back and truly makes you think. This is where our article comes into its meat.
Image result for liberal

– Being a liberal

What is being a liberal today?

Today, a liberal is a person that seeks to protect and defend those whose voices are least represented, and seeks to improve individual empowerment. Any factor that may detract from individual empowerment is fought against. This usually means that the liberal mindset is one on the margins. It is a mindset of counter-discourse against an oppressive majority, by definition already empowered. Usually, this aligns with ideologies such as feminism, anti-specism, anti-racism and so on. This is not to say these ideologies are fundamentally better. They simply serve a purpose that we as a society claim to find more noble.

Helping the weak and the poor etc.

This also ensures that these ideologies, as long as they find momentum, quickly find the high ground.

If a society finds a sort of sacredness to human life, it cannot rationally justify to sacrifice a majority of those lives for the privilege of the few.
Regardless of these values, the liberal mindset is one that seeks to challenge the majority view because it needs to make sense of the suffering of the human, as something other than inherent personal failing.

If life is sacred, it must be inherently valuable.  Thus, merit should not be dependant on failure or success. It also seeks to challenge the idea that any one thought can be all encompassing. This is where we come across the ideas of intersectionality or standpoint, where knowledge is situated within power struggles.

What does it mean to be a liberal then?

It means that you are in a near constant state of offense and attack. Until the situation is not solved, you are fighting some kind of a fight. You are hurting with the rest. Empathy is your greatest tool. What this also means is that you can try to shelter yourself during key times against attacks. You cannot fight all the time. Even soldiers rest.

This has several unfortunate effects. One of those effects we are very familiar with. The silo effect. Or echo chambers. This is the attempt to protect yourself against those who would make you feel attacked, or the need to attack by surrounding yourself solely with people who think very similarly to you, or perhaps with a similar structure, since we do not all share the same knowledge.

This can have the perverse effect of weakening your very capacity to attack or defend yourself. When you are not familiar with the opposing rhetoric, you can’t possibly reason through it. You are left barren against such claims when they do arise. Or at least, you can’t reason through it fast enough to be efficient.

The second effect it seems to have is that you may not be able to notice an argument meant as an attack when you make yourself numb. You try to let things go by, when you lack the energy, and you become susceptible to alternative structures because you are not in a state to really think through anything.

Now this may not be a bad thing all of the time.

Openness is a wonderful quality that allows knowledge to be spread and discovered. If people were not open, they never would be able to find out if some part of their thought  process is wrong, or they would not be able to create new and better knowledge. Openness simply means that you can take in data, without instantly resisting it.

That is fundamentally a good thing.

But it can be used inappropriately. Or more to the point, it can be used consciously by people who do not themselves seek to create new and better knowledge, but simply to spread their own structure of knowledge. It’s a purely asymmetric endeavour that does not necessarily lead to better knowledge.

The liberal mindset can thus be completely closed off for fear of being taken advantage of, which also closes them off to better knowledge, or susceptible to this type of tactic and taken advantage of.

By this point, the liberal mind has reached a temporary structure that resembles the ideological predator. The fundamental difference being that they are not actively seeking to spread any one single type of rhetoric.

 

What happens when a liberal mind, numb from battling all the time, meets an ideological predator?

The numb liberal can find it simply interesting to interact with the predator, and willing themselves to numbness, not want to fight and simply let the predator take a certain amount of space, win a certain amount of power battles, and not take a specific offense to it.

Again, this may be on some level very positive. It paves the way for a real discourse in which the points are heard for themselves, and not for their political weight.

It also means that dynamics are set in place without really anyone noticing.

You only really notice what bothers you.

But if you are numb, and unwilling to make anything into a conflict, you stop being bothered by small things.

You try to not let yourself be bothered.

This can take many forms.

It can be trying to find reasons for the behavior, finding excuses.

It can be denying any sort of difference and pretend that nothing is amiss.

This can be the optimism bias. The Optimism Bias

To be continued.

 

Paradise Lust

Series of Haikus by MJ L’Esperance.

1. Hard lines and soft curves
Etched on the back of the eyes
Mat black and shiny white

2. Small hand in big hand
Words bandied like caresses
The smell of mountains

3. The wind of your voice
The rain down sweet prairie grass
Roaming over me

4. Golden rays that touch
Orange flames beneath eyelids
My ivory skin

5. The bounds of your love
Silence the voice in my head
Rattan, jute, and silk

6. There exists a place
That is both dark and light
Inside open arms

7. Finding happiness
Entangled in a prison
Of limbs and kisses

8. Since we are alone
Make your hands rain down on me
Branding me as yours

9. The electric jolt
Sudden surge of desire
From the softest touch

Media and non-normative identities: relation to blurry morality lines

Morality to most people sounds like an obvious topic. It goes without saying. You have an obligation to be your best self. A good person. That narrative is so prevalent in our society that it is a tension line in many of our portrayals, and it guides our self-reflection.
How can I be a good person?

Even the question: How can I be a good person? You’re not wondering how to choose the best course of actions. This is your identity. YOU ARE the good person, or you fail to be it. Many people think one can even be reduced to one’s actions. Functionally, there’s really no difference right? Since all I can see of you is your actions, how could anything else matter? You are what you do.

Others are not so certain of the answer to the question, or even that the question is the right one at all. Morality in itself is still an open question. What is one to do, and how?
There are several schools of thought, and this piece is not to discuss a possible answer. I will leave the reader to decide this for themselves.

However, we will discuss here how certain aspects of morality are intrinsically linked to other areas of identity portrayal. Specifically, this piece seeks to look at the fluidity that seems to interact across various axes of identity.

But first, let us lay the groundwork.  

 

Normative identities exist as archetypes.

You know what a normal person is supposed to be. Even if you actually can’t really pinpoint a true image or even point one in the streets, you know when you act how far you are from a normative line. We have books and diagnoses meant to act as guidelines within which to act, or more specifically, away from which not to stray.

This being said, you probably didn’t read those books.

You probably integrated norms via media and socialisation. This self-reinforcing cycle created a near infallible template for you to follow without actually making conscious the details of the rules. Beautiful osmosis.

Media has a nifty way of giving you the rules, like it would help a machine learn.
It gives you countless examples, and brands them as positive, or negative (I’m oversimplifying), and you get to infer the rules on your own. The beauty about all of this is that you do it subconsciously, since the examples are niftily hidden in entertaining narratives.

But can those examples truly give you a specific set of rules? Certainly they can’t be that similar?

That’s where archetypes come into play.

Writers can be original, but they use plot devices that are meant to make us understand their intents.

Intelligible codes that allow you to see the underlying messages and follow an action along without wondering if the poetry is about fish or transcendance.

Archetypes are the type example of a concept. Like a perfect bundle, the prototype of a category.  They are the most intelligible part of a code, and are thus a self-reinforcing recognizable pattern.
The more recognizable it is, the more it is used, the more recognizable it is.  Archetypes are thus attractive methods of representations.

We have many archetypes on different subjects, but usually one at the top of a hierarchy for each.

When writers of a show on TV create their characters, they use those archetypal templates and fill in the gaps with details useful to their plots.

 

Purity and virtue ethics

The archetypes of interest here are those related to gender.

You’ve probably heard of the Whore/Madonna dichotomy.

Women can be placed within these two (again, this is an oversimplicfication, there are other archetypes) categories, and their associated characteristics will follow the template of structure.

The whore archetype is a highly sexualised character. She is not reliable, and considered to be an object. This type of character is usually very strongly associated to loose or negative morals. Usually, those morals are anti-conformist, anti-traditional, and end up leaving her off with negative consequences.
But she is not outside of the value structure alltogeher. This type of woman is still desirable,and conforms to an esthetic. She willingly partakes in the pleasures. She is still fragile and to be protected, or at least would need it. This type of woman may be against a certain form of purity, but is not necessarily entirely villified.

Whatever happens, this type of character is fixed. The whore is the whore, and cannot be the Madonna. Only a drastic cut can turn her into something different, but more likely than not, the character will stay within the whore paradigm.

On the other hand, the Madonna character is not desired but highly valued. The Madonna exudes purity, conformism and tradition. This is not a sexualised character. Her morals are spotless, and in fact act as a guide for others to follow.

Clearly, these characters embody different aspects of the virtue ethics.

They are people to be or to avoid being. They are good intrinsically because of the virtues they embody, or bad intrinsically because of the virtues they fail to adhere to. The good or bad that befalls them, or even the people around them is not the main focus. The rules they follow are also not imperative. It is what they are.

And so these archetypes integrate morals and virtues in the character itself. In its personnality.

This is where we find the importance of purity.

If a character is pure, they fulfill this most important virtue.

Purity is achieved by certain ideals which are always contextual but considered to be universal.

For instance, virgins are understood to be devoid of sexuality and thus emblematic of purity.

Sexuality is considered to be sullying.  For a woman at least.

In this way, morality and gender intersect keenly. Since purity is a state that is supposedly perfect, there is no way to achieve it once it is lost.
You can strive towards it, but it is a constant effort.

You have to constantly strive upwards towards purity if you wish to profess to that virtue. You cannot at once be both pure and impure, but you can tend on a continuum, and people will recognize the striving towards one side or the other, simplifying the state to the intent.

You strive to be pure? Your actions speak to that? Then you are functionally pure.

The same is true on the other side.

 

Hierarchy of identities, archetypes and morality

The gender archetypes are not just for the feminine side. There are also masculine archetypes.
Those are allowed more variety.

This variety still strives upwards, but it does so over a hierarchical pyramid.  Arguably the same is true for the feminine archetypes, but the extremes are much stronger.

This pyramid goes as follows.

The top of the pyramid embodies a certain amount of virtues, all in one big bundle.

There are many masculine virtues such as strength, courage, will, intelligence etc (please note that I am not suggesting women cannot be or embody such characteristics, simply that they are majorly portrayed in media and literature as masculine traits, which in itself is problematic). Sometimes, some of the virtues are a bit contradictory. For instance, a man supposed to embody the virtue of strength should try to rely on this virtue instead of his intelligence in order to resolve a conflict.

So the archetype of the perfect virtuous man can be broken down into subsets of virtues, creating a lower tier of archetypes. The second level of the pyramid thus has men who embody some virtues, but are also lower than the top because they do not have the other virtues. This creates a number of subcategories of archetypes.

This can go on with even less embodied virtues, and thus more subcategories, and levels of the pyramid.

Regardless, if a character is one of those archetypes, he is supposed have these virtues intrinsically, or strive to develop them more. Whatever movement is shown basically just confirms the virtues alsready present in the character.

There is no real movement.

At least, most of the time.

 

Morality as an intrinsic part of identity?

Morality as the underlying justifying foundation to the hierarchy, illusion of validity.

As we can see, these characteristics are mostly believed to be intrinsic to the character. It is what the character is, not what he chooses for a while.

That’s an easy plot line.

How do you identify good and bad, if they are simply functions of contextual choices?

It becomes difficult to uphold a system if people in themselves cannot be held to morality standards, and their actions are simply those on trial. You cannot punish an action. You can try to stop an action, but you can only punish a person.

Therefore, it is much more convenient to assign the goodness or badness to the person themselves.
We can punish them or value them at will, and easily follow them as examples.

Our hierarchy of archetypes is based, as we saw, on virtues.
Why are these characteristics specifically considered to be virtues?

They are useful. They serve a purpose. To  make matters simpler, we say they are good.

As a general rule, we consider someone is good if they are brave.  Our hierarchies are not just accepted as. We justify them by the moral structure that we apply beneath it. This whole structure is thus static, because a static structure is more easily intelligble. When things don’t move and repeat, it’s easier to read them.

 

Set boundaries strongly enforced by society

There’s possibly a social imperative for consistency through time. Iinearity perhaps?

As the archetypes are intelligible, so do our actions need to be.
One single action is not meaningful on its own. Actions and codes are meaningful in a structural frame, in relation to other actions codes. Thus, it builds on itself to go in one directions.

There is more to it than simple intelligibility. There is a strong incentive to keep you in a single category.

Meaning, you are strongly adivsed to be good, but if you failed at some point, you are branded rather permanently, to keep you away from the “good side”, lest its pool be tainted. Since these catagories are supposedly intrinsic, fluidity from one side to the other is a troubling notion. If one can move, then one IS not something. One just does something.

The moral and gendered boundaries are thus strongly enforced.

Where you are on either side of those lines gets integrated in your personnality, and you begin to identify with it and justify it for yourself. Just like Nietzsche proposes, where you are on a side becomes the good side, no matter what flip you have to make to your perception in order to be on the “good” side.

People become ensconced in their positions and enforce others to stay with them on that side. Groups are formed around these archetypes.

Specifically it seems people are either one or another type of morality.

One is either good or bad, and is intelligible in this way.

We respect a criminal with a code (Ocean’s 11, The godfather).

It might be perhaps another way to promote commitment, and reduce social empowerment and mobility. You don’t want too much unrest.

Too much mobility.

 

Is it possible to move?

But like we should know by now, the human cannot be easily contained.

It is possible as we saw to move within the boundary of a morality line. You can become more of the same thing.

More rarely, you can cross that line once. Either you fall from grace, or you can be redeemed.

But usually, this can only happen once. People will not believe you can be redeemed twice.

“Fool me once”… etc.

Now, once you change, as we’ve seen, you lose your group. Hence strong morality lines serves as cohesive for group membranes as well.

Kegan proposes stages of moral and value appraisal. The first stages are not absolute morals, but they are enacted as absolute rules.

The later stages are a gradual abstraction for morality rules dictated by a group to dictated by the self, until an individual is capable of making decisions without having to rely on a set of rules. Arguably, very few people reach the last level (level 5) within which an individual may in fact mix and match his own set of rules when it is useful to him or to a purpose she sets herself.

Kegan and his 5 stages portray the difficulty to simply adopt a different set of morals, and how different genders are associated with a different hierarchy of morals.*

You can read about Kegan’s 5 stages of development here:

How to be an adult – Kegan’s theory of adult development. 

The 3 last stage of kegan’s development are the most interesting ones.

But they have also been criticized for their gendered hierarchical nature.

Indeed, the 3rd stage is the stage during which an individual cares most about the value structure of their own group, and acts in order not to be expelled from the group. This entails that the values themselves are not specifically important, and were they to change within the group, the individual might change accordingly.

This does not often happen, but it may.

This level is associated to pro-social behaviors that women tend to favor. Hence, according to this theory, women are usually at a lower level of development.

In level 4, the individual disassociates somewhat from the pressure of the group and integrates the value structure on its own alleged merit. The individual upholds values because he believes them to be good, and may even draw the ire of a group if it is in line with his moral values.

This is a level associated to potentially anti-social behaviors favored by men.

According to this theory, men are thus higher than women on the developmental scale.

But we are still left with this elusive 5th level, during which an individual may shed the necessity for a strict set of values and make their own set, understand that values are rules that can bend and may be shed when necessary.

We will return to this point.

The most important idea here, was simply to show that the hierarchy of morals was connected to the hierarchy of genders. Usually, these hierarchies and positions within them tend to stay relatively fixed, but the system seems to have built within it the possibility for movement.

So far, we have mostly been talking about normative representations. But what of non-normative representations? Although rare, they do exist and allow for beautiful paradoxes in the system to be highlighted.

Marginality in general is often portrayed in conjunction with rebellion against the mass, and thus with often alternative sets of morals.

Marginal, non-normative individuals tend to be ambiguous in nature. After all, normativity is simply another word for intelligible. The more intelligible a concept is, the more likely it is to become normative. If it does not become normative, it becomes a stereotype, and can thereafter be reinterpreted and owned by the group it targets (take for example the term “Queer”), but nonetheless, it is part of our stated reality. It is normative NOT to be the villified intelligible sides of reality.

On another note, usually, what is intelligible but villified is often erased from public exposure. Invisibilisation is one way that the normative mass may enforce a certain way of being, highlighting once again the importance of intelligibility.

Marginal individuals will tend to stray out of the intelligible in rebellion against the most common discourse. They will embrace novelty. The invisible will become them, and thus they create a new form of discourse. When they are portrayed (however rarely), it can be tricky to make them intelligbible. How do you portray what does not exist as a code to be understood by most. How do you portray “glubnark”, if no one knows what it is? How do you make people understand “glubnark” without minutes of exposition, and weave it into your narrative?

(playing with this notion, Rick and Morty introduce the Plumbus, and leave the audience mystified).

So ambiguity can be presented by mixing around already known codes.

For instance, mixing around codes belonging to masculinity and codes belonging to femininity.

And so we find that when there exists a hierarchy of masculinities, associated with its set of moralities, and femininities, associated with its set of moralities, and that these two system also exist in relation to one another, on a hierarchical stage of morality as well, it can become clear that ambiguous characters do not really permit clear morality lines.

Just like genes swap sides in the formation of sex cells to mix up the arrangements of your parents genes, so do the morality lines associated with each system.

These systems of gender exist structurally, which means only in relation to one another, and not as absolutes. Take the system apart, and it has no absolute meaning, and somewhat starts to fall apart.

 

Hence, the ambiguous characters exhibit the limits to that system, as though there existed clear sides to morality and only certain people with oddities could exist in the in between.

There exist multiple examples, in various genres, of the sort of ambiguous gendered and moral characters.

We have seen above the wonderful “HIM” from the powerpuff girls, although he is perhaps an exception as he is radically portrayed as evil (Mind you, evil from a very specific moral standpoint, which we will not delve into here).

We can start by looking at the clever Bugs Bunny.

He responds to contextual needs by applying gendered norms appropriately. He will interact in a semi-sexual manner with different genders as suits his needs. But you could not quite label Bug Bunny as a “GOOD” person. He delights in hurting his foes, sometimes unprovoked. He toys with them needlessly. He oscillates from prey to predator in each episode. He will avoid or enact violence as suits his will.

Bugs Bunny clearly shows that his morality lines can shift, enough that he stays surprising to the viewer who expects a constant morality line. 

Bugs Bunny has a hierarchy of moral puzzle sets that he can take in and out. Rules within rules that can be plugged in as seen fit. Bugs Bunny is one example of Kegan’s 5th level of development.

 

Tara, from United States of Tara is another example of shifting morality lines in direct relation to her gender.

She shows it even more plainly since her gender does not simply oscillate from male to female, but also within the gender pole hierarchies as well.

Whe is at times a mother, and at times an adolescent “loose girl”. She can be a loud but overall peaceful man, or a murderous young predator.

Her attitudes towards sex, relationships, institutions, violence and truth can and do shift with her various gendered personalities.

Her character though, is oddly unified.

All these aspects of Tara are contained in one body, and one group relationship, that surrounds the mental health of Tara. She is the ambiguous line shifting character.

 

Bugs Bunny and Tara are not the only ones. We will not examine them all, but we can still name examples such as Jack Randall from Outlander, or Jessica Jones.

There exist more.

If one comes to your mind, do not hesitate to mention them!

Arguably though, contextual morality might be useful and in fact closer to the reality of people’s actual inner lives. People are not, in fact, truly linear. People most of the time try to bend their own understanding of the rules to match what their innermost desires would want them to do. Or they simply decide that they can sometimes be exceptions to the rules. Simply in terms of gender, people negotiate their own daily, in every interaction and context they encounter, even if perhaps not in extreme variations.

But if you promoted this sort of idea,  then you’d need to teach people how to apply their capacity for change, lest they become too uncontrollable. If you think you have leeway (at least through rationalisation) , you might be tempted to make things easier for yourself and reduce cognitive dissonance, align you life constantly with desires, and refuse to follow a social order.

It is thus logical that our mainstream discourse is one that portrays linearity as the common ground.  

 

 

 

Mahault

Lies are a lady’s best friends

 

“I’m fine”, I say.
I’m fine, even though I know you slept with another girl last night.
I’m fine, even been tough I know you texted her during the entire movie on date night.
I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, I say
As I dig my stubbly nails so hard in my arm’s flesh

“I’m fine”, I say.

I’m fine, even when you ask me a hundred times per day because I’m hard to read

I’m fine, even as the dark hole at the center of my body threatens to swallow me

Yes, of course I’m fine, I say

As I go to sleep with a pair of scissors in my hands.

“I’m fine”, I say
I’m fine, even after you tell me you’re not sure you want kids WITH ME
I’m fine, even if you just threw a wrench the size of China in my imagined life
I’m completely fine, I say
As a slowly find my way to the bathroom so I can throw up my morning sickness without you noticing

“I’m fine”, I say
I say I’m fine when I mean the opposite
But what exactly is the opposite of ‘fine’?
How can I say ” I feel far from you suddenly ”
How can I say “I’m tired of being strong”
How can I say “I’m sorry I’m not good enough”
Without first admitting to my own frailty?

“I’m fine”, I say
I say I’m fine because even though it’s a lie,
It’s a lie that acts as a Viking shield wall
Against the assaults of my mind
Against a thousand mirror shards reflecting
Guilt, shame, and fear right back into me.

“I’m fine”, I say
I say I’m fine and my fists clench up and my arms tighten and my jaw squares
I cultivate this perfect ice statue that even your summery words cannot thaw
I do not know how to let my guard down with you
Because I fear the cracks that your sunshine might reveal.

MJ L’Esperance

One Woman’s Contra Dance Adventure

I have an early childhood memory of a tap dance class. My aunt offered to take me to one of my cousin’s classes. Unfortunately, all I remember is how I struggled to understand what to do with my feet. The evening concluded in tears and I did not show much interest in continuing.

In middle school, I gave dancing another shot. A friend invited me as a guest to her Jazz dance class. The dance school was in an old, classy building and the dressing room had classic Hollywood vanities with the globe-shaped light bulbs. I think I enjoyed the class, I don’t remember crying. However, I was very self-conscious the entire time.

In high school, I attended a few dances. I always felt relief when it was time for the Macarena and Cha Cha Slide because there were instructions and I know what to do. I’d spend the rest of the time in a circle of dancers, taking frequent breaks in between for wallflower duty.

In my second year of university, I was invited by my friend, Sarah, to go to a “Contra” dance. I had never heard of this before and I was not enthusiastic about dancing, but stepping outside my comfort zone was a top priority for me at the time.

The dance was held in the basement of a church located in Montreal’s Mile-End neighbourhood. I was hesitant, but definitely had fun. There was a live band, the community was very welcoming and many people were happy to help out beginners. In Contra, attention is never focused on an individual person and doing fancy moves is very optional, relieving much of the pressure I had felt in my previous dance experiences. The main thing that helped me get into it was the fact that there were instructions. At every stage of a dance, the steps are: find a partner, get in line, listen as the caller explains the dance steps, then repeat the same sequence for 10-15 minutes with music. The caller continues to give cues after the band starts playing, so you don’t need to worry about memorizing the steps. It is customary to switch partners after every song, which gives everyone the freedom to dance whenever they feel like it.

In recent years, it has also become common for people of any gender to dance any role. Traditionally, women are “ladies” and men are “gents”. Encouraging this practice has sparked a passionate debate about what gender-neutral terms should be used in place of ladies and gents. Popular alternatives include jets and rubies, larks and ravens, sharks and giraffes, etc. This abstraction has helped create more inclusive spaces and also makes dancing more fun, as it gives dancers more options.

These changes have not happened without creating inter-generational tension, but it is rewarding to take part of a living tradition. I enjoy listening to older Contra dancers talk about what was controversial 10-20 years ago because they are all things that are common place today.

As the months went on, I attended more dances with Sarah. I became better acquainted with other dance regulars over post-dance outings. I soon learned about another, very important, dance phenomenon: dance weekends. In particular, The Flurry Festival, a weekend festival that happens every year around Valentine’s Day in Saratoga Springs, NY, about four hours south of the Quebec-Vermont border. It is held in a large convention center, every room is booked with a dance, music workshop or fitness class. Though Contra is the main focus, events include dance and music styles from all over the world. It is a truly magical experience, and this year I’ve been 6 years in a row so far.

Today, I regularly attend many dance weekends and volunteer at my local Contra dance. My Contra wardrobe contains many fun skirts and dresses, taking up a large portion of my closet space. I’ve even started calling! Since embarking on my Contra dance journey, I have tried other daunting activities with enthusiasm and an open mind, something I never imagined myself doing before moving to Montreal. This is an attitude for which I am eternally grateful as it is present in all areas of my life.

For example, one of the highlights of 2018 for me was a trip Ireland. I rented a car and spent the first few days exploring County Clare on the west coast of Ireland. Among the many amazing experiences I had were two evenings of Irish set dancing. There are enough similarities with Contra that I could participate. I was able to dive right into the culture and had a blast in the company of locals.

While some of this can be attributed to learning and maturing over time, I don’t think the kind of personal growth I’ve experienced would have been possible without a supportive community. In my case, this community is a bunch of Contra dancers.

Sprout

This poem is by War Bunny, an activist trans sex-worker.

A wonderfully strong woman.

She explains her poem thus:

It is a victory chant for those who survived abuse.  It’s actually surprisingly old.

Each paragraph matches what’s written in order. It starts with someone who never really intended this relationship to be something so big in their life, “you were the first of many” implying that the person had multiple choices but stuck with that one because it came first. Despite that, they never really doubted their choice, blinded by the situation. A reference to guitar, knowing where to put your fingers on frets applying pressure to strings to get the right effect, symbolizing the person knowing what button to press to get what they want. In this case, years and years again. The fourth part comes back twice, symbolizing keeping up the mask despite the pain. The relationship continues despite how bad it is simply because nothing is opposing it, but the person telling the story feels trapped and can’t help looking away. However they give in when their abuser tells them to stop because they want to fight back but can’t. They do notice all the escape options surrounding them but something holds them back, feeling like the abuser is holding their life and defense tools hostage. They feel empty, damaged, defeated, and they’re figuring out the other knows too and are probably using this, reaching a point in their victory where the victim just can’t defend themselves anymore, almost inspiring awe. They accepted they were the “big bad” (even though they feel it’s wrong) and they’re trying to figure out what do to next. They manage to get away from this, but they “died” in the process, leaving their life behind, and now that they have nothing left all they can do is watch the other ‘thrive’ the remains. They’re describing what happened exactly that pushed them over the edge. Part four again. They’re gaining momentum, figuring out they don’t need their old tools to fight back, and now that they’re “re-equipped” they’re countering every lines of manipulation the abuser uses. The abuser gives in, quitting on trying to manipulate the person. They attempt a few more time to guilt trip the victim but it fails, only making the now-survivor laugh. They look back upon all the damage this whole thing left them, and in hindsight despite having lost so much they feel like it’s a victory. They really meant the love and time they poured in the relationship, but now that their old life is gone and they’re done grieving, they realize they outgrown the abuser, with newfound maturity helping them through it. And well, the very simple finale.

 

Sprout

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It’s never been my intention

Not that I ever had any

I never wanted your attention

You were the first of many

 

But I never had any regrets

Any fear

Any stress

 

You played your strings along my frets

Every years

I confess

 

Despite my pain I strike a pose

Blood covering the stain

Despite growing ever so morose

Body bruised from the strain

 

We keep on going the distance

Carried by our persistence

Winds blow us into existence

Offering no resistance

 

But I suffer from wanderlust

Still I do just what I must

I resist, but you insist

Defeated, I clench my fist

 

I look away towards the doors

Countless around just like my pores

You make it hard, not to stop and run

But you got my key, my lock and my gun

 

I’m unloaded, baby, just like my heart

I’ve been like that from the very start

But surely you guessed that I’m not hope

Neither am I despair, but I sure am close

 

Though, I must admit

I owe you my respect

You reached a summit

That I didn’t expect

 

Please forgive me, but I’m still sore

I’ll need some time to get to my corpse

You proved me wrong, again and some more

My ghost still got to follow it’s course

 

Maybe one day I’ll be back alive

Kicking around and screaming “I’m back”

But meanwhile I’ll just watch you thrive

I really want to but I can’t keep track

 

You buried me in a haste

Under words I can still taste

Pulled me by the waist

Pushed me, I’m disgraced

 

Despite my pain I strike a pose

Blood covering the stains

Despite growing ever so morose

Body bruised from the strain

 

I’m still standing, and I’m still shooting

Firing you away from my fingertips

I don’t need my gun to be overshooting

I tore up away all of your little scripts

 

Don’t know what to say, now don’t you?

You know my words, you know it’s true

I can’t blame you for trying some more

It shook you down right to your core

 

It took me some time but I moved on

I think, deep down, I’m the one that won

I might have been dead but you sure ain’t lively

I’m thriving down here while you sing plaintively

 

“Fly me to the moon”, I meant that sincerely

But now that I’m buried, I’m growing quite nicely

I’m a mighty tree while you’re still a shrub

I’m not sorry that you’re not in my club

 

I’m quite done with this rant

But I needed this out

Like a victory chant

Grown from a sprout

 

 

 

 

War Bunny

 

 

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