Reblogged here because some bits seemed relevant.

Think Tent

This is a term that gets thrown around a lot in reference to Red Tents. Google search results for “red tent” and “safe space” (both in quotation marks) numbered over 16,000, so it’s safe to say that this is a very important term in this particular sphere. However, there is a problem in some groups that stems from this very thing.

First of all, we must ask just what (the hell) “safe space” even is. What do we mean by safe? Who is safe? Safe from what? How is this safety ensured and maintained? Let’s begin by covering a few of the working (or rather not-so-working) definitions of “safe space” from the impossible to the workable.

The Ideal of Safe Space
You guys know what safe space is, right???

This is probably the least functional, least safe definition of “safe space” and sadly it might also be…

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Announcing the New Red Tent Blog

Upon creating A Crazy Intersection in Massachusetts, I didn’t expect to write so many Red Tent related posts. With this realization, I am heretofore posting future Tent-Posts in my new blog, Think Tent.

All my previous Red Tent posts will still be here but will also be copied over to Think Tent under the same titles with the exception of ‘Don’t You Dare Try to Compliment Me On How I “Birthed” This Blog’ which is copied over under the title ‘Don’t You Dare Try to Compliment Me On How I “Birthed” This Blog (Either!)’

Check it out. Like it. Follow it. Share it.

One Crazy Cat Lady and Three Behaviors that Could Kill The Red Tent Temple Movement’s Credibility

This is a still-developing story out of Florida, news of which appeared on the  public Red Tent Temple Movement Facebook page from whence it was referred to me.  It begins with a Delray Beach woman who runs a business called “The Red Tent”, a women’s wellness center offering a range of services, many of which are geared toward pregnant women. This woman and her business are facing the possibility of eviction due to her choice to feed a colony of upwards of 17 feral cats on the property and created a public event page to garner support for this.

Now, I have been involved with the RTT movement for almost four years and while for personal reasons I haven’t been as actively involved as I once was, I still respect the movement very much and think that it has some admirable goals. I understand that we are not a very uniform movement which may be a benefit or a detriment depending on the situation but the overarching idea is the same, right?

I saw this story and very nearly threw my hands up and said “Nope! Red Tent? I don’t know what you’re talking about! I don’t know these people! Never been to one! Don’t wanna go!”

After calming down and realizing that I am in fact not personally associated with a bubbling swamp of insanity, I went from horrible embarrassment at this display to a more manageable frustration and disappointment. Some of this is indeed personal as I quite literally could not wait to shout from the mountaintops how much I do not, not, NOT endorse this crap. I can only speak for myself as I have no meaningful information or guesses as to who else endorses what, but I do NOT endorse THIS. As outsize and glaring as this incident may be in its absurdity, this would not be the first time I had seen small degrees of this sort of behavior in the context of this movement and I did and still somewhat do fear that such nonsense has officially gotten out of control or will soon. This brings me to the first thing in this instance that is destructive to the movement especially if replicated elsewhere:

1. Inappropriately tying causes and values to unrelated things.
The first issue at work in this is using one’s cause to support or excuse irresponsible behavior. Some of the logic that comes up here is that since this woman is providing all these wonderful services to women in the name of this grand virtuous cause of supporting women, any resistance to anything else she may do is an attack on this cause and an attack on women. Doing women’s wellness work in the same space as your festering health hazard doesn’t make that health hazard more dangerous but apparently justifies the health hazard…somehow. Any negative consequences to her behavior may now be written off as conspiracy and male backlash (and conveniently enough, her landlord is a man…COINCIDENCE???!!!). Does this logic sound too convoluted and disjointed to be for real? The event page, aptly entitled “Modern Day Witch Hunt, Evicted for Feeding Pooties, Seriously?” (no really, that’s the title. Go look.) contains a survey asking “What is this REALLY about?”. Available options to vote for currently include:
“Money” with 14 votes
“Woman haters” with 4 votes
“Animal haters” with 4 votes
“Fear” with 3 votes
“Ignorance” with 2 votes
“Major Intimacy issues” with 1 vote
and “The shift”, whatever that is, with 1 vote

I am by no means saying that this type of defense, no matter how fallacious, is unique to this case or to the RTT movement. It’s not even unique to New Age. I’ve seen it happen in all kinds of situations in which people align themselves with a cause. One example of this would be an incident involving my city’s chapter of the Occupy movement, which came to an awkward start with one of its first occupations taking place on the public city common; a place where unbeknownst to the Occupiers, a permit was required to be there past 10pm.  Despite simply doing their job of enforcing local laws and ordinances by asking them to leave, this did not stop people from viewing this incident as a grave and intentional injustice by the hands of the police. To many in the movement, this was a sign that the humble Worcester Police Department; an agency laden with more pressing concerns in this not-so-big but troubled city; was really a gang of Wall Street cronies looking to dissolve opposition to big banks and corporations.

This is one of the hazards of identifying oneself with a cause. In response to being called on acting ignorantly, irresponsibly and/or in violation of laws, the defense by some is that because they are aligned with what they believe to be a higher cause, the rules should either not apply to them or should be thrown out entirely. If you support the cause, you need to support these people in ALL they do, no matter how stupid or unrelated to the cause it is, else you’re a defector. It is unlawful to feed colonies of stray animals in Palm Beach County, FL where this incident took place. The animals’ presence was creating a nuisance to other tenants and placed the landlord at risk of penalty for this illegal activity. In an interview of the woman in question in this news clip, she tearfully laments that her “life’s work” is in jeopardy now. Well, she shouldn’t have bet that life’s work on whether she could get away with illegally harboring a huge colony of feral cats. To hide this reckless behavior behind a women’s cause and call this man a “woman hater”  because he doesn’t want  crazy- cat-lady numbers of stray felines on his property is as wise as strapping your newborn to your chest to make sure cars will stop for you as you play hopscotch in the middle of the freeway.

In rhetoric like this, we the observers are not meant to see this eviction case as merely the unfortunate consequence of a bad idea. We aren’t even meant to see her as simply a good person who made a bad choice in the moment, which I believe to be true in the grand scheme of things. Instead, it appears we’re led to believe that the central issue is that this woman and all 17+ cats are being nailed to a cross in martyrdom for supporting a women’s cause…or something. While as I said, this tactic is not unique to this sort of situation, adding the New Age factor definitely makes things more….nebulous and…weird. Which brings me to the next movement destroying factor:

2. Attaching cosmic importance to minor events

This reveals itself first in this one dispute between a landlord and a tenant being referred to as a “Modern Day Witch Hunt”. Another blogger took it a step further citing this incident as “Old vs. New Consciousness; Happening Right Before Our Very Eyes!” implying that a conflict involving a problematic tenant and her landlord is an example of progress toward an enlightened, new way of thinking that all humankind must and will soon adopt once “the shift” is complete. This only serves to make this incident look exponentially more important than it actually is and to skew perceptions of the incident by associating it with a more dramatic narrative. This is no longer just a landlord/tenant dispute. Not because of the magnitude of the absurdity of it all but rather because this is a sign of the sweeping cosmic events to come in accordance with prophecy, thus sayeth the Lord….ess. Sadly, this is by no means unique to this one case. Many people in the RTT movement subscribe to some degree to the idea of now being the time were women rise up, taking back what they’ve been deprived of by centuries of patriarchy. This idea, in and of itself is fine. However, there are some who tie it inappropriately to things it really doesn’t apply to and/or who use it to justify having unrealistic and grandiose notions of what is at work in their personal difficulties and achievements. It works as an ideal but not as an excuse to maintain and encourage delusions of persecution or grandeur where they are absolutely not warranted. The event page is littered with references to this being an example of abuse of “male power” with those working with the landlord referred to as “henchmen” and “minions”. This is great for one’s sense of self importance but terrible for the credibility of any movement or the credibility of anything at all really. I understand the idea of small cumulative changes and the micro affecting the macro but sometimes a situation is just plain irrelevant to whatever bigger idea it’s being attached to. Which brings me to:

3. Supporting a point or cause with nonsense

When I say “nonsense” in this case I do not simply mean a case of mistaken or faulty logic. I don’t mean “nonsense” in the sense that the NRA calling for more access to guns everywhere to prevent mass shootings is nonsense. I mean NONSENSE. Nonsense quite nearly to the exclusion of all else. The issue is quite literally being supported with gibberish. Just check out this little gem from the event page:

“Stay posted here everyone on the case VERY important, when light shines darkness disappears . This video outlines my defenses for sad pathetic eviction case, I have compassion for the attorney/puppets in this case that have to go public with BS about about toxoplas…something.

For those not interested in watching, what supposedly “outlines [her] defenses” for this case is a link to a hippy dippy new agey spiritually flavored song. I hope she played it or at least quoted lyrics in court. Can we PLEASE address this apparent war on rationality here? And the wacky conspiracy-theory logic illustrated by the fact that she openly and flippantly decides to maintain the ignorant stance that toxoplasmosis is just BS that lawyers/the government/the CDC came up with to persecute her and isn’t actually something very dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn children. If I were pregnant, I’d pay money NOT to go to this place.

Another gem:
this made me cry…she talks about the spiritual meaning of feral cats and people who don’t like cats or are allergic. 100% TRUE this is all displaced anger and emotions…I love you [landlord] I do.

Again, for those too lazy or disinterested in what’s on the other side of this link, we are now invited to peer into the bruised psyche of this woman’s landlord. Apparently if you are allergic to cats or don’t like cats or aren’t willing to do everything short of hump cats out of your deep spiritual love for cats, you have a serious problem with intimacy and need to go fix that post haste so that innocent crazy cat ladies don’t have to suffer at your cold, brutish, overly masculine hands. Also if you fix your intimacy issues, your allergies go away. Think I’m kidding? Go read it.

So instead of the facts of the situation we are left to ponder the symbolism of stray cats and the landlord’s psychological traumas and emotional issues or disturbances in his energy body and chakras. We are left to ponder EVERYTHING except for the facts of the matter.

If we strip away all the new agey diversions and fog, we’re simply left with the fact that a guy didn’t want someone illegally harboring almost 20 stray cats on his property creating a public health hazard at a business serving pregnant women. Not so compelling and dramatic now is it? The situation almost seems simple and understandable.

Why the Women’s Spirituality Movement Needs to Quit Whining About Women in Business Suits

This is one of the things that has made me want to set certain women’s gatherings on fire. Particularly at some Red Tents, women’s workshops and retreats, particularly of the new age bullshit variety, you’ll often hear something like this somewhere in the conversation or introductory blurb:

I’m talking about people lamenting the perception that since the women’s rights movement “women have been taught to try to imitate men in order to function in a man’s world.” The idea is that any woman who becomes successful in the arenas of business or politics has made a tragic sacrifice with the “loss” of her “femininity”. These women, under this belief are “out of balance”. They need to give men back their business suits and “come back” to “the divine feminine” and “reclaim” their “true selves”. (Pardon my horrendous overuse of quotation marks but I really had no choice.)

The first of many problems with this stupid idea is the assumption that all or even most of these women even had any such “femininity” to begin with. One of the biggest, most obvious problems in the women’s spirituality/goddess movement is the blatant denial of the existence of women who are what we would traditionally call “masculine” naturally. In some circles, an unsubstantiated, tired lamentation like the above will be the only place where women who are not traditionally feminine are even mentioned at all. So much for any semblance of being welcoming and accepting of women “as they are”.

Nearly no one, however would deny the myriad benefits the feminist movement has brought to our society and to the betterment of women’s freedom; FREEDOM being the operative word. In its context, the feminist movement seemed to have contributed to the rise in number of women in traditionally male-dominated fields in two main ways:

1. It helped women who were looking to be esteemed and respected as effective and important human beings by giving them access to roles and occupations our society deemed more respectable (which, does indeed encourage a shift toward “masculinity”, but this is the fault of what our culture values, not of feminism).

and 2. It gave women who didn’t fit the traditionally feminine mold opportunity and license to be themselves. THIS is the part people don’t seem to get.

Here is what perhaps infuriates me most about this. In this context of discussing internal and external “gender” balance and its effect on the world at large, why is no one complaining about MEN in business and politics, or more to the point, business and politics in general?

One of the chief errors in new age thinking and in women’s spirituality is to entangle “masculine and feminine qualities” (as if those existed) with the sex of an individual, while separating these qualities from physical men and women where convenient, referring to them as “masculine and feminine principles” as if there were no reference to human men and women whatsoever. Yeah, it’s kinda dumb. I prefer to refer to ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ as those terms don’t try to wedge themselves into my private parts quite as much.  So let’s have a look at business and politics in that context:

So let’s assume we agree with the idea that we all have “masculine and feminine”  or “yin and yang” qualities (well then they aren’t masculine and feminine anymore if we all have them, now are they?), and that we agree that balancing these qualities is important for everyone regardless of sex or gender.

Now if we apply the idea of yang with its qualities of being active, goal-oriented, dominating, hard etc. to business and politics, we see that both those fields as we know and practice them today are pretty heavy on that yang stuff. So what of the men who as part of a corporate domination of the world, contribute callously and selfishly to the destruction of economies across the world and to the increasing poverty here and abroad? Are they not “out of balance” as well? Are not the men who give themselves license to exploit other human beings while preserving their insensitivity by insulating their humanity in bureaucracy also denying their “femininity” if all sexes and genders indeed possess this as the saying goes? Could it be that these power structures as we’ve constructed them are too “yang” even for men?

Furthermore, how misguided are we when in the midst of all of the immense injustices generated by politics and big business, what we see as the biggest tragedy is the fact that it made a few women stop acting like mommies? Change your own diaper. We’ve got bigger problems.

Don’t You Dare Try to Compliment Me On How I “Birthed” This Blog

This is another trend that irks me in circles having to do with womens spirituality and other related things. I understand the relevance and why folks might decide to use this particular terminology for things, but quite frankly I do think the subculture has gone a little womb-crazy; hysterical if you will.

I’m talking about the use of birth metaphors for every accomplishment any woman makes. I’m not saying it’s a terrible thing entirely. I’m just saying that there are several good reasons why some folks may not appreciate it. I certainly don’t. Here’s why:

First news flash: There are plenty of women out there who really don’t want anything to do with birth. Startling, I know. Whether by lifestyle choice, economic necessity or just because we really just despise the idea of anything of that size popping out of our crotches and sucking up our resources for 18+ years, some of us just really aren’t crazy about birth. This is not an indictment of people who do think birth is great and wonderful. I just don’t think it’s that awesome. I’m actually quite bored by the idea. That’s just me and my belief doesn’t affect you in the least. Whether I change my mind in the future is equally irrelevant. If I for some reason lost my mind and decided to have children, I’m sure I would still like my bloggings and my birthings to be separate, please and thank you. Moving on.

That said, when women and other uterus-carriers like us accomplish what we DO want to accomplish, some people still feel the need to stick birth metaphors to it. It’s as if as childless females, our accomplishments are consolation prizes for not having had children. Kids would have been the best but a non-profit initiative is okay too they suppose. And because nothing a woman contributes to the world is worth anything if she didn’t squeeze it out of her uterus, we say she “birthed” that non-profit initiative. With that in mind, having childbirth as the gold-standard for the female experience alienates a hell of a lot of people and under that ideal, childless females just never quite measure up no matter what they do.

I don’t know about you, but I refuse to be seen as a uterus with a nameless person attached to it. I really don’t want my uterus stealing credit for my accomplishments. With the trouble it gives me, I really have nothing but contempt for the little flesh balloon as it is. I kinda hate it. If my uterus manages to upstage me, I believe this means I have officially failed at life.

“But it’s your creative center, Lennnyyyy.” says the New Ager.

Anatomy Lesson: No it’s not.

I don’t write, type, paint or think with my uterus. If you can make music with it, get it to hold a paintbrush or, stuff a typewriter up your vajay-jay and birth an article, congratulations on your abilities. That’s really frigging impressive. I can’t do it. My uterus just isn’t that talented.

Note that we don’t use such silly phrases for when men accomplish or create. With all the uterine hoopla, you’d think men weren’t anatomically equipped to create things. But they do. For centuries they’ve been the most well recorded creators and doers. They got all the attention up until recently. They just accomplish things and that’s good enough. There’s no need to dress it up and marinate it in metaphors. We don’t say that a man “sired” an organization or “fathered” a painting. Men just do things. Men themselves. Not their scrotums. Not their prostate glands. Men do creative work and accomplish things as full and unfragmented people. It’s apparently just part of being a man, which may be why when women accomplish things of a certain magnitude people might feel the need to divine-feminize it up. Don’t want to make it look like we’re screwing around with the roles here. Men achieve. Women “birth”.

The other bit of reality people in these circles seem to be ignoring is that for some of us, our wombs really play no important role in our lives and never will. For some women it may be the center of their universe and that is fine too. However, there are those of us for whom this organ is just one step above an appendix in terms of usefulness or importance. Many of us are fine with that and don’t appreciate people trying to shove it into our consciousness or make it important when it’s simply not. That kind of talk makes me want to rip mine out, fill it with helium and have the whole crowd watch my uterus float away as I carry on blogging, drawing, painting and doing all the other things I did before, gleefully yelling “Look mom! No uterus!!!”. The truth is that as long as we get it checked out when illness arises and know any signals that alert us to when we may soon make a bloody mess on something, there’s really no other reason for many of us to pay any attention to it. Sorry if that upsets anyone. If you think I’m being cruel to my uterus for thinking this way and would like to adopt it and have double the divine-feminine woo-woo powers for yourself, you’re welcome to take it from me. I’m not using it.

Who Defines Womanhood?: Examining Aversive Racism, Heterosexism, and Cis-Sexism in Women’s Circles

What’s a woman? No, really. What do we mean when we talk about women’s issues, women’s experiences, things we do and things we are “as women”? What kind of experiences are we talking about and whose are they?

These questions and more continually reveal themselves to be worth asking in groups that are ostensibly for the purpose of women sharing their experiences. An example of the relevance of these questions was my experience in trying to initiate a discussion about welcoming transwomen into the women’s circle I once attended. A common response I received from women I spoke to was something to the effect of “We can’t detract from what we’re doing.” or “Well, we can’t turn Red Tent into a gay issues forum.” I’ve seen similar responses to women sharing their experiences with homophobia and racism in some circles where their issues are treated as being outside of what we were “supposed” to be talking about.

Here’s an important thing that people need to know about women of color, LGBTQ women, immigrant women, and even white and heterosexual women. This is the basic truth of intersectionality and is in fact true of every human being on this planet:

Our lives are not arranged like TV dinners. We are not built with compartments for all of the different aspects of ourselves and our identities.

This means that women of color’s experience as women and experience as people of color are inseparable. Gay women’s experience of being gay and being women are fused together in the experience of being a gay woman. A transwoman’s experience as a woman comes as a package deal with her experience of being transgender. Many genderqueer females such as myself bring some very non-female things with us wherever we go. None of us can dissect ourselves and isolate one attribute based on the expectations of our contexts and still consistently give a full and meaningful account of our experiences. One element of our makeup may be more prominent or relevant in any given situation, but this does not mean that in that situation we temporarily cease to be the rest of what we are.

This becomes an issue when we come  to a point where we try to achieve what I believe to be the futile and impossible task of narrowing down and distilling the definition of “woman” in order to decide what a women’s group is or isn’t “about”.  When people say “This is a women’s circle. This isn’t about race.” or “This is a women’s group. This isn’t about LGBTQ issues.”, what is revealed here is that those who are seen as the exemplars of womanhood in is supposed purest form will invariably be white and heterosexual. Having their race most often be a negligible characteristic, their sexual orientation taken for granted and their gender being presumably self-evident, womanhood becomes confined within a white, heterosexual, cis-gender range of experiences. Anything outside is thereby declared an extraneous, unrelated issue.

When a group implicitly or explicitly takes this sort of attitude with the experiences of its minority women, even if they mean well, they send the message that the group is uncomfortable with or unwilling to hear about experiences that are outside the scope of the majority of its members. It tells minority women that the group will not be comfortable interacting with them until they can be made entirely oblivious to any part of their minority status. Any assertion of these groups’ inclusiveness is based solely on the rickety foundation of them not explicitly excluding anyone. This is not an inclusive or welcoming stance and people who are vulnerable to exclusion will notice and feel it. Groups like this may not be excluding these women’s physical bodies from the group, but they are excluding their experiences and excluding their voices. They are indeed “welcome” so long as they keep quiet about certain things. This self-censorship does not, however, make the uniqueness, complexity and interconnectedness of their experiences go away.

This often leaves a very narrow and superficial range of things that are left for these women to talk about without risking being written off as being bundles of “outside” issues. We haven’t heard them speak yet, but we assume we already know enough about them and their experiences to conclude that we cannot sufficiently relate to what they might have to say. This is one of the characteristic beliefs involved in aversive prejudices. The prospect of making women’s groups more receptive to these women often evokes the mental image of minority women full of nothing but minority issues abruptly and awkwardly de-railing the collective “women’s” experience by dominating it with all of their “unrelated” issues that the majority women could presumably never relate to in any way whatsoever. Of course, women of color have families. Transwomen have jobs and social lives. Gay women want to be healthier. Queer women are a mess if they go without their morning coffee. Any kinds of women can also have or lack any of these things in any combination. We all have some common ground, even in places where we don’t expect to find it, and even so, each of us in spite of such common ground experiences life differently.

Audre Lorde said “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Meeting regularly to talk about how exactly alike we are would become boring and repetitive very quickly anyway and is another reason why I think distilling and essentializing womanhood is a terrible idea in the first place.  I’d contend that we’d all learn a lot more from each other if we would convene not solely on common ground but also on our uncommon ground and unique experiences under the womanhood umbrella, or perhaps even those not under the umbrella if parts of us genuinely aren’t covered by it. Unfortunately, a lot of people are very uncomfortable with having to learn. This may be because some of us are set in our ways and attached to our worldviews and definitions. This may be because some of our attachments to being open-minded and tolerant make us believe that we are terrible, ignorant people if we don’t already know everything. In either case, the result is the same. Potentially valuable lessons,  and potentially valuable people are left ignored.

How to Keep Power Trips from Ruining Your Red Tent

For about three years, I was part of a regularly meeting women’s group that for a long time was exemplary in the quality of its attendees’ experiences and unmatched in its regulars’ enthusiasm and dedication. Many of us, myself included were deeply positively affected or changed by the supportive environment created therein. We did a lot of good work for the women who joined us and for ourselves too. I unfortunately had to witness the initially slow but accelerating deterioration of this group, but did my best to gather some lessons for the present and future from the experience.

This group, in classic Red Tent Temple format, was for the very open-ended purpose of creating safe space for sharing, giving and receiving. This was an easy way to build community and allowed plenty of freedom to accomplish almost anything if you could find willing or able women to help you with it, which was rarely a problem. It ran seamlessly. Once we had set up, there was nearly no need to arrange for things to happen. Tent happened.  You asked for something you wanted or needed and if you had something to give, you offered it. That was it. Simple. Easy. Not complicated. Effective. Beautiful.

Despite some of our attendees’ tendencies to idolize and idealize our facilitator, or to do so with facilitators and leaders in general, it was our regular, core women who were the heart, brain and backbone of this group. Our facilitator merely owned most of the setup equipment and gave the introductory blurb and the rest was taken from there by the women in attendance. Things could very easily go on as planned in her absence. She was very nearly absent most of the time anyway. She was less like the Führer and more like the furniture. She did not dictate what happened once things had begun. That was up to us. We didn’t ask for her permission. We just brought what we had to the table and did things.

At some point later, a few women decided that they didn’t like the way our facilitator “ran” this Tent. To me, this was absurd because our facilitator did basically nothing in terms of what actually happened at Tent meetings. I had brought my concerns about inclusiveness to her directly when I had them but as for the sharing, giving and receiving this was supposed to be about, blaming her for its ineffectiveness seemed a bit like blaming the flight attendant for turbulence or for the awkwardness of the conversation with your seatmate.

So instead of bringing concerns or ideas to the facilitator, offering what they wanted to share or asking women in-group to help them with what they wanted to do, they resorted to underhanded and subversive tactics such as coercion, trying to secretly rally people into overthrowing the facilitator by popular demand, outright lying or some combination of all three. What ended up happening was basically a whole lot of complaining and not a lot of action on the complainers’ part. Some left in an indignant huff, never once bringing their concerns to the facilitator nor asking others for help with those matters specifically. Some got tired of this drama and stopped coming back. Even some women who were once devoted regulars left with nothing but contempt as their contributions were ignored in favor of the perceived lack created by imaginary conflict with someone who had virtually nothing to do with the outcomes of any given Tent. Enthusiasm waned on every level and BOY did it show.

So to facilitators, leaders and attendees, I leave you with the following advice:

Remember what it means to “facilitate”.
Facilitators help groups understand their common objectives and the ways they can achieve them. They don’t dictate. They give guidelines. They don’t lead per se. They make it easier for others to lead themselves. They don’t control or micromanage. They help create space for things to happen naturally. It’s not about them. The real work is done by the attendees. If this is not what is taking place, what is needed is either a different approach or a different title.

Cultivate assertiveness.
The grand irony in the spectacular failure of my former group was that a group about sharing, giving and receiving was torn asunder by women who refused to voice their needs. Also ironically, despite all the femininity-flapdoodle surrounding Red Tents, in order to achieve the objectives of a group like this, the group must encourage what many view as the typically “masculine” qualities of assertiveness and directness. If those words sound too intimidating and penisy, call it something else. Call it honesty. Call it openness. Call it communication. Call it whatever works. Not only does that very premise depend on it, but conflict resolution within the group depends on it. Therefore, as facilitators and as attendees working to create safe space, we must ensure that it is made abundantly clear and abundantly true that it is safe to be direct and open and that one’s requests will be treated with sensitivity and respect.

I come from a culture that values assertiveness and considers it impolite to be indirect, passive-aggressive or evasive in trying to meet one’s own wants and needs. You either ask for it or get it yourself. Either way, it is emphasized that if you cannot take responsibility and admit to wanting something or take action toward getting it, you shouldn’t have it. The assumption is that being dodgy about what you want is as good as confessing that you’re up to no good. This is why directness comes easily to me and I try to engender less harsh versions of this wherever I go by making honesty okay and safe. I have to wonder if people’s reluctance to ask for things stems from a belief that they really shouldn’t have or want whatever it is.  This is a good starting question to open a discussion on the topic and make it safer for people to be open about what they need.

Set and follow conflict resolution procedures.

One of the worst mistakes any group can make is to assume that conflict will simply never happen, leaving the group sorely unprepared for when it inevitably does. Having procedures for dealing with conflict, complaints and concerns not only makes it easier for these things to be resolved quickly. Having an openly provided framework for dealing with these also creates one less excuse to resort to more covert and underhanded means of resolving them. Instigators, power trippers, gossip mongers and mutiny conspirators have one less reason to be tolerated.

Stay in your power.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” I know I must sound like I’m in AA with the frequency with which I use this, but it applies. Be mindful of your role in what happens in your group. Be aware of what you have full freedom and ability to do and to change. Start with yourself. If you can’t make your desired outcome happen alone, ask for help. If you simply declare yourself powerless, you leave the work of creating what you want up to everyone else and up to the chance of them intuiting your wishes. In the pursuit of what you want, you become your own dead weight. Don’t assume that just because someone is “facilitating”, they must do it all for you, or that they somehow confiscate your freedom and agency to create what you want to happen. They are there to help you. They are there to make things easier for you. Don’t make it difficult to make things easier for you.

New Age Survival Guide Lesson #3: Reality and Sanity

I had originally intended to split the New Age Survival Guide into just two parts but I found that sanity needed a volume of its own. It’s one thing to promote good critical thinking and interpersonal skills when otherwise healthy and discerning people are just dipping their toes in the New Age pool. When others have already gone off the deep end, so to speak, or don’t know they are about to, however, a different game-plan is necessary. Often times, especially when critical thinking and ethics are already compromised, New Age can be really terrible for your mental health.

Often, the deeper one gets into New Age, the more potential there is for one’s thought processes, problem solving skills and locus of control to go entirely awry. Imagine this:

Your books on improving your intuition stress the importance of being “receptive”; of noticing every little thing because, after all everything is a sign. Everything supposedly can give you some grain of wisdom for the present or insight into the future if you just stare at it long enough.  Meanwhile, you’ve spent every morning consulting your pendulum as to what to eat for breakfast, consulted your tarot deck for insight into what’s going on in your life at the moment and when that failed, consulted three different tarot readers to see what they thought.  You’ve spent hours a day meditating, voiding your mind as completely as possible. And then, while your mind is nice and empty and receptive and tenderized, you pump it full of books and recordings of people telling you how to strictly police your every thought into goose-stepping positivity in order to get all the nice things you want while repelling all manner of misfortune and disaster. After all, your thoughts create your reality and one bad thought will doom you to poverty and misery forever so it’s best to leave it to the people selling you things to tell you exactly how your thinking should be done.

What you more than likely won’t realize at this point in New Age immersion, is that through it all you’ve made virtually none of your decisions by yourself, instead relying on everything from Law-of-Attraction gurus, to the I-Ching, to the flickering ‘D’ you noticed in the Dunkin’ Donuts sign (EVERYTHING is a SIGN!) to point you in some semblance of a direction. Having gone this far down the rabbit hole, you may not realize that you are thinking and acting as if where in your house you put a particular rock has more bearing on whether you will be able to afford that car you want than saving money does. (Although some LoA quacks advise you NOT to save money because only poor people save money and it scares away potential incoming money….or something.) This is magical thinking at some of its worst and by this point, many otherwise sane people are convinced that this is the most effective way to go about things.

The last thing a person with OCD needs to hear is that their thoughts create their reality and that by worrying about the often outlandishly improbable things they worry about, they somehow make them more likely to happen. Under such logic, people with OCD should all be “manifesting” their worst nightmares with unrivaled speed and frequency. I have a friend who should have caught anthrax and been killed by terrorists by now if this idea were worth its salt. The last thing a love-obsessed stalker needs to be encouraged to think is that all of her failed attempts to obtain the object of her affection were simply due to her not believing enough in her ability to “attract” him.

But it gets worse. This is perhaps one of the most aggravating and sometimes tragic things about customary New Age behavior. In New Age-Land, it is nearly always strictly taboo to criticize, challenge or even gently question a person’s “reality” lest you be deemed closed-minded or worse…too rational. (I’ve been called this by deeply entrenched new-age crazies more than once. Yes it’s intended negatively. Don’t ask me how.) One obvious problem with this is that it destroys all hope of fruitful discussion, reducing conversations (if they are even able to happen) to something akin to two toddlers in a sandbox playing “with” each other but not yet knowing how to truly interact. The two New Agers’ realities clash, therefore the exchange becomes little more than each taking turns squawking ultimately useless facts about their “reality” that no one will likely remember because they are too caught up in their own “realities”. Dixon Wragg outlines the process brilliantly in this article (Read it! It’s good!) about a friend of his caught in a New Age abundance pyramid scheme:

“This anecdote gives us several examples of what we may call “New Age sewage”: 1) the attempt to disguise plain, old-fashioned money-grubbing with a veneer of New Age rhetoric, like a reeking harridan slathered with cheap perfume; 2) the assiduous avoidance of looking at any unpleasant facts (manifest here as his repeated retreat from specifics into vague slogans); 3) herculean feats of irrationality and credulousness, in order to maintain the desired belief; 4) fallacious attempts to invalidate the person challenging the belief; and, when all else fails, 5) termination of the dialogue.”

The bigger problem with this is that the no-challenge/no question rule applies to everything whether it be your practices, your views on current events (if you still believe in current events), your views on a personal situation, or you just being out of your mind. When you’re allowed to have your own personal “reality” using any “facts” you want, New Age essentially allows you to delude yourself, or just be straight-up delusional where otherwise, people might try to introduce REAL reality or encourage some professional help.

New Age takes this obliviousness, negligence and irresponsibility with people’s mental health a step further when we introduce the concept of shamanism, a practice in which a practitioner reaches an altered state of consciousness to interact with the Spirit world. Being a trendy topic that nearly no New Ager goes without reading a little bit about, if not appropriating entirely, many are at least partially aware of the idea of a link between shamanism and schizophrenia. However, often being only half-informed, as New Age sources often leave readers, many are mistakenly under the outrageous impression that severe schizophrenics are being persecuted (There’s that word again.) and stifled by the mental health field and that if they would just leave them to their own devices unmedicated, like organic free-range chickens, they’ll just become shamans. The last thing a person in the early stages of schizophrenia needs to hear is that they don’t need any help because their hallucinations are just budding shamanism. In New Age-Land, there are no delusions, only “different realities”. There are no mental illnesses, only superpowers. This, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, is dangerous.

So now for the tips:

Don’t neglect the facts, please.
Obviously we cannot divine every single thing on our own in making decisions and we do have to look to outside factors in order to construct and support our judgement. However, it’s not always so wise to read too far into things or worse, ignore their obvious meaning in favor of one that supports one’s wishful or paranoid thinking. Most often, that pressure in your lower abdomen just means you need to pee. Most often, the best way to see if that girl likes you is to ask her out and see what happens. That gritty stuff made of crumpled tea leaves at the bottom of your cup? Means you drank all your tea and will likely soon feel that pressure in your lower abdomen that means you need to pee.
You won’t always have all the facts and will need to make guesses as to what the right decision will be. You won’t always have all your shots lined up for you. Sometimes things will turn out badly and sometimes you will make mistakes. Paralyzing yourself into waiting until you can discern, divine or intuit each correct micro-step to getting what you want will neither work nor help. You are not infallible, nor can you make yourself so. This is okay.
Again. Serenity to accept things you cannot change. Courage to change things you can. Wisdom to know the difference. It’s good stuff, people.

Engage in and insist on respectful communication.
Having two people’s “realities” clash so much that they can no longer effectively exchange ideas and communicate is a problem. While we may have clashes of opinion in the mundane world, and often even facts are disputed or fudged, we don’t have the same problem of ignoring discrepancies, mistakes and outright lies and bullshit and calling them “another reality”. Communication, idea exchange and motion in the collective mindset, quite frankly seem to be doing better out here. It may not always be happy and comfortable, but things move and minds are opened. It is entirely possible and OKAY to be wrong. Really.

Speak up when it really matters.
This did NOT make me popular in New Age circles but I don’t regret it one bit. When someone’s “reality” is constructed from ignorance that has the potential to demean people or to harm themselves or others, don’t hesitate to say so. Get offended. Get offended a lot. You don’t make the world a better place by letting misinformed, willfully ignorant, hateful or otherwise deluded people just go out and play in their fractured reality. You help create the reality we all experience by challenging and changing things.
Call friends on their harmful or self-defeating bullshit. They may get angry at you, but they will be better of for it if they allow themselves to be. That and if they take your advice, eventually they may stop coming to you complaining repeatedly about the same thing and both your lives will improve. Friends who can’t handle this tend to be crappy friends anyway.

New Age can sometimes acclimate you to some really strange things. Sometimes people are just using metaphor to explain their experiences while others haven’t gotten the memo that suspension of disbelief was not meant to be permanent(!). With all the flowery words flying around, sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference. This is why it helps to keep friends who aren’t as into New Age things in case you can no longer tell crazy when you see it.

Most importantly, if you suspect that someone you know might be seriously mentally ill and that no one is doing anything about it, encourage them to get help or talk to someone close to them about it and of course, if they appear to be a threat to themselves or others, call the police or emergency mental health services if there are any in your area.

Of course, there’s the issue of “proper” use of some of these practices. Many of them can indeed be used responsibly. Unfortunately, in New Age Land when people are engaging in risky, negligent or concerningly odd behavior, if anyone ever speaks up, they wait until negative consequences have already occurred before anyone says “You’re not supposed to do it like that!”

Don’t wait.

My Fun with Intersectionality, Androgyny and the Concord Police Department

This is another golden nugget of hilarity and profundity that I’ve gathered walking around this lovely state. This is the kind of thing that makes my life fun and interesting (to me anyway). Race and gender rolled themselves into a multicolored ball of insight while I was doing something as simple as taking a walk. It’s not my intention to single out Concord, as this sort of thing could have happened anywhere, and has happened to me all over the place. This nights events just so happened to play out like an SNL skit.

Granted, I was taking a walk in the rather wealthy town of Concord, which is 25 miles away from where I live. I’ve been known to wander much farther than that as people who have run into me while I’m far from home know well. Granted, I was taking a walk in Concord at 11pm but I’ve been known to be out later. Working nights, this is what I’m used to. Truth is, I needed a moment to walk and think in quiet in a place where I’d be out of my normal context. Concord rolls its streets up fairly early. Its downtown sidewalks which are well populated with attractive street-lamps (I have a thing for street-lamps.), are normally busy, crowded and buzzing. However, by the time I got there, the obnoxious daytime crowds would have long since departed, leaving the well-lit, well-paved sidewalks all to myself.

I drove into downtown Concord and parked my car directly beneath one of my beloved street-lamps. It took me about 15 seconds to get out and cross to the other side of the street. About 20 seconds into my walk, a police cruiser already showed up. The officer, a pudgy man with a sparkling bald head pulled up alongside me as I walked, matching my walk-speed and craning his neck around to look at me. He then quickly drove away. Cops do this to me a lot almost everywhere. Being used to this kind of curious but non-committal attention from police, I kept walking.

We can speculate all day at this point in the story as to why this took place. I spent a good bit of my walk from that point pondering just that. In my warehouse work clothes, I was indeed dressed quite shabbily for Concord. I generally don’t intentionally make adjustments for it no matter what the time of day, so taking the time to make a detour toward home to stop and change wouldn’t have crossed my mind anyway. Minus the cardboard dust and being out long past any nearby restaurant’s closing time, I could probably have passed for a waiter. However, in the dark, under street-lamps, from a distance, I’m a lean swarthy figure with a curly brown ponytail, or more to the point—I’m a young, shady looking brown guy.

I know I look like a young, shady looking brown guy. I’m often, but not always taken for one at first. Up close, the shady diminishes or disappears as I start to look more feminine or at least like somebody that someone’s teenage daughter would consider cute and safe, but young, brown and sometimes guy are all still there and intact. Minus the shady, that doesn’t bother me in itself. Despite my being a young, mixie girl with a clean record, my appearance on an average day or night makes it so that if I want to keep hassles from nervous people to a minimum, I had better take the same precautions that many black and brown boys learn in this country. Don’t run with anything in your hands lest people think you stole it. Try to avoid running in public altogether lest people assume you did some other illegal thing. Don’t look into the windows of closed shops for too long……..

Yes, I was aware of the “Don’t stare into shop windows lest people think you’re ‘casing the joint'” rule. I resisted the temptation despite downtown Concord being constructed almost entirely of shops with large window displays and interesting things to look at. But for me, the Massachusetts-nerd, to have to follow that rule in front of a shop with a bunch of Massachusetts-themed items in the window is just cruel, and I REALLY wanted that “I Came, I Saw, I Concord.” t-shirt. Not enough to commit breaking and entering and burglary for it, but I wanted it. My intention for that shirt was to bring money INTO the town, not to take it out through theft and property damage.

…and here’s the cop again, doing the same as before.

This became mildly unnerving but in the toss-up between going home and asserting my right to take a walk on a public street, I chose to stay my course. Shortly thereafter, a different cop pulled up alongside me.
“Are you okay ma’am? Do you need help?” asked the officer almost pleadingly. Another relevant detail to this story (and former and current residents have confirmed this) is that Concord cops have very boring jobs. Certainly it says something positive for the relative safety of a town if its police officers are chronically bored, but it can also make them somewhat excitable when it comes to any possibility of finally having something to do.
“Nope, just taking a walk.” ,I replied still using the girly voice I use with cops to diminish the threat factor. My normal voice would likely not succeed at this.
“You haven’t seen any suspicious activity around, have you? This past hour we’ve been getting reports of a suspicious looking guy walking around peering into store windows.”, the officer said.
“Nope, haven’t seen anything.”
“Well, if you’re still out and you see anything, don’t hesitate to let us know. And be careful, okay?”

Mind you, the only other human beings I saw were one or two people closing up shops post-after-hours cleaning. The chorus of this song humorously comes to mind as I was probably just told by a cop to watch out for myself.

The issue seemed settled at that point, and I figured that maybe this officer would radio his pudgy bald coworker to let him know that he didn’t find anything dangerous, just some chick taking a walk. But on my final lap around Downtown Concord, the first cop showed up again, this time actually talking to me.

“Good evening. What are you doing out here?” he asked.
“Taking a walk. It’s quiet out here.” I replied, in the most femmy voice I could muster.

He went silent and stared for a bit. Lord only knows what was going on in his head at that moment but I imagine it included a few instant re-plays of everything that went on since I got out of the car and started walking.
“Okay, uh, be safe.” he mumbled as he drove off. This had to be the most anti-climactic and hilarious encounters with an officer I’ve ever been involved in. Satisfied with the night’s annoyances and amusements, I departed for Worcester, somewhat excited to share the comedic gold I’d stumbled upon.

All amusement aside, some of the lessons contained herein are:

1. Even simple and innocent activities are often different for people of color.
Remember that this whole thing started with me simply walking down the street. When people of color are singled out by police, it’s a common thought process for people to comb the details of the situation for that supposed other factor, you know, the REAL reason why that person looked suspicious enough to be stopped and questioned. Surely they must have done something wrong. People who know me tend to take for granted that their view of me as not suspicious will be shared by others, so when they hear me tell stories like this, they are befuddled. There’s no other factor here! Why did they stop YOU???

2. Being a girl helps sometimes.
Popular belief has it that as a black girl, I might shoplift during store hours, but I probably won’t burglarize the store after dark. I might be rude and obnoxious to the shop staff, but I probably won’t bust out the shop window with a brick or vandalize all the pretty buildings. Throw perfectly spoken standard English into the mix and sometimes all imagined potential slights are forgiven no matter what the time of day. The point here is, there’s not a lot for me to do at night that looks suspicious, so long as I come across as female to whoever is watching. Women are the ones suspicious things are supposed to happen to at night. The huge difference in treatment that I received from Cop1 and Cop2 and watching the pudgy bald cop re-calculate everything he had seen that night in an entirely new context and drive away probably embarrassed and confused illustrate this best.

3. Despite any precautions or guidelines we may take, whether or not someone sees us as suspicious is largely out of our control.
We can follow the law to the letter, build a fence around it to make sure we don’t break it by accident, and do everything in our power to do all the right things to make ourselves look non-threatening, but for some people, dark skin is all that is needed for us to look suspicious to them. Some people can’t seem to accept that this is true. This is why some people saw fit to make Trayvon Martin’s murder earlier this year, an issue of him looking suspicious by wearing clothing nearly every American teenager has in their wardrobe and wears regularly without issue. If I couldn’t even fully guarantee that I’d be perceived as male or female by everyone I encountered through the course of this one night, how much more so are my character and my intentions open to interpretation by each individual I come across? As much as I take a somewhat sick and risky pleasure in the absurdity of it all, the ways people choose to extrapolate on my simply walking down the street are completely out of my hands.The truth is that no matter how hard we work to counter stereotypes ourselves, there are still people who won’t be satisfied by our efforts. There are people who we will scare no matter what we do. There are people who we will never be well-behaved enough for and who we can never prove our innocence to. If we wanted to make ourselves 100% safe from prejudice, our only option would be to disappear.

Female Empowerment or Female Supremacy? What’s Your Group Creating?

Sexism kinda bothers me. I had been on the lookout for it since I began exploring certain women’s circles but more in a gently observant way than with paranoid hypervigilance. What ultimately prompted my more thorough examination of my several chosen environments was an incident in which the leader of a particular women’s circle I once attended, (the same one that I had fled) tried to make a joke saying that men simply “wouldn’t know what to do in circle” and would pass a beer hat instead of a talking stick. I was not amused. From then on, I committed myself to supporting no notions posited by any group that my work there made me better than men, that I am here to write the wrongs in the world because I am better than men, or that I’m better than men. Sadly the beer-hat incident would be one of the least irritating instances of this “better than men” attitude that I would encounter.

I remember once in another circle where part of the opening exercise was first to give examples of “feminine characteristics”. I already didn’t like the sound of this. Gender essentialism in any form makes me gag. This prompt resulted in multiple women responding with words like “empathetic”, “indirect”, “nurturing”, “yielding”, practically meowing out each word and then fluffing and polishing each one, positive, negative or neutral as if they were the best things in the world. I sat silently with my eyes securely rolled, stomach contents safely contained for the moment.
Then we were asked to list “masculine” characteristics upon which they barked words like “aggressive”, “war-like”, “oppressive” in disapproving, almost disgusted tones. Shortly thereafter, someone mentioned how as a society we need to curb the aggression and violence we use in our conflicts because “that’s what men do“.
I thought, “Great! Not only am I behaving in a manner that’s apparently not natural to me considering the shape of the arrangement of flesh in my pants, but I’m also being an oppressive, horrible person for doing so.” I would also hope that as a society we would try to curb aggression and violence because it harms people, not just because it’s “what men do”.

In a way, this too is personal. This is an insult to all of the perfectly respectable, respectful and responsible men I know and it makes me angry to see this ignorance aimed at them. Also, being a gender-nonconforming person in the particular way that I am, sexism against men is also sexism against me. I take this very personally.

The overarching theme of most of the sexist garbage I’ve encountered in these settings is that all of the worlds problems as we see them today are entirely the fault of men and that women are the ones who are going to change everything….somehow. The “how” is never firmly established, nor is the “why” of why the sole responsibility lies on women or why women are especially capable of doing this in the first place. I will grant that the world for its own good ought to learn to value nurturing, emotional awareness and empathy…in everyone. The world could indeed use more of some (but absolutely not all) of what people erroneously call feminine characteristics.  I will grant that the unfair long-standing power structures we see today were created by powerful men in order to subjugate women and subjugate each other. I will not grant that women, purely by virtue having F’s on their driver’s licenses and bleeding once a month, are the saviors of the universe.

The idea many people have of what is sometimes called “the awakening of the Divine Feminine” differs from person to person but many people have as part of it, the idea that this is the time when the world starts to do things the “right” way again. The image of this that angers me most is of this being a bunch of women waking up from a nap one day and in surprise and confusion looking at all the death and destruction going on asking “What on Earth is going on here???” as if they had no part in and took no benefit from any of it. They seem to forget that women married to powerful men who benefitted handsomely from the power structure tended to not see the what the big deal was with women’s rights. They often still don’t. This also paints men as a group as eternal irresponsible children. There is an excellent article on this here. Men, under this mindset, are seen as infantile savages who just can’t help themselves in their savagery and who won’t ever have to do any better, because Mommy will surely come and clean up all their dirty messes.

This is the pedestal women are going to have to come off of if any further progress is to be made toward gender equality. And by that I mean gender equality for both real-world and woo-woo purposes. I believe that equality of any kind rest on whether or not we acknowledge the full potential present in everyone. This includes potential both for good and for harm. If women are ever going to be expected to be as good as men, women must also claim responsibility for being capable of being as bad as men. I would hope that women will not have to shoot each other in the face on a regular basis before this happens, but in the meantime we need to quit pretending that by virtue of our uteri, we are the morally superior sex. We need to give up the idea that we are any less capable of truly destructive things. This is why we can no longer entertain the fantasy of creating a utopia simply by booting out every male in political power and replacing them with a woman. Today, when a woman is in a powerful position, people tend to say she is behaving “like a man.” In this way even when women in power screw up and act in cruel or despotic ways, it’s still somehow seen as men’s fault. Female bosses, politicians and CEO’s are not acting like men. They are acting like bosses, politicians and CEO’s in a structure that necessitates the traits they tend to have. That trait of empathy that female supremacists love so much and claim as a favorite “feminine” characteristic? It is more than anything, a matter of status and power.  Those of lower status need empathy to anticipate the needs of those who have power over them. Switch the roles and suddenly—instantly, people don’t give a shit anymore.  Women are perfectly capable of not giving a shit. It’s people of privilege in general who to the world’s detriment, are not giving a shit right now.