Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Toodleoo, 2013

2013, you are on your last legs. And although some really cool things happened this year (got married, that's nothing to sneeze at <3 ), it will be a relief to leave you behind. Adios, jerkface!

It seems that 2013 was tough on a lot of people. I'm not sure if it was the disappointment of the world not ending on Dec 21, 2012 and that we were all unprepared for an entire year following. But, yeah, that's definitely it.

I don't even care to do a year-in-review. Just, like, Google it, you know? I just want to leave all that unsaid and undisturbed and move along.

Now, 2014, I don't want to put any undue pressure on you. There have been other good years, like 2012. 2012 was a pretty gosh-darned good year for my wife and I. We were both making good money, I had an amazing birthday party that year, we moved in with one of our best friends which was a great time for all of us. I mean, it was certainly more stable for us than when we first moved to the Toronto gaybourhood in 2011, or that wild and unpredictable year of 2010 when we lived in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Yeah, no pressure, 2014. You don't have to be another 2012. You will make your own path and bring new challenges and successes.

On the topic of challenges, now seems the time to come up with my annual resolutions! Yay!

  • First and foremost, I want to continue fostering kittens. This has been such a positive experience for us, that we are gonna keep this going.
  • Write more. Both blogging and fiction writing. Last year was such a creative block, but now a lot of the crap that was uber-stressing me have been alleviated, so I want to make writing a priority.
  • Save money and pay off debts. Between no major events coming up (knock on wood) and the habits we've learned from being desperately broke, I think we've got a much better shot this year at getting ahead financially. Yeah, I know, this has been on my list every year. But, like, you know. I'm a grown up and stuff.
  • Get our IT toys in order. I've got a few broken laptops and phones around. I want to get off my duff and fix them so we can use them. I've already ordered a few cheap chargers from eBay, i just have to find my extra laptop hard drive and order a couple screens, and maybe pay for a couple Macbook repairs if I can save up for them.
  • Make more crafts. I have all the supplies, so I'd like to make it a priority to do something with them.
  • Spend money to promote the piercing biz. In many cases you've gotta spend money to make money, and come spring I want to be in a good position to promote the piercing biz to take advantage of the summer population explosion.

And I think that's a good place to start from. It's going to be a tough year because I'll be travelling for work during the weeks at least until the spring, but if we save up and I spend my downtime on stuff that makes me happy, it should be pretty positive.

Good luck to everyone and your goals, whether they be teeny or ambitious as all get-out. Happy end of 2013!


After posting this morning, I since checked my mail and found this letter waiting for me:

Touche, 2013, touche. But, in 7 hours you'll have fucked off and I'll still be here *knocks on wood*. You may have gotten one last dig in, but I will have the last laugh.

*bitterly drinks some cider as I look longingly at my two empty bottles of rhubarb wine a lovely friend had sent me out of the goodness of her good, kind heart*

Sunday, 29 December 2013

The healing power of kittens

I think that fostering kittens is the best thing that we could have done for ourselves this winter.

Since the beginning of November, we've taken in 15 kittens and found forever homes for 11 of them. The newest litter of 4 just came to us yesterday and I'm sitting in our spare room, getting them used to me and trying to build their trust.

The foster program we're going through pays for their vet bills, food and litter, so there's no upfront costs to us (vital while we're getting our finances in order). All we have to do is love them, care for them, and help socialize them before they go off to their new homes. We've increased our adoption success rate by posting millions of adorable pictures of them on social media and putting up ads on Kijiji.

The love we're getting back from these kittens and the pride from rehoming so many of them has done wonders for our self-confidence and stress levels. We had such a rough fall with financial issues and homophobia, that we were really shaken. (Although the finances are getting right back on track - more proof of our privilege of being broke but not poor).

If any of my readers have the space and health and time (and inclination, for that matter) to foster animals, I highly recommend it. It's not a magic cureall, and there certainly is the heartbreak of letting go and of sometimes losing animals whose health is fragile. But, gosh, it can be so rewarding.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

December BLURST, amirite?

Just a little update to assure my readers that I'm not homeless or living on my mom's couch. My wife and I are fortunate enough to have family that have helped us through the budgetary black holes these past few months while waiting for our luck to turn around. And that it has - my wife has landed 2 part-time jobs she'll be starting this week, and we have a new roommate to help us cover rent.

Thanks for the private words of comfort and good will. They meant a lot and helped smooth over some of the rougher parts of the past month and a half.

To spread the good fortune, we've started fostering kittens. We got in a crew of 4 of them two weeks ago, and yesterday all of them got their forever homes!

Now we have a whole new crew of 4 male kittens that are all grey. I'm working on telling them apart, but I'm confident that will come with time (or sweaters. Very likely sweaters).

Um, that is, if you'll allow it. Sir. *gulp*

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

How to Get Debt-Free in 30 Days or Less!

Read the title as sarcasm. Bitter, biting, bitterly biting sarcasm.

To start off, I'm broke, not poor. I think that's an important distinction to start off with, because I come from a lot of privilege (raised upper-middle class, have 2 college diplomas, solid work experience, have family and friends who can help if I'm absolutely desperate, etc). The points I'm going to address definitely can effect poor folks as well, but I don't want to pretend I have it the worst off in the world or that I fully understand poverty from anyplace but a safe distance. So read this as someone who has been well off enough to have tasted the good life, and who can conceivably get there again at some point. Don't send me donations, just let me vent.

I'm in a spot where, money-wise, we're pretty much fucked in the short term. One cell phone has been disconnected, my payments on back-taxes are bouncing, we're behind on our vehicle payments, insurance is coming out next week and I don't know if we can cover it, we don't have propane or wood for the winter that is fast-approaching and no funds to rectify that because I'm the only one of us who has been able to land a job, which is minimum-wage and can't go more than 40 hours a week. And our roommate has to move out because of events beyond their control, so rent is about to go up unless we can find someone else to move in.

Long story short - we're panicked about money. So I've been doing what so many people do in my position, and turning to the Google for some sort of inspiring article that will give me a lightbulb moment and chase away the clouds as the sun comes out.

It's times like now that I feel like I will blow up the internet if I see one more article on budgeting that replays these tired, ineffectual tropes:

1. Spend less

Wow. Just. I wish. I mean, I've been there. I have credit card debt from 5 years ago when I separated from my ex-husband and then went on a spending binge to make up for all the times I'd felt trapped. But that hasn't been the case for at least a couple years. No, I'm at the point where I'm looking at my bank account and wondering if I should pay for gas or, no wait, there's only $20 until Friday and I need to get to work, so gas it is. If I make it to Thursday on the gas I have now, maybe $10 for gas and $10 for wine, because an extra $10 isn't going to make a dent in any of my bills. At all.

2. Brown bag your lunches and no more Starbucks

I have jars of peanut butter and jam at work with loaves of bread I got on sale. Which I had to wait until my second paycheque to get, so for my first couple weeks at work my boss fed me, otherwise I wouldn't eat until I got home for supper. And the coffee I have, I made at home with grounds I took from my sister's house because she's got a Kurig, now. Don't fucking talk to me about Starbucks.

3. Cut out the extra expenditures.

I can't even pay for Netflix because my credit cards are maxed out, and I only get a mobile phone, home phone and DSL because it is paid for by my employer. We don't have firewood. I assure you, I don't have any "extras" to cut out.

4. Cut up your credit cards and live on cash only.

You know what I like to do when I have paid my credit cards enough so that I can put anything on them at all? I get Netflix. Maybe I'll celebrate with an $8 bottle of wine. But goodness knows I won't see the other end of that fairy tale until 2014 if I'm lucky.

5. Get a debt consolidation loan.

One of my favourite tv shows is Til Debt Do Us Part. I've been watching it forever, and long before I went on my post-separation spending binge. My wife and I even applied to be on their show and had been in contact with them, but just narrowly missed the casting window. So believe me when I tell you that I will burn everything you have ever loved if you ever say to my face that I should "just" apply for one. I have been declined a half-dozen times because, shocker, I don't have great credit. You know, from the credit cards I've maxed out and want help paying off through a lower-interest-than-24.99% loan.

6. Make more money

In Toronto, this was not bad advice (for me, specifically). I have the skills and experience there to make a sincerely decent wage with benefits. Where we're living now, that really is not meaningful advice. My wife hasn't gotten a single call-back for all the resumes she's been handing in for the past 2 months, and she has not just been emailing them out like many folks are able to get away with in areas with better economies. I work for a small business owner who often doesn't even make enough to pay their own bills, so a raise is really not happening. This is the reality of working in small communities that rely on seasonal tourism after the summer is over.

What do I really want? I want some financial articles that speak to the experience of folks who aren't making $100,000 a year who can pay off their debts in a year on their salary alone if they feel like cooking at home instead of dining out every night. I want banks and financial institutions to say, "Hey, you know what? You're right. We do keep telling people to get debt consolidation loans, so we'll work with you so these payments are actually manageable and you can conceivably pay them off without declaring bankruptcy." I want some recognition from all those fanciful articles that this is a tight spot that those trite words won't fix if I just "think positive". I want recognition that some economies are really seriously fucked and the people in them are pretty fucked and that there are no easy ways out for them, if any out at all.

What am I going to do about it? Well, I'm starting by calling bullshit on those articles, and by airing my dirty laundry to see if others can relate.

After that? Who knows. We'll see if I have any awe-inspiring insights to share other than, "It's all bullshit." Wish me luck.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The realities of queer fear

When I first came out of the closet, I had it pretty easy compared to a lot of people. It was after the end of a near-decade relationship with a heterosexual, white, military guy, in which I was able to benefit from passing as straight. I had lived invisibly as a bisexual (I wasn't aware of the term pansexual at the time) into my late 20's and so by the time I entered into a same-sex relationship I had a solid sense of self and wasn't afraid to be visibly queer.

That's not to say there was no fear. There was and still is, especially given some recent events. It's not the fear of "people won't like me because my spouse is a woman" or "people will hurt my feelings because I'm in a homosexual relationship". It's a fear of violence. And it is well-precedented.

Many of us are aware of our history, of why the pink triangle is a symbol of solidarity for the queer community. We hear about the anti-LGBT legislation in Russia, about the murders of trans women in Brazil, about the uptick in anti-LGBT organizing in the US, about all the places in the world where it is simply not safe to be out, and about all the crap that is still going on in Canada, 8 years after same sex marriage was legalized.

And even for those who have not read the history books and aren't up to date on what is happening on a global scale, many of them still carry a sense of danger. Because they are bullied and bashed, because they have friends who have already committed suicide, because there are acts of violence against queers they know or that they see in the local news, and because there are messages all around us that tell us there are real and tangible threats to our safety.

What persons who have straight privilege may not be acutely aware of, is that freedom from oppression is not a straight  line. Any freedoms we have fought for are easily retracted if we are not vigilant. And often even if we are..

So, when a newspaper prints letters to the editor, in a climate where there have been overt displays of hostility and dehumanization towards the LGBT community, this isn't a benign act:

Those acts of violence start from a place of dehumanization. They exist on a continuum where queer folk are not considered "normal" or fully human. To call queer folk "abnormal" is to mark them as targets of all sorts of discrimination than often culminates in violence.

Do not mistake this for queer folk and their allies "taking offense", because our livelihoods and lives are literally at stake. If you were not aware that was the case, now you are. To go from here and claim there is no risk to us from anti-LGBT posters and propaganda is to act under a willful ignorance at best, and a malicious disingenuousness at worst, to greenlight putting us in harm's way. Words matter, so choose yours now wisely.

Friday, 23 August 2013

How to deal with overly enthusiastic allies

Long story short, I'm not entirely sure. I was added in a Facebook conversation tonight by my sister, after another member of the community I'm moving to had heard about a homophobic encounter my wife and I had at a restaurant here during our brief honeymoon. Suddenly someone is setting up a protest in our honour, without first consulting with us before 50+ people have been invited and it's all over town.

That was jarring. I may have made that jar more palatable by pickling myself with my roommate's wine. May=did.

Maybe this post should be more about how allies should deal with wanting to be super duper helpful.

Step 1: Please ask us. Please, for the love of all things good and holy, ask us how we would appreciate your help or, at the very least, please give us a heads up before 50 other people are involved.

Step 2: See step one.

Honestly, I'm still kind of reeling from being tossed in the middle of things. Don't get me wrong, I fully intend to be politically active in my new community when I get there, as I have been in every other community I've lived in since 2005. I'm just usually in charge of when I'm politically active and how. And in these past couple years I've subscribed very much to the philosophy of "picking my battles" to ensure I don't burn myself out.

So, allies, please ask us before you make us your cause. Your energy and enthusiasm and care is so greatly appreciated. I love your initiative. Just please understand that these are our lives and something that can feel extremely rewarding and cathartic can also put us at risk of community reprisal and make us feel threatened.

Please keep us in the loop. It's really important.

Monday, 22 July 2013

MST3K because otherwise imma just crawl under a rock

My fiance and I are getting hitched in less than two weeks, so I'm passing the time trying not to let my brain leak out my skull and to politely refrain from screaming my lungs out in public.

Wish me luck, and look forward to some Omg, 3DNC is almost here!-posts in a couple weeks.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

We're not on the same page. I'm not sure we're even reading the same book.

This past week or so I've been taking the organizers of I'd Tap That to task over their decision to ban someone who reported another attendee was abusive, and to continue to allow the alleged abuser to attend parties. That, specifically, was the beginning of my issue with them, but it's grown since because I've gotten information from others, anonymously and publicly, that there have been a lot of issues with these events and the organizers' responses to concerns.

The problem is, I'm assuming that the organizers are working from an anti-oppressive, feminist framework and that their priority is above the business of making money by hosting a different flavour of party than is regularly offered in Toronto. Clearly, that's where I'm wrong.

I've been boggled by the organizers' inability to recognize that requiring one provide a police report in order to ban someone who is reported to have been engaging in abusive behaviour, including physical and/or sexual violence, puts an undue burden on the victim. The crux of my argument is that if the organization wants to be sensitive to the institutional oppressions that would prevent many of their attendees from reporting such crimes to the police, then their stance of requiring police involvement doesn't match that. Therein lies the whole problem.

I'd Tap That is not organizing their events with the intention of making them safe, accessible, and non-oppressive. Rather, they're offering a "sex-positive" space that operates slightly outside of the norm, with minor tweaks to give an illusion of safety, but that upholds a lot of the status quo.

Which explains not only their exasperation with being publicly taken to task over this issue, but their attitudes that they're being unfairly attacked and set upon. Well, of course it's going to seem unfair if the issues presented to them aren't ones they consider important or worthy of making changes. Naturally, if they aren't committed to combating sexual violence specifically, they won't be concerned with the victim-blaming and gas lighting tone of their posts and won't see any need to apologize specifically for that.

They have made some very PR-friendly statements about setting up a community advisory board, updating their training for their safety staff, and updating their complaints process. That all sounds great. Without a core value of approaching their business from an anti-oppressive, intersectional position, then these changes won't actually make any tangible differences to the culture of their parties.

Why am I being so nit-picky? What do I want from them? What on earth could they possibly do to satisfy my impossible standards since I'm such an uppity jerk?

I've been nit-picky because I was operating under the assumption they were feminist activists, and I expect other feminist activists to call me out in the same way if I'm being problematic.

I would love for them to operate their business under an anti-oppressive, intersectional framework. They allude that they are on their Mission Statement page, and I find that to be rather misleading. I'd prefer they not only amend their wording to be more honest that this is just a business to them and that most complaints or criticisms won't be acted on, but also to state more clearly that they are unwilling to ban people from events without a police report (right now it says they can't).

What can they possibly do to make me happy? At the very least, an acknowledgment that the tone of their posts has been to disbelieve survivors and to therefore make the atmosphere of their parties hostile to survivors of sexual violence. Many people aside from me have pointed this out, and they have not deigned to address it directly. But then, that's making another big assumption that they care about or want to make survivors feel welcome at their events.

In short, probably nothing. There is a huge ideological divide here that neither of us is willing to compromise on. The organizers have made statements on their personal walls that show they don't think these are serious issues and that they're feeling unfairly persecuted. I'm still offended that they're misusing the terminology of social justice to deflect criticism without internalizing any of the serious criticisms that have been put forth.

Long story short, don't worry, I'd Tap That. I'm taking this part of your Mission Statement quite seriously:
If our rules and values are not strict enough for you to feel comfortable, we also ask that you refrain from attending. 

Friday, 21 June 2013

I'd Tap That - what were your experiences?

As a follow-up to my post on Wednesday, "When Allies Aren’t Allies- My Experience With I'd Tap That", I'm posting a general call-out to participants of I'd Tap That/ Crush events, good or bad. If you want to send your experiences to them directly and not here, that's cool, you can email them here.

You can post anonymously in the comments, and I'm turning moderation off to let all comments through so all sides who care to weigh in can be heard. (I'll be keeping an eye on comments, though, because this is the internet). The reason I'm open-posting this way is that I know that sometimes there can be barriers to us feeling safe enough to bring concerns directly to organizers/ staff themselves.

I'm not gonna lie, I'm pretty pissed off with the organizers of I'd Tap That and their response so far. They've lied, gas lighted, and responded to serious concerns with disingenuous PR Mad Gabs. But if there's an opportunity for them to improve their events to protect their participants, it's worthwhile to take it. So, let's try to bring these issues out into the daylight and see if they have any intention or ability to actually address them.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

When Allies Aren’t Allies- My Experience With I'd Tap That

This is a repost of a letter in its entirety, from a friend of mine, Kira Andry. If you are a part of the queer, sex+ community in the GTA, this is some information you may need to know to make an informed decision about attending and participating in the 'I'd Tap That' events and community.

When Allies Aren’t Allies- My Experience With I'd Tap That

**Trigger Warning: Rape culture, misogyny, victim-shame/blame, etc**

Before you read the rest of it:
Honesty, despite being strived for, tends to be a massively dividing force.
I understand that some of you won’t like what I have to say and might even unfriend me for saying it.
Go ahead.
I, as an honest person, will always tell the truth. I am not ashamed and I have nothing to hide.
I will not cover for those who have wronged me and I do not owe anyone my silence.
This is my experience and I alone own it. I will do with it what I see fit and I see it fit to warn others so that they may not be victimized as I was.
If you wish to “unfriend” me because of that then it will be of no loss to me.

          Recently I have decided that I will no longer be attending events by the group "I’d Tap That".
This decision has come from a series of unfortunate, but eye-opening, events.
Up until recently I had been a huge supporter of the organization and their mission -recommending them to many other people and sending out a flood of event invitations each month.
I liked their aim and thought it would help combat many ills in our society.

I could not have been more wrong.

          I had a friend who knew that I was struggling in life due to a horrific past and was in the process of trying to establish secure support systems.
This friend and I had very frank and open conversations and I was very upfront about my limits and requirements.
This friend ID'ed as "sex positive", "honest", and "feminist" among many other things I require in my close interpersonal relationships, so I thought he'd be safe to trust.


This friend ended up gaining my trust only to then break it and shamelessly gain my consent through fraud.
(People should know that obtaining consent through fraud is not consent at all. It is legally and technically a form of rape.)
He then went on to repeatedly and intentionally trigger me:  He used the knowledge I had shared with him in confidence, committing the most damaging acts (at his disposal) against me, knowing that I would not be able to withstand this further assault and therefore knowingly put me in a dangerous situation.

          He then involved the police for no other reason than to trigger me further, knowing I had had traumatizing experiences with cops in the past. (Any survivor that has been raked through the "justice" system is aware of what I speak) 
He had lied to them about how long we had known each other, what had transpired, and various other facts, even going as far as to say that we had been in a "relationship".
He had intended to victimize me further through my fear of the police and then get their support by reciting the over-used and widely-accepted sexist notion of "bitches be crazy" after a relationship ends.
It is important to note that we were never even in a "relationship".
 I had to correct these falsehoods and set the record straight. I even patiently explained terms like "consent", "sex positive" and "rape culture" to the officer, who was surprisingly receptive.
They tried to get me to press charges, but I could not bring myself to chance being revictimized by police again.
They said they wanted to do something to help so they ordered him not to attend the events I attended (including "Crush"), or to otherwise continue to harass me in any way.

That’s that, right? I could just go on with my life, and at least I’d have a safe space to go with like-minded people, right?

Wrong again.

          I alerted two of the organizers about what happened.  I explained the situation and asked them to not allow the person who victimized me to attend, seeing as how allowing his presence would make the event less safe and tempt him to defy police orders.
In response the first organizer denied my experience, saying that since she had been involved with him at one point, and he had not done that to her,  he could not have possibly done that to me.
She stated that he had not assaulted me, and then went on to belittle what happened calling it “relationship drama”.

Denying a survivor’s experience and belittling it because the person who victimized them had not victimized you is propagating rape culture.
I called her out on this and it was not taken well.

I spoke with another organizer in hopes that something would be done but that proved to be generally useless. Accusing someone of gaining consent via fraud was too close to calling it "rape" for her liking. She felt as though I was being too harsh and that I  was victimizing him.
They just sympathized with, and made excuses for, him. They did not want to believe that their friend was capable of doing this, so what did they do instead?
They decided to make me out to be the problem.
(Nothing like revictimizing the victim to prove how much you are against rape culture.) 

          On the day of “Puppy Love” (another one of "I'd Tap That" events), I got an extremely passive-agressive letter from the first organizer banning me from all future events. She stated that she personally did not feel comfortable allowing my presence at their events, implying that I had not been respectful, thoughtful or considerate.
She stated that me calling them out on their rape culture didn’t “jive” with them.
She followed that by saying that I lacked a “healthy attitude” and a “healthy mindspace."
How she came to determine that I don’t know.. (I guess speaking up about having been victimized and expecting a self-proclaimed “sex positive” “safe space” to stay true to their mission statement is unhealthy. Noted.)

I don't quite understand how the "I'd Tap That" women thought that someone with a major conflict of interest would be the most qualified to make this decision, but I'm not going to argue with their attempt at logic.
She then gave an oozing lipservice about how "the health, safety and happiness of their patrons is of the utmost importance them" and how that included me but then explained how they did not feel that "any amount of empathy or understanding they offered me has made me feel safe." 
(That is what you call a slap in the face)

She then stated that they hoped I would be able to participate in the future once I had changed and taken their message to heart.
(Lines on the chalk board will read, "I won't speak up about being assaulted if the victimizer is well-liked or had been involved with someone in a position of power.")
The letter ended by wishing me "the happiness I deserved."
(Wow, I wonder how much that would be?)          

In the end they stopped inviting me to their events, however they did not stop inviting the person who obtained consent through fraud.

They banned a victim so that the victimizer could legally attend.
That is as far away from “sex positive” and “feminist” as you can get…

          One of my biggest issues with "I'd Tap That" is that, despite their claims, they are extremely dismissive when it comes to the safety of their patrons.  For instance, they claimed they would continue to allow the person who victimized me to attend because their aim is to "educate".
No, just no.
The importance of educating of someone who sexually victimizes others should not be placed above keeping people safe and providing a safe space for survivors.
I, as a survivor, am not pleased with the fact that they would treat us as sacrificial lambs so that predators might have a chance of being "educated".

Furthermore, exactly what education can be provided at a bar with alcohol and "sex booths"? 
Any person who actually supported consent would understand that alcohol affects everyone differently and intoxicated people cannot legally consent. 
(If you can't be driving a car or signing legal documents you should not be having sex. The only exceptions to this are circumstances in which everything is openly discussed and agreed upon ahead of time. Consent should NEVER be assumed.)

"I'd Tap That" defends this by saying the sex booths are "consent monitored". 
The people monitoring the booths didn't appear to be standing around with breathalyzers so they were just assuming people's state of intoxication. 
(You're semi conscious and smiling in your drunken stupor, hanging off someone's arm? You look into it! YOU'RE GOOD TO GO! Into the rape-er- I mean sex booths with you!)

"Consent monitored" or not, allowing these "sex booths" is extremely problematic and ultimately the organizers of "I'd Tap That" are setting up people to be assaulted.. at a self-proclaimed "sex positive" "safe space".

           Even if by some freak chance they invite me back, I refuse to attend.
I cannot, and will not, support an organization that calls themselves a “safe space” but knowingly allows unsafe persons to attend their events and therefore subjects potentially vulnerable people to predators.
I cannot, and will not, support an organization that so blithely lies about being “sex positive” and “feminist” while banning a victim so that the person who sexually victimized them can attend.
I cannot, and will not, support an organization that does not stay true to their mission statement and one that does not truly value consent.

I think the world is already plagued with enough rape culture.
I don’t know about you, but I will not support an organization that revictimized a victim. 

Friday, 12 April 2013

A canned response, and evidence that at least we're not all bad

Yesterday morning I published "An open letter to The Toronto Star and Rosie Dimanno re: "Sexual assault case involving four female suspects a bizarre anomaly” and sent that content in an email to The Toronto Star and several other news outlets. Last night, at about 5 o'clock, I got a canned response from the editor:

Dear [to start off, she spelled my name wrong. This is a form letter! The only thing she had to put in was my name and she spelled it wrong! ]  
I am writing in response to your concern about Rosie DiManno’s April 9 column on the alleged sexual assault on a young man by four women. 
DiManno is an opinion columnist for the Toronto Star. Her column falls within her role as a popular columnist who expresses strong, often controversial, opinions that sometimes offend. Columnists at the Star are given wide latitude to express their opinions. But columnists always speak for themselves, not for the Toronto Star. Only editorials, which are published on the editorial page, express the views of the Star as an organization. 
The Star believes in the widest possible expression of free speech, in line with Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Star’s policy manual states that:  “Columnists and Op-Ed writers have wide latitude to express their own views in the Star, including views directly contrary to the Star’s editorial views, as long as they fall within the boundaries of good taste and the laws of libel.”As public editor of the Star, it is outside the scope of my role to weigh in on whether the views of any opinion columnist are “fair” “appropriate”  or “in good taste”  While I as an individual, and the Star as institution, do not agree with every opinion expressed by columnists, in the Star and sometimes vehemently disagree with some columnist’s views on some subjects, I will always defend any opinion columnist’s freedom to express views some readers might find offensive or even repugnant. 
Taste is always a subjective matter and a judgment call for newsroom editors seeking to balance questions of sensitivity of subject matter with the imperative for free expression for opinion writers and the desire not to demand conformity from columnists.  Certainly the best columnists often do enrage and offend. In doing so they can provoke public discussion of important  issues – as this column certainly has.  On that regard, I expect the Star will publish a selection of the opinions of readers who disagree with DiManno’s opinion and the manner in which she expressed her views. 
I have now had opportunity to discuss your concerns with senior newsroom editors. They tell me they gave careful consideration to this column prior to its publication and believe that the column is fairly done and falls within the bounds of fair comment and the Star’s policy’s for columnists.  
While I personally appreciate and understand your points about sexual assault and gender, I agree the column is in line with the Star’s policies and is indeed fair comment.  
Best Regards, 
Kathy English
Kathy English/Public Editor
Toronto Star/www.thestar.com

Turns out, this is the exact same response copied & pasted to several other people who had written their own letters to the editors. Here's why it's bullshit - for starters, the form letter states that sometimes their opinion columns are controversial and offensive. Sure, I get that. The issue is not that I'm "offended". The issue is that the column is outright mocking a survivor of sexual violence, which has the very real impact of discouraging people from reporting crimes of sexual violence. This article could very well discourage this particular survivor from going forward with helping the police with this investigation. This article could very well keep other young men attacked by these women from coming forward. After reading this, who would want to admit that they, too, had been attacked in this same manner?

Another reason why it's bullshit - freedom of speech? What is this, an argument on Youtube? "I will always defend any opinion columnist’s freedom to express views some readers might find offensive or even repugnant" Here's the thing - freedom of speech does not guarantee one a platform or a paycheque. As much as the editor and The Toronto Star would like to distance themselves from the content that they publish, they are literally supporting every single word they publish by virtue of paying the authors whose words are "offensive". Refusing to print an article that degrades survivors of sexual violence doesn't go against freedom of speech, because Rosie is free to self-publish and to stand out on a soapbox on Yonge & Dundas and spout her opinions there. 

And the argument that this conversation will be balanced out because "I expect the Star will publish a selection of the opinions of readers who disagree with DiManno’s opinion and the manner in which she expressed her views", is disingenuous at best. Readers' letters to the editor are hidden away in the backpages and nether reaches of the website. Rosie Dimanno has prime real estate. No response from regular readers will have the same reach as her original column, because The Toronto Star doesn't afford them that kind of visibility. 

Speaking of disingenuous, "I have now had opportunity to discuss your concerns with senior newsroom editors. They tell me they gave careful consideration to this column prior to its publication and believe that the column is fairly done and falls within the bounds of fair comment and the Star’s policy’s for columnists". You sent me back a form letter. I am disinclined to believe you.

The entire letter just comes across as really unaware. This is a letter from one of the countries largest newspapers. This paper has influence. Words matter. This isn't just some small online publication with 9 followers *cough*Although those can be pretty amazing, too*cough*. The Toronto Star boasts to companies that look at advertise with them that "Approx 40% of Canadians live in Ontario and The Toronto Star is the #1 online Newspaper in Ontario". It is reasonable to expect, then, that The Toronto Star has a lot of power in informing and influencing the public, including when they post articles wrought with rape myths and minimizing the impact sexual violence has on its victims. 

As a wise man once said, "With great power, comes great responsibility." Either The Toronto Star needs to recognize that power and responsibility, or admit to readers and advertisers that they're greatly exaggerating their influence. You can't have it both ways.

On the plus side, I can see I'm not the only one taking them to task. Here, as food for your soul, check out some other people who have picked up the fight against this dreadful example of victim degradation in the media:

I believe there are very likely many more, these were just the results of a quick Google search this morning.

Now, my brain needs a break, so here's a big putty tat.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

An open letter to The Toronto Star and Rosie Dimanno re: "Sexual assault case involving four female suspects a bizarre anomaly”

I am extremely disappointed and disgusted not only with the column written by Rosie Dimanno on Tues, April 9th entitled “Sexual assault case involving four female suspects a bizarre anomaly”, but also with the lack of response from The Toronto Star afterthefact. This bit of sensationalistic tripe served no purpose but to insult and degrade the victim and make light of the crimes committed against him. This is a perfect example of why so many sexual assaults go unreported, and why this particular victim chose not to be interviewed by The Toronto Star. Who could possibly trust your publication with the details of such a grievous violation when they will more than likely wind up nothing more than a punchline?

Survivors read your publication. Rapists read your publication. A community who has not yet decided how they should appropriately react to disclosures of sexual violence, read your publication. You have a responsibility to the community to do better, because at present you are helping foster and support an extremely hostile environment to survivors that will ensure many more don’t go to the authorities to report crimes of sexual violence committed against them.

Perhaps more troubling than even her delight in pondering the details of this most recent case, is this is not nearly the first time that Rosie Dimanno has stooped to such levels in degrading victims of sexual violence and minimizing their experiences. Just on January 18th of this year, she lead with the sentence “She lost a womb but gained a penis,” in her account of the trial against Dr. George Doodnaught. Because of her history of such degrading articles addressing sexual violence, Rosie Dimanno has proven that she is incapable of showing respect to survivors of sexual violence. The Toronto Star should not be paying her to degrade victims.

If The Toronto Star wants to continue to keep Rosie Dimanno on staff without losing any more readers, your audience needs not only an apology but some sign that she and your editors understand why her articles have caused such uproar and distress, and a commitment to do far better. If that is not possible, either she needs to find another calling or you will need to find new readers. Until such time as a formal apology from The Toronto Star and Rosie Dimanno are published, you will be losing this long-time reader and I will encourage as many people as my voice will reach to also boycott your publication.

Survivors deserve better, Toronto as a whole deserves better, and I am personally demanding better.


Natalee Brouse

Friday, 8 March 2013

International Women's Day 2013

Today is International Women's Day. I'm busy as all get-out, so I just want to briefly pass on events going on in recognition:

The FB page for IWD Toronto can be found here.

And remind everyone why it's still important and relevant to continue to celebrate today and fight for women's rights.

Also, I've just become aware of an American organization that is fighting to end oppression, AIDecomcracy:
What We Do
We educate, empower and mobilize our generation to take informed action around our individual and collective roles as global citizens. 
We debate our roles and individuals, and as a country, in addressing the great challenges facing us today, including poverty, extremism and climate change. 
We focus on harnessing the power of your voice and your vote, but we also explore other pathways to change including service and social entrepreneurship. 
Our approach has three pillars:
  • Education: We help students understand key global challenges, as well as the global system that frames them. Our members are always building and expanding on this conversation, through insightful blog posts and compelling journal articles.
  • Empowerment: We build student leaders and organizers who understand not only the issues, but also their own power, how to organize others, and how to access decision-makers.
  • Mobilization: We create and connect students to opportunities to take action, from the campus to the national level.

They'll soon be reposting my article on rape prevention through breaking down rape culture, "What can I do, right now today, to help stop sexual violence."

Enjoy today, all, and I hope it treats you all kindly.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Part of the solution: Providing info on services for men in Toronto

Yesterday morning I caught wind that U of T is going to be hosting an MRA speaker. A friend shared this lovely and daintily-written article on her wall (caution - it goes to A Voice for Men - if you don't want to give them page hits, then you might want to pass):

The baiting part is probably my favourite. This way if counter-protestors show up and are impolite, well by golly, we were "warned" and they can be as violent and vitriolic as they'd like because, heck, why not. If no one shows up, well by golly! They scared us all off! Success!

Not that they could ever hope to harness or emulate the awesome of Freddie Mercury's nipples.

Anyways, as fun as that all is, I've decided that since no one else was up to organizing a counter-presence, I'd arrange one myself. I was at that previous "infamous" counter-protest and I noted that one of the elements missing was an offering of tangible alternatives to people who may get sucked in by such speakers, so I thought I'd set up this event with a different tone and intent. 

From the Facebook event page:

Once again the U of T campus will be playing host to a speaker that relies on sexism and racism as scapegoats for some of the legitimate grievances that men in our society currently face, to forward their bigoted agenda. 
This article gives a thorough background on the speaker coming to campus:
Information on the event here, that won't give their page undue hits (it still has info on the old location that has since been updated): 
It can be useful and cathartic to simply protest hate speech on campus, but we recognize that events like this so often take advantage of vulnerable people who are sincerely looking for answers. Let's make this counter-presence a productive one and provide as much information as we can gather and distribute to attendees. 
If anyone has contacts with organizations that support men in Toronto, please post links here to help us distribute them more effectively. Let's work together to make sure the men who are facing hardships are heard and actually given something tangible and constructive to walk away with.

Being reactive can be very useful and appropriate, but I personally want to build up a collection of resources so when these issues continually come to fore (and they will), we'll have some alternatives already on hand. And, just as importantly, if there are gaps in services (as there very likely are), this will give us a good way of finding out what those gaps are. Heck, we might even be able to get the participants at these events on board to help close those gaps and create or expand services within Toronto to support them.

For any readers, please let me know about what services you know of that are available for men in Toronto. I mean any services, such as addiction counselling, housing assistance, suicide intervention, support for survivors of sexual violence, court support, etc. If you know of services that are missing and needed, please let me know that, too. Let's use this opportunity to be productive and address these issues in a real way.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Because rape culture is just so darned attractive

When you think of rape and/or rape culture, what kind of person immediately comes to mind? Is it a big, scary, burly-looking man hiding in an alley? Is it someone who should emanate waves of rapey-warning-vibes?

But he's such a Nice GuyTM

When I think of the embodiment of rape and rape culture, this is the image that comes to mind:

I'm not being sarcastic, and I'm not accusing Seth McFarlane of being a rapist. I am saying that this guy is a big proponent of rape culture. From his tv shows, to his movies, to his Oscar-hosting duties, he's all about making light of rape at every turn.

And he's not even close to being an outlier. Rapists and rape apologists are so often charming, handsome, and charismatic. They make people laugh and feel comfortable around them, and at the same time push their boundaries to make them feel uncomfortable and laugh off their discomfort. They aim to get people to laugh at themselves when they are offended and to see their offense as the butt of the joke. They get others to side with them in pressuring people to ignore their discomfort and laugh instead of challenging the parts that made them legitimately uncomfortable.

It's a good trick, and it's not a new one. These are the tools that rapists rely on in maintaining a rape culture. So long as we think that rapists and rape apologists are this ugly "other", then we can ignore the attractive, funny man with the great smile as he makes sexual innuendos about a 9 year old girl. So long as we help him deflect criticisms as people being "too sensitive", he can make jokes about getting to see actresses breasts in movies, including during rape scenes.

Don't tell me he was being edgy, because this is the same schtick we've seen from him throughout his career, and there is a well-worn path preceding him. He is just a younger face of rape culture and demonstrates quite clearly how unabashed it is in keeping itself to the forefront of our "entertainment".

This is one of the reasons why rape culture is so deeply ingrained and so difficult to talk about. Because the people who most eloquently support it are just so darned likeable. How can someone so charismatic steer us wrong or do us harm when his only goal is to "entertain" us? Maybe we should start asking, "If he's so invested in making us laugh, why are we the ones berated when we don't find him funny?"

Thursday, 14 February 2013

February 14th events

There is plenty going on in Toronto and around Canada today that doesn't revolve around blind consumerism and disappointed lovers.

2013 Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Women

The poster is for the event in Montreal:
Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (Missing Justice) invites you and yours to attend, spread the word about, and participate in this year’s Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Women on Thursday February 14th, 6pm at St. Laurent metro.
The first women’s memorial march was held in 1991 in response to the murder of a Coast Salish woman on Powell Street in Vancouver. Her name is not spoken today out of respect for the wishes of her family. Out of this sense of hopelessness and anger came an annual march on Valentine’s Day to express compassion, community, and caring for all women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Unceded Coast Salish Territories.
Twenty-two years later, the women’s memorial march continues to honour the lives of missing and murdered women.
This year, Montreal holds it’s 4th Annual Memorial March.
****There will be a bus this year from Kahnawake, and back, organized by Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services. The bus will leave the KSCS Parking lot at 4:30 pm and return at approx 9 pm. Start (drop off) at St Laurent metro and pick up (to return home) at Parc des Ameriques- St Laurent and Rachel street.***
If you can’t be there in person, tune into CKUT 90.3FM or www.ckut.ca. CKUT will broadcast live from the event from 6-7pm. You can find the podcast here after.
There will also be a march in Toronto:
Toronto's 7th Annual Rally for Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women
Tuesday February 14th 2012
12:30pm to 1:30pm
Rally Starts: Police Headquarters 40 College Street at Bay, Toronto
Feast at the 519 Church Street Community Centre; 519 Church Street
following the Rally.
Please signs and banners about the missing and murdered women only.
Tokens will be available at the rally.
There's also the new event, One Billion Rising, spear-headed by Eve Ensler, creator of The Vagina Monologues:
ONE IN THREE WOMEN ON THE PLANET WILL BE RAPED OR BEATEN IN HER LIFETIME.*ONE BILLION WOMEN VIOLATED IS AN ATROCITYONE BILLION WOMEN DANCING IS A REVOLUTIONOn V-Day’s 15th Anniversary, 14 February 2013, we are inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence. ONE BILLION RISING will move the earth, activating women and men across every country. V-Day wants the world to see our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders.
What does ONE BILLION look like? On 14 February 2013, it will look like a REVOLUTION.
An invitation to dance
A call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends
An act of solidarity, demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers
A refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given
A new time and a new way of being
And, this is also the auspicious one-year anniversary of the launch of the Feminist Armchair Regime.

Have a good day, everyone, however you decide to spend it.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Consent is not carte-blanche

***Content warning for discussions of sexual violence and physical violence***

When talking with people about consent, it becomes obvious that a lot of people still subscribe to the notion that there are a lot of grey areas and that because of such subtleties, a person can believe they've been raped when they haven't and someone can rape someone without realizing.

If you are unclear about consent and believe in these grey areas, allow me to help clarify things.

Consent is not a one-time, binding contract that gives a person unlimited access to their partner's body from the time of consent until the sun burns out of the sky. It's a constant, ongoing process in which all partners are responsible for ensuring their partners are ok with what's going on.

Here are some examples of other scenarios where we would not make the same assumptions about consent as we, culturally, do with sex.

If you go to a shop and ask to get your ears pierced, that doesn't mean you're consenting to being stabbed in the chest with an ice pick.

If you enjoy participating in extreme sports, like sky diving and bungee jumping, that doesn't mean you've consented to having your friend push you off a 10-story balcony at a party.

If you start drinking a glass of wine and decide you don't want to finish it, that doesn't mean someone can force you to drink it or waterboard you with it.

If you purchase a day-pass for Wonderland, that doesn't mean you can attend whenever you like from there on in. Even if you purchase a season's pass, you can't go in after-hours, you can't hop over the counter at a food truck and dunk your head in the candy flosser, and once you're in it doesn't mean the park staff can strap you into a rollercoaster and leave you on it for an hour.

It's really as simple as that. You agree to what you agree to until you don't agree to it any more, and your partner has the same right to do so.

Specifically, in regards to sexual contact, that can mean that you agree to kissing, but nothing else. That can mean you agree to sex, but no kissing. That can mean you agree to shaking hands on the first date, to kissing on the second date, and to marrying and earnestly attempting to procreate on the third date.

Let's say that your partner comes off as hot and cold and continually initiates and then stops sexual contact. If you are into it, and want to go as far as they're comfortable, awesome. If you're not into what they're initiating, you have the right to stop them. If there's no communication and you feel like they're starting and stopping just to be a jerk or play games, you have absolutely no obligation to put up with it and can pack up your toys and go home (so to speak).

If there's no communication going on and you feel like this is one of those "grey areas", then it's safer for all parties involved if it stops all together. If you or your partner feel like the one person's desire to continue is more important than ensuring the there's unambiguous consent, then this isn't actually a grey area, it's an excuse and that's why we're here now. Because I'm calling out these excuses for what they really are and I'm not gonna let rapists slide under the radar with this bullhockey.

Thanks for sticking in there with me. Here's some MST3K & lolcats.