Book Review Friday: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

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The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
N. K. Jemisin
412 pages; Fantasy

Quick Summary:
Yeine is summoned to the capital, Sky, by her grandfather, shortly after her mother’s death. There, she is named as an heir to the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, along with two of her cousins. While preparing to fight for the throne, Yeine must figure out who she is and who she can trust.

Pros: 19 year old, PoC protagonist!
It’s so hard to find fantasy books with people of color as their protagonists, so I was psyched to find out that Yeine isn’t white. I also love love love that Yeine is 19. I hardly read any books with protagonists who aren’t either high school age or in their mid thirties (so if you have any recs for 20-something year old protagonists, let me know!).

Pros: Feminism!
The feminism in this book is not as obvious, perhaps, or outright as it is in other books I’ve reviewed, but I do think this qualifies. Yeine is a strong character who takes control of her situation. I found the female characters to be fully fleshed out and dynamic.

Pros: Mystery
A lot of this book is dedicated to Yeine trying to figure out who killed her mother. I usually don’t read mysteries, so I was surprised to find I really enjoyed this element of the story.

Pros: Page Turner
It’s worth mentioned that I…could. Not. Stop. Reading. This. It also went so quickly!

Pros: Villains
I absolutely adored Scimina’s character, and thought she was so well written.

Pro or Con: Sex/Romance Elements
Just wanted to mention that there are sex scenes in this book! They don’t overpower the narrative, but if they aren’t your thing, keep this in mind (and maybe read this book before recommending it to any young adults in your life).

Cons: Very Confusing
While I enjoyed the mystery element of this book, I was also very confused about what was happening sometimes. I had to go back a few times just to get everyone straight, and some parts, especially when they talked about the contest, were unclear to me because not enough of Yeine’s thinking was revealed. The confusion is also exacerbated by the breaks in the narrative where Yeine is talking to someone; I found these parts too disjointed and unnecessary. 

Cons: Ending kind of dragged
Honestly, this mostly is due to my confusion about what exactly was happening. As I mentioned, the contest and what would happen during it were unclear, so the ending was a long stretch of me trying to figure this out. Even after finishing, I was pretty sure I understood…but not completely sure I caught everything I was supposed to. It was frustrating for me, but may not be for people who are more used to reading fantasy.

Verdict:
Even though I’m not sure I fully understood the ending, I enjoyed the process of reading this book, and was so engaged with it for 90% of the time. I’d definitely recommend it to fantasy and sci fi lovers, or mystery lovers, but maybe not to people who want just fantasy with no romance involved. Also be prepared if, like me, you have a hard time following mysteries, to be really attentive. 

 

Has anyone read this book? Did you think it was a feminist novel? Did you like or dislike the romance element? 

We Need to Talk about the IUD

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I went on the pill when I was 17. I got my period for the second time in one month, went downstairs, and said, “Mom, I’m going on the pill.” My mother, being the wonderful parent that she is, just said, “Okay.” And that was that. I went to a doctor and got my prescription. I was on the pill for 4 wonderful years: my skin cleared up, my weight stayed the same, and I didn’t get pregnant.

Fast forward to 2015. My best friend is talking about her IUD and how much she loves it. Now, at this point, I only vaguely know what an IUD is. IntraUterine-Device. Sure. My friend explains it a little more and walks me through her process. It is, she says, as effective as sterilization. Her periods are shorter, and she had no pain after insertion. It lasts three years. Based on her rave reviews, I decide to get one.

I got the Skyla IUD in late October. The insertion was, in a word, hellish. I remained on the floor of the doctor’s office for 25 minutes, holding my stomach. I finally called an Uber, and the uterus gods gave me a lady driver. I came home, put a heating pad on my stomach, ordered Thai food, and curled up into a ball of pain.

The IUD never settled in me. It was painful beyond what is normal. I was student teaching, and there were days I was in so much pain that I would have to take 3 advil, and even then remain very still in front of the class; otherwise a sharp pain would start in my stomach and travel anywhere it saw fit to go. I taught half the day; the days I subbed for the entire schedule were terrible. I had to walk around with knives in my uterus, and pretend to my juniors that everything was normal as we talked about their college essays.

Everything was not normal. I told my doctors this in December, and they sent me to get an ultrasound. Based on the results, there was apparently nothing was wrong with the IUD placement. A doctor on call told me to take magnesium and drink a lot of milk. That was it.

The pain continued. I decided I wanted to take it out many, many times. But I was always, time and again, convinced to keep it. Two months in I was told:

“You see, once it settles, you’re done for three years. You need to give it time.”
“Give it three months. It should settle by then.”
“Once you get through this month, you’ll be fine.”
“You should really keep it. It’s as good as sterilization, and you don’t want to go back on the pill, which isn’t as effective.”

One morning four months in, I woke up with so much pain I thought I would pass out. Still, over the phone, in the middle of the night, the doctors told me, “It’s only been 4 months. Give it 6. Some pain is still normal. Just get through the pain, and you’ll be happy with it afterwards.”

I cried. A lot. I worried and fretted and one day, in early March, I met with a nurse.

Five months later, and she was the first person who said we would work to find a birth control that I liked. Let me say that again: she was the first person in the medical field who accepted that I no longer wanted this.

We talked things through, and I still wasn’t sure. As I left the appointment, deciding to wait again, she said, “You know, if you decide two weeks from now you don’t want it, that’s fine. You can get back on the pill whenever you want.”

I didn’t wait two weeks. 3 days later I went back; my doctor took it out, there was a sharp, quick pain, and it was done.

I was so relieved. It took about five seconds for my body to realize what had happened, and the signal I got was, “Thank god!” I felt better immediately. Why didn’t I do this sooner?

Well, a lot of reasons. But mostly because trained professionals were working actively to convince me I should keep the IUD, and since they were professionals, I believed them.

The Skyla IUD is the same type of device as the Dalkon Shield, a device that caused pelvic inflammatory disease, internal scarring, and infertility in the 1970’s. It was also used as a way to prevent native women from reproducing,often being inserted without consent or full disclosure of its effects.

I wonder, sometimes, if my body was harmed in a way that my doctors failed to realize, simply because the Skyla IUD is “more advanced” than the Dalkon was. I wonder if my body suffered harm unnecessarily, simply the IUD had been said to be safer (but may not be). And in the end, I think the stress of having it, and not wanting it, and being told over and over again to keep it, was more stressful than the pain. My body was no longer under my control. My reproductive choices were scrutinized by doctors and peers alike. My stomach ached, and I was being told to power through.

I don’t believe any of this was my fault. I also don’t believe that the IUD is the villain here. IUD’s are great. For some people. The problem is the doctors that won’t listen, that can’t listen, that don’t know how. It’s the society that teaches women to believe other people more than themselves.

Every woman needs to be believed about what is happening to her body. What happened to me is just the tip of the iceberg, which causes women not to recognize female-specific heart attack symptoms and be ignored or misdiagnosed when they have Endometriosis pain. We need better training across the board, and more careful listeners.

Genderqueerness and Demographics

or, How Little We Know

A little while ago I was looking at the comments of a Youtube video when I saw a (presumably older) man comment: “The amount of people who are gender fluid and under the age of 18 kinda says something.” When asked to elaborate on what he meant, he replied “well at that age many people are confused and not sure who they are. A lack of identity and purpose. It seems like an identity crisis.”

Identity Crisis? Doubtful. Crisis? For the patriarchy? I hope so.

I’ve noticed, too, that I see more young people (anywhere from 14-29) identify as genderfluid, genderqueer, agender, etc. Moreover, I see more people who are assigned female at birth (afab) identify as genderqueer than I do people assigned male at birth (amab). 

Now, I know my observations are not scientific, researched facts. So I tried to see if my observations were indicative of the big picture. Here’s what a found: an astounding lack of research and statistics about genderqueer, genderfluid, and agender people.

Now, that’s not to say that there’s not a lot of information and resources out there. There are, and it’s pretty easily accessible through blogging sites, articles, news items, etc. But the information regarding how many people identify as neither male nor female…just doesn’t exist. The closest I got was on Quora.com, and even the author admits that her estimate could be “off by +/- the population of Topeka Kansas. We just don’t know.”

I am, not, however, the only person who has noticed that more and more genderqueer people are youths. In 2011, Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve made a few predictions on the next generation, mainly that it would not be “male or female, just human.” The examples they use to make these predictions, however, are misguided, at best, and sexist at worst. The first way they predict this is by a “merging of artistry and technology,” meaning that there were no longer be “male” products (such as iPhones) and “female” products. Clearly our sex is determined by what gendered products we buy!

Secondly, they state that “The electric vehicle is an En-Gen car because it combines the more female values of environmentalism and concern for the world, with male love of technology and innovation.  For that reason, its 2011 sales will surprise even the most optimistic forecasters.”

This is so heavily and disgustingly based off stereotypes I can’t begin to fathom why this company thought this point was a good one.

Anyways, enough of that. So I found that not a lot of numbers exist on genderqueer people, and I’ve noticed that a lot of genderqueer people are afab and part of the millennial generation. Here’s what I think this actually means:

  1. People are fed up with gender binaries and the sexism that comes with them.

I once wondered if people afab identified as genderqueer to escape the blatant sexism they face.* While this notion was misguided, I do think that women are more likely to notice sexism, and also notice that they do not have to fit into the binary categories of man/woman. On the flip side, toxic masculinity might deter amab people from exploring their gender or identifying as genderqueer.

  1. The next generation is woke, and I’m excited.

Going back to the youtube comments, I don’t see this as an identity crisis for the younger generation: I see it as them having the freedom to explore things that the previous generation could not. 

Seeing more youth freely expressing their identities gives me hope. It means that if we blur the lines and expose the patriarchy, people will be freer to determine what femininity and masculinity looks like, and what they want it to look like. It also means that people will be more free to decide if and when they want to break free of those categories.

 

*This is based on an observation/misguided representation of genderqueer people as “androgynous” and as possessing both feminine and masculine traits. It’s also based on the fact that many genderqueer people who are afab (not ALL) take on masculine traits (short hair, “masculine” clothes, etc) to appear more genderfluid. Again, this is problematic because it is gendering things that have no gender (clothes, hair), but this is how it often appears to the hegemonic, cissexist majority.

Book Review Friday: Adios, Cowboy

Print
Adios Cowboy 
Olja Savicevic
240 pages; Fiction

Quick Summary: Dada is called back home to help her sister care for her aging mother. While there, she begins to unravel the mystery of her brother’s death. Set against a backdrop of post-war Croatia, Dada finds herself in alleys, back gardens, and graveyards as she tries to put the pieces together.

Pros: Beautifully written
So I picked up this book originally because I had read Girl at War earlier this year, and I wanted to read more Croatian books. I kept reading it though, because of how poetic the language was.

Pros: Diverse and well drawn characters
I won’t say too much about this to avoid spoiling anything, but I loved how all the characters were written. The specific quirks of each were really well done, and pieced together, formed a wonderful portrait of a family at odds with the world around them.

Pros: Quick read!
It’s worth noting that at 240 pages, and with language that pulls you along swiftly, this makes for a very quick and generally easy read.

Cons: A little repetitive
I realize this is part of the writing style, but towards the end I wasn’t quite sure why some ideas were being repeated, and it dragged a tiny bit.

Verdict:
Definitely recommended! Good for: those who love beautifully written books, people who want a unique setting and/or want to learn more about Croatia, and those who are looking for a compelling but quick read.

History Wednesdays: Week 3

Israel_mapSo before this week’s post, another disclaimer: I am going to be talking about Israel’s origins. I myself grew up in a Jewish household, and my temple was, as far as I remember, pro-zionist. I understand the need for Israel as a country. There was a wonderful debate in the NY times awhile back about whether or not criticizing Israel was a form of anti semitism. For the purposes of this blog post, I am going to say that it’s not.

Racism in Israel’s Beginnings
There are two main types of Jews I’ll be discussing: Ashkenazi Jews, who are Jews from European descent, and Mizrahi Jews, Jews from Arab descent.

Israel was founded in 1948 by mainly Ashkenazi Jews, who thought themselves unfit for menial labor. Needing people to do the hard labor they would not, the Ashkenazi advocated to bring Mizrahi jews to Israel. They agitated anti-semitism in Muslim countries so the jews there would be encouraged to leave. Once in Israel, the Mizrahis were put in temporary housing, and had to wait for years to be put in permanent housing. Even once in permanent housing, these homes were often far from central areas and didn’t offer the resources, such as transportation, that Mizrahis needed; Ashkenazis were homed in the central, well to do areas.

 

 

During the 1950’s, there was severe anti-Mizrahi rhetoric within the Ashkenazi jew population, and in the leaders of Israel. An Israeli journalist called them “primitive people” with “utter ignorance” and lacking “the ability to understand anything spiritual.” The prime minister himself wrote that “They lack even the most basic and rudimentary concept of civilization…they are unable to detect even the most minimal hygienic needs.” The Mizrahis, who were often well-off and had good education in their home countries, came to Israel only to be put down by those in power.

 

 

 

By marking Mizrahis as primitive and unable to care for themselves and their children, Israel justified the kidnapping of Mizrahi children from their parents. Oftentimes, Mizrahi parents would bring their children to the doctor with minor illnesses. The hospital would pronounce them dead to the parents, and later sell the children abroad or give them to Ashkenazi parents to be adopted. Eisner writes, “In some cases, graves were shown to the parents–these were later revealed to be empty. In thirty known cases, children were returned to their parents after being declared “dead” following protest by the parents. In the other seventeen thousand known cases, the children were lost forever” (emphasis mine). This period of history was later named The Yemenite Children Affair, and lasted from 1948 until 1956, although the children kidnapped were from many countries besides Yemen. (You can read some of their stories here). 

On the worse end of the scale, the Israeli government performed medical experiments on one hundred thousand Mizrahi children, many of whom died from exposure to radiation. On the not-so-terrible-but-still-horrible end of the scale, the Mizrahi students were tracked into lower and vocational education, meaning that many families could not progress in society, having no academic training. As I mentioned earlier, the Ashkenazis thought themselves too good for menial labor, so the Mizrahis ended up with these jobs: both the adults who had had a good education prior to immigrating, and the children who were tracked into these jobs from the start.

It’s been 60 years since the blatant racism of Israel’s elite forced children away from their homes. However, without explicitly dealing with this past, the racism still lingers.

Top Five Tuesday–Podcasts!

So I’m doing a lot of traveling this summer, between visiting my boyfriend in Connecticut, and my family in New Hampshire, and my sister in Maine. Which means A LOT of driving! This is actually okay though, because I get to listen to podcasts. Here are my top five podcasts to listen to, along with my favorite specific episodes to get you started.

  1. This American Life, The Problem We All Live With
    Okay, so if you’ve been friends with me for any length of time at all, I’ve already mentioned this to you. I talk about this probably at least once a week. The short of it: A reporter decides to research bussing, being a product of bussing herself, and finds that desegregation efforts worked. They worked!! Not perfectly, of course. But they worked, and then…the efforts stopped. The whole history of this movement is so fascinating, and listening to this podcast half made me want to go into politics/administration. Alas, I’ll stick to the classroom for now, but it’s still an amazing episode.
  1. Code Switch, Can We Talk About Whiteness
    So I’m going to mention here that the creators of this show are probably my heros right now. This is a podcast that so needed to happen, and it happened at the exact right time. I listened to them debrief Orlando. I listened to them debrief Anton and Philando. I listened to stories and journalists and researchers and professors. I listened to feel less alone. Which I know sounds strange, coming from a white woman, listening to a podcast by and for people of color. But it did. It allowed me to feel sadness and frustration and also hope. I’m recommending this first episode because I think it’s maybe the most important one: it discusses how we need to have difficult conversations.
  1. Another Round, Episode 1
    Okay, so I just started listening to these two women and they are HILARIOUS. Like, seriously was laughing so hard, alone in my car, while listening to them. It’s a mixture of things: stories, bad jokes, interviews, readings, short stories, etc. The first episode I found particularly hilarious, because Tracey tells the story of this terrible party she went to, and I think a lot of us can relate to that absurdity.
  1. Dear Sugar, Big Love
    Dear Sugar is great for advice of all sorts. This episode about polyamory especially sticks out to me because it’s not often talked about in a positive light. The story of this woman and her husband was really interesting to me, and I like how it turned out. It made me understand polyamory a lot better, and it also made me examine my own beliefs, practices, and ideas about marriage as well.
  1. TED Radio Hour, From Curiosity to Discovery
    I remember very clearly the drive I listened to this on. I was so happy, even though I was driving to probably break up with someone, because this episode just opened up possibilities, reminded me that the world is this huge, big, amazing place that we know so little about.

 

What are your top five podcasts? Tell me in the comments below!

On Discourse, Part 2

Last week, I discussed the importance of having discourse, of using your privilege, and of listening. This week, I was going to post the second half of the story: what happened when, recently, while hanging out with only other men, I called out a white man for using the n-word. Long story short, it didn’t go well. But, in the end, the guy got why he couldn’t use that word. Not by my doing, but because one of my friends explained it to him, after I went for a drive.

Why did I randomly go for a drive?

Well, for the same reason that I want to drive to Canada right now. I’m incredibly angry and frustrated and, quite honestly, scared. Last night in Portland, Maine, police officers pushed through white protestors to arrest women of color. (Just listening to the video frightened me, if I’m being honest). A few days prior, Donald Trump chose Mike Pence as his running mate, who’s been vehemently anti-choice and anti-LGBT rights. After the shootings in Orlando, I am occasionally visited by these thoughts: what if someone shoots up a school I end up working in? What if someone terrible comes to queeraoke? What if I am shot because of who I am?

None of those questions are new to any people of color, but I know a lot of white people read my blog, so please be aware. I have those questions, and I am worried but not in danger; I can dismiss these thoughts because I recognize them for what they are: worst case scenarios, anxieties, my imagination getting out of hand. People of color don’t have that privilege, don’t have the ability to dismiss those questions. They are in so much danger and most of the time I just feel helpless.

A while ago, I saw this post on tumblr:

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There’s a debate that follows, and ultimately blames LGBT+ kids for their own oppression, saying they are “unwilling to engage in a debate”…about their own rights.

I guess where I end up is, can we stop pretending that this a debate? Can we stop pretending that people who disagree with the BLM are anything but what they are, (racist)? Can we stop pretending that there are two sides to this?

The answer, I’m aware, is no. At least I don’t think so, because people who disagree with racism, with BLM, will always fight for their side. People like Mike Pence who actively work against people like me will continue to hold power, continue to have people behind him. Donald Trump will always have supporters.

And I’m scared. I don’t know what else to say except for that. I am writing, and posting, and reading, and trying to be an ally. I know it’s not enough. I know I need to show up for more events in Boston, go to protests, teach better, learn better, call my senators. But right now I want to curl into a ball and not look out the window.

I think Roxane Gay put it best: “I don’t know where we go from here because those of us who recognize the injustice are not the problem. Law enforcement, militarized and indifferent to black lives, is the problem. Law enforcement that sees black people as criminals rather than human beings with full and deserving lives is the problem. A justice system that rarely prosecutes or convicts police officers who kill innocent people in the line of duty is the problem.” And I think, as Shannon Houston writes, “Why Shouldn’t Black American Revolt?” and I think that neither of us really has a good answer to that.

Roxane Gay goes on to write in her article that “this [violence] happens so often that resignation or apathy are reasonable responses is the problem.” And I guess that’s what I’m feeling right now: not exactly an apathy, but the sense that I am powerless. That I can only do so much by writing, teaching, being a person.

But we can’t have that attitude. I know we can’t. We all need to be better. So, I’m going to end this with the small little moment, with a sense of my own failure, but also with the sense that things can change, even if incrementally, even if by the slowest, smallest degrees.

It was Saturday night and I was hanging out with my long time friend Tim* and his friends, David and Mitchell. I was tired and a little hungry. David had been making sex jokes, and then at one point he said the N word (-a ending). I was immediately angry, as I had not been entirely comfortable with this friend to begin with. So here’s how the conversation went:

Me (close to yelling): You know you can’t say that, right?
David: Well I was just making fun of Mitchell, he used to say it–
Me: So you’re telling me that Mitchell has learned better, but you still want to use it?
Tim and Mitchell: Okay, so moving on. Did you see that meme…

I stayed for a few minutes, then decided to go for a drive. In my mind, I had already come off as the “hysterical female” to Tim’s friends. I felt that anything I said would continue that stereotype so I removed myself from the situation. After I left, Tim told David that I was right, and him and Mitchell explained why the n word shouldn’t be used by white people, with the -a or -er ending, in any context. They used an example, saying, “you wouldn’t use it in front of our [black friend], right? How would he feel if he heard you say it, even casually?” At the end of their conversation, David understood and apologized for the awkward situation.

I talked to my friend Tim afterwards, about why he didn’t stand up for me when I was in the room. “Well,” he told me, “You put David in a situation where he couldn’t speak, where he was going to be wrong no matter what.” Yes, I did do that. And yes, even though I was on the right side, I needed to give this person room to speak. Room to have a dialogue. Room to be wrong, but have that be okay. 

“I’m sorry I wasn’t quicker to support you,” he told me. And I’m sorry I am quick to anger. I’m sorry that I can’t stand when men don’t see me and I end up leaving the situation.

There’s a right side and a wrong side. Let’s not pretend there isn’t. But even so, we have to have hope that those on the wrong side will make their way over. David learned something small that day because I decided to get angry. If we are going to believe in the movement, we also need to believe that people can learn, and change.

*Names changed for privacy

Book Review Friday: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution

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Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution
Shiri Eisner
352 pages; Non-fiction/Queer Theory

Quick Summary:
Shiri Eisner, a bisexual genderqueer person, writes about how bisexuality can be subversive, and how it can combine with other movements to destroy monosexism and the patriarchy. She calls not for assimilation into the straight, hetero, white world, but a re-thinking of the very ideas that make us want to assimilate in the first place. Throughout the course of this book, she includes many other writings, theories, and references to history, to provide a wide-scope picture of the issues at hand.

Pros: Fantastic writing, and yet still easy to read
I first want to point out that I feel a lot of people don’t read non-fiction/theory books because they’re afraid it will be dense or too complicated. Eisner’s book is neither; it’s ridiculously well written and easy to read, yet challenging enough to make you think. I was surprised at how fast I got through this book.

Pros: Relatable
In the first couple chapters, Eisner discusses biphobia and stereotypes, and the process of “coming out to oneself” that can be incredibly difficult. I related to a lot of this, and it was nice to have language to put to my experiences.

Pros: Theory!
There’s a lot of theory and research behind this book, but it’s incredibly well-integrated and never overwhelming.

Pros: Intersectionality
Not a lot to explain here: The book really delves into intersectional identities and how they play out.

Cons: Literally None
I have absolutely nothing to complain about!

Verdict:
110% recommend. I loved this book, and it’s something I’ll be thinking about and writing about long after I finished it. Good for: People who want to learn some theory but don’t know where to start, people who want to learn about bisexual politics.

Has anyone else read this book? What pieces stuck out to you? Did you agree/disagree with any of Eisner’s connections or theories?

Ways to Fight Biphobia and Bierasure

“Many of the items on this list are things I’ve been guilty of. Fighting biphobia means fighting our own internalized prejudices, and then making sure to use our knowledge to call out other people’s biphobia. You never know who’s in the closet; by calling out these remarks, you could easily be creating a safe space for queer friends. Even if no one around you is queer, these call-outs reverberate. Use your voice.”