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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss England

Posts tagged activism

IMG_5128The trans pride flag at George & Orange.

Yesterday was Transgender Day of Remembrance. Cobourg Queer Collective describes this day as a day where “we remember and honour our transgender siblings who have lost their lives due to transphobia: from hate crimes, from illness, from murder, from suicide, from substance abuse. And we acknowledge that transgender people of colour and two-spirited Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by this due to racism and xenophobia.”.

I started my day by checking in with (and being checked in with myself) by a few transgender and gender variant queers in my life. This is something that happened throughout the day, and it was the most powerful thing I experienced throughout the day (which is saying something, because there were tons of powerful moments). These check ins weren’t heavy or energy draining, quite the contrary, actually. They were gentle and energizing:
“Hey, how are you doing today?”
“I’m feeling good, stoked for some events today”
“Awesome, I’ll see you there!”

These simple questions are transformative. They go to highlight one of the many messages tied to this day- we are not alone. The work we have done and are doing, both personally and in the context of our communities, is noticed by the people around us and this day is a time to be conscious with the space we create and the energy we put out into the world. We are all capable of caring and being cared for.

At 4, I went to George & Orange, a wine bar and restaurant in Cobourg and held a chair while my friend, Ariel, stood on it to put up the trans pride flag in front of the restaurant. Her friend, Jenna, is the owner of the restaurant and has been a long-time supporter of transgender rights, even flying the trans pride flag for the entire month surrounding Pride this year.

IMG_8268Jenna and staff at George & Orange.

“Trans Day of Remembrance is about celebrating the lives of people who have lost their lives to violence against trans people in the past year and years past, as well as raising awareness about discrimination against trans people in general,” Ariel shared, “”Jenna is a good friend of mine, I also used to be an employee here. She’s always been an outspoken supporter of the transgender and LGBT community in general- and also of me as an individual.”

It was powerful to see that flag flying out front of this local, small-town, woman-owned business. It was also powerful to feel the loving energy that filled the place as the staff, Ariel, and myself chatted about what this day meant for us. The restaurant also planned to support the efforts of Cobourg Queer Collective, who would make their way to the restaurant after the rally they were holding later that evening.

At 6:30, Cobourg Queer Collective, lead by Ashley Bowman and Kim McArthur-Jackson, met outside of MPP David Piccini’s office on Division Street in Cobourg. Although this wasn’t the original location intended for the event, Cobourg Queer Collective stated, “This year, we will also recognize that the forward momentum that we had hoped was happening, seems to be reversing in many areas. In our own province, our governing party (the Ontario PC Party) felt it appropriate to acknowledge our trans siblings plight by putting forth a motion to further marginalize them, by not acknowledging their gender identities and removing mention of them from school curriculums. While the leader of the party had stated that this will not move forward, it should NEVER have come up to begin with.”

46508459_1945928008775805_4744591144292188160_nPhoto by Jay Boyd-Stofleth of rally participants with MPP, David Piccini.


There were around 50 people in attendance, including PC MPP David Piccini himself, who attempted to answer the many questions people had for him while also listening to the speakers.

“It’s pretty amazing to see quite a few people here. This cause is very close to our hearts as allies and we’re so happy to be here. I’m hopeful that our MPP will recognize that Northumberland County will be unwilling to accept the level of prejudice that the PC government is considering putting in place,” says Heather J.

While some people’s motivation for attending the event was largely political and about using their privilege to make systemic change, for other people, especially trans and queer people, this event was about just being there with a shared intention.

“I’m here to show solidarity for trans people who have lost their lives,” says Natalie K., “I just felt it was important to show up, maybe take some pictures, and be a part of such an important event in our community.”

46499318_2492231567484224_6765956174316568576_nPhoto by Jay Boyd-Stofleth of event coordinators, Ashley and Kim.

Event co-organizer, Ashley, says she’s “hoping to achieve more awareness of trans issues at both a local level and a provincial level” at the third annual Transgender Day of Remembrance event for Northumberland County.

Overall, the day was powerful, though it also left me with a few questions. Why only one local business acknowledging this day? Why only a single event in Cobourg? Why nothing at all in Port Hope or the rest of the county? These events take an incredible amount of work to coordinate and it’s easier to hope that someone else will take on that labour. With such high rates of violence against transgender people, next year, lets do even better.

46508674_339706093275213_6089201377236484096_nPhoto by Jay Boyd-Stofleth of the rally.

Big thanks to Jenna, Ariel, and George & Orange and Cobourg Queer Collective for the work they put into commemorating this day!

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First, some background…

I am a person who lives with several chronic illnesses and who manages these illnesses through diet, lifestyle, and using cannabis.You can read, in detail, about me discovering the benefits of cannabis here.  I’m a person who initially became a medical cannabis patient under the the MMAR  and then the MMPR. I’m also a person who works full time in the cannabis industry.

I am a person who has, at one point, received a letter from Health Canada telling me I’d no longer have the option to grow for myself.

I never received a letter when some of this legislation was found unconstitutional .Then came the ACMPR. That’s where medical patients sit now. Confused? Here’s a timeline.

The current legislation (assuming you’re not going to actually go through to read all of those links) relies heavily on cannabis production through Licensed Producers (LPs) to supply patients with their medicine. The mass scale of these grows inevitably results in lower quality medicine, due to the complexity of the nature of the plant. There are several reasons for this, one of them being that LPs, by design, are simply not meant to operate in integrity to the plant (or to the benefit of the patient). The object of an LP is to make money in this booming industry, effectively pushing aside “grey” industry experts and patients. In fact, unless you have some investors with major money and influence, and can’t even start an LP. You can really see how this plays out practically when you consider the number of LP owners or investors who are either former cops or politicians.

It’s not uncommon for patients who rely on LPs to have their medicine recalled or unavailable. With the introduction of the recreational legislation, there will be even more pressure on these publicly owned monopolies that already struggle to keep up in a rapidly growing medical market, let alone a recreational one.


Now, some context:

Here are the party’s platforms regarding cannabis legislation:

Liberals:

  • Plan to regulate the sale of cannabis through the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation (basically the LCBO)
  • The start up cost is projected to be $48 million and it’s projected to generate a net income of $100 million during the 2020-21 fiscal year

Progressive Conservatives:

  • Although the PCs haven’t released a formal platform, Doug Ford has stated the following:
    • “We’re going down a path that no one really knows.I have been open to a fair market and letting the markets dictate. I don’t like the government controlling anything no matter what it is…. I’m open to a free market and I’m going to consult with our caucus…. I don’t believe in the government sticking their hands in our lives all the time. I believe in letting the market dictate.”
    • “we got to be super, super, super careful” in regulating the cannabis market.

NDP:

  • Andrea Horwath has said:
    • “We don’t want valuable farmland paved over,” said Horwath. “Neither do we want to see it go to massive marijuana crops. We need to see regulation and quality control. People need to know what it is they are selling; people need to know what it is they are buying.”
    • “I don’t know if 40 dispensaries will achieve their goals of taking it off the black market”

Green Party:

  • Regulating and licensing small businesses and dispensaries to sell cannabis in a safe and controlled way
  • Ensuring tax revenues from cannabis sales are used to fund education, mental health and addiction programs
  • Conducting a pilot project to test the private retailing of cannabis by small businesses alongside the LCBO’s new stores during the first two years of legalization

And my critique…

Only 2/4 parties have a clearly defined plan around cannabis legislation, which leads me to believe that the Liberals and Greens are the only parties that understand

a) the vast potential of the cannabis industry

b) the importance of managing medical and recreational access to cannabis for medicinal reasons and also to reduce the black market, and thus, various forms of violence that include criminalizing individuals.

The problem with the Liberals’ approach is that there is opportunity and increased access in the privatized cannabis industry- especially when regulated in addition to publicly owned grows and dispensaries. Relying solely on publicly owned production facilities will put more pressure on Canada’s already flawed LPs. This is bad news for patients who rely on LPs. It also doesn’t leave appropriate space for Indigenous communities, who have exceptionally valuable knowledge about what works in the cannabis industry in a way that centers patients and the plant itself to participate in an industry they’ve had a significant role in building and a cultural right to engage in. 

Similarly, activists (many of whom are patients!) are being persecuted and excluded from the industry they have built through Liberal “legalization”. It’s no secret that people of colour and people with disabilities are disproportionately criminalized for their participation in a grey or black cannabis industry they’re forced to participate in because of the structuring of the Liberal conception of cannabis legislation. In fact, “black people with no history of criminal convictions have been three times more likely to be arrested by Toronto police for possession of small amounts of marijuana than white people with similar backgrounds, according to a Toronto Star analysis.”.

It should be noted, that none of the parties’ platforms include anything regarding pardoning peoples’ prior criminal convictions related to cannabis upon legalization.

The Green’s approach makes the most sense. That being said, I’d like to take the opportunity to briefly elaborate on and provide feedback on the Green’s platform related to cannabis legislation:

“The Green Party believes that the distribution of Cannabis in Ontario is an opportunity to create jobs and boost local business. Allowing for a mix of public and private vendors will allow us to serve many more locations and eradicate black market sales.”

I agree with this. I think it comes down to mixing private and public vendors, so as to increase points of access as much as possible. These multiple points of access are very important-

a) Private businesses with appropriate regulations. Why not create a group of diverse industry experts to brainstorm around what regulations are reasonable to go from there?These regulations ought to specifically provide reasonable space for Indigenous participation in the industry. It also ought to include legislation around smaller-scale craft grows (with multiple tiers containing appropriate regulations according to the size of the grow).

b) Publicly owned businesses (ie. LPs) with a MAJORLY revamped set of regulations that would allow for the plant to be managed in a way that maintains its integrity. This means no pesticides and the use of sustainable practices. 

 

c) The ability for people to grow for themselves with an open genetics market/regulations around restricting genetics. Look no further than California to see what happens when you allow monopolization and restriction of cannabis genetics. Cannabis is a genetically complex and diverse plant that varies greatly in cannabinoid content and creates vastly different effects depends n the strain. What helps one person with some symptoms may be totally different than what helps another, and people ought to be able to access the medicine that works for them.

“Revenue capture in sales must be dedicated to health and education programs that help consumers make informed decisions that protect them, their families and the general public”

Cool. Keep in mind: a key priority should be on preventing stigma against people with disabilities and education ought to be informed by the wisdom of Indigenous people who have used this medicine traditionally for far longer than any of our governments have been involved in regulating it.

“When cannabis is legalized, it should accessible, safe and help local businesses to create employment in both the public and the private sector.”
Again, it comes down to those multiple points of access I discussed earlier.
There’s a lot of world building to do here, but I think that the green Party’s platform is a good place to start. Let’s get to work.

tbtncrowd
Photo by Walton St. Photography.

Mission: Take Back the Night is a community based event to protest the fear that women and trans people have walking the streets at night safely. Take Back the Night is also a grassroots event that honours the experiences of survivors of sexual violence, sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, and survivors of state violence such as police brutality, racism, ableism, sexism, and other forms of institutionalized violence. The goal of the event is to offer Northumberland County residents an opportunity to stand together in solidarity against institutionalized violence and oppression as a community. The event is free to attend.

When: Thursday, October 19 at 7PM
Where: Memorial Park, Port Hope (the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Wendat peoples)

People of all genders are welcome at this event, which centres the women and femmes who disproportionately experience gender-based and sexual violence. Men, we invite you to walk in solidarity with us.

Peer support will be available if you find yourself in need.

There is an after-dark walk component to our event, so you may wish to bring along a flashlight or be sure to have your cellphone charged to use the flashlight app. Choose your footwear accordingly.

Our itinerary:
Meet at 7PM at Port Hope’s Memorial Park to gather, get direction, and hear a few songs and stories.

Then we walk together, on a short, accessible route through Port Hope’s downtown, through a quieter, more dimly lit stretch along Lent’s Lane and back to the park via Dorset and Queen Streets.

We’ll close out with a few more performances back in the park, and then all are welcome to join us for a low-key debrief with snacks and music at Green Wood Coalition’s space on Ontario Street.

thewalk
Photo by Walton St. Photography.

Theme: “We are Not Unfounded

Earlier this year, the The Globe and Mail released an investigative report into police rates of designating sexual assault reports “unfounded,” meaning officers don’t believe a sexual assault took place. Across Canada, the rate is nearly 20%. In Port Hope, between 2010 and 2015, 45% of reports of sexual assault were labelled unfounded.
Because we believe survivors, Port Hope’s 2017 Take Back the Night event will have the theme “We are not unfounded.” Join us on Thursday, Oct 19 at 7PM.


Press Releases:
Press Release in Northumberland News here.
Press Release in Port Hope Now here.

Official Photos From Event: 
Official photo album by Walton St. Photography here.

Articles About the Event:
“A Cobourg woman speaks out on workplace sexual harassment that left her terrified” here.
“Port Hope’s Take Back the Night walk resonates in an era of #MeToo” here.

Contributing Artists:
Read Jenni Burke’s blog post about Take Back the Night here.
Read Cassie Jeans’ poem “For my Sacred Sisters who are Healing from Shame” here.
Listen to/watch Winona Wilde play her song “Chick Singer” here.

Sponsors:

Racine Financial
Long and McQuade
Emulate Global Printing and Finishing
Green Wood Coalition
Walton St. Photography
Port Hope Public Library
Royal Ribbons

22519284_123151048367169_6894603066436190662_n

Display to promote the event at Port Hope Public Library. Photo by Gareth Vieira.

Performers:

eileayisha.jpgEilé and Ayisha Hannigan

jane.jpg
Jane Storie

natalie
Natalie Galloway

 

brooke.jpg
Brooke Sterzenegger

kim
Kim Doolittle

devients
Deviants and The Odd Man Out

hailiah
Hailiah

TBTN Planning Committee:
tbtncommittee

“We’re a diverse collective, and together we share a common interest in making Port Hope a safer and more supportive community for all of us.”

Gareth Vieira
Jenni Burke
Ashley Bouman
Avril Ging Ewing
Lyss England
Jeff Caine
Meghan Sheffield
Ariel Reilly
Marcela Calderon Donefer

my curiosity continues
to betray me
for when I pry into
your gaping mind
I’m met with
aggression.
It’s perspective.
I guess
I know
it’s based in fear
and I commit
to no fear
no gaping mind
it’s a guest with no end
no catharsis
it’s perspctive
it’s tearing down
first
my mind
your mind
collective minds
perspective.

 

Okay, I don’t really know what the revolution will look like. To me, it’s already happening. It looks like: community gardens/ community meetings/ learning to take care of ourselves (whatever that means)/ community dinners/ debriefs/ sober spaces/ systemic institutions that are honestly willing to accept feedback/ spaces that aren’t sober/ art groups/engaging in discussion about what caring for one another looks like. The reason those things feel revolutionary to me is the focus on simultaneously taking care of myself and also actively caring for the people (and other non-human beings) in my life. 
Standpoint theory is a postmodern feminist assertion that day to day experience is what shapes a person’s knowledge of the world, which informs the way they experience the world and shapes their identity. Scholars such as Sandra Harding, Nancy Heartsick, Patricia Hill Collins, and Dorothy Smith have written about it, and a lot of modern-day feminism is approached according to it. You and I went to a theatre to see a play and I sat front and centre and you sat on the back, stage right. After the play, we sit down for coffee and discuss. You saw things that I didn’t see and I noticed things you didn’t notice because we had different perspectives of the performance. Similarly, if you are a straight, masculine person of colour, you are going to experience things differently than I, a queer, femme, white person. Intersectionality is the concept that identity is comprised of multiple standpoints, all of which work together to inform the experiences and identity of a person. Identity informs experience because the world we live in is one comprised of thousands of years worth of historically informed power dynamics which are embedded in defining concepts that construct social and legal systems. Comprehending identity according to standpoint theory and intersectionality can be difficult, because once you think about yourself in relation to these concepts, you’re faced with the realty that you’re privileged in some ways, and likely being systemically oppressed (oppression = systemic power + prejudice) in some ways as well. This is a complex reality to be faced with. But when you start to explore it, beautiful things happen.
Finding your “authentic self” is, simply, a never ending process. It’s a process full of checking in with yourself about what qualities and subject positions make up your identity, and how you perform your identity in relation to the social world. To me, finding for my authentic self means analyzing my subject positions, and it also means being honest about my capacity to actively care for both myself and others. As with many things, it comes down to balance. Being honest with myself about my capacity. This requires me to make myself vulnerable enough to be authentic with myself. It’s been a far from linear journey towards recognizing my capacity in this sense. I am a person who gives until I am depleted. This may sound like a positive quality, and in some ways, it is. But in other ways, it’s rooted in selfishness. I get off on caring or other people. Call it mommy issues, call it a saviour complex, either way, caring for others makes me feel good. But this can be problematic in that not only does it deplete myself, but it leads me to inserting myself into peoples’ lives because I identify them as needing to be cared for. 
This is where the concept of capacity comes in. When I get that urge to care, I ask myself: What is my capacity to engage in the situation? Sometimes, the answer is that I am feeling relatively emotionally well, relatively physically well, and I have the time to allow to providing care for someone. Sometimes, I am struggling with pain or mental health shit that lessens my capacity. Sometimes, I don’t have time. Sometimes, I weigh the amount of emotional labour the other person has contributed outward when they had the capacity and the balance is off for me. 
The next question I ask myself is: why do I feel that someone may benefit from my emotional labour? Sometimes, the answer is that I have skills or knowledge that may be useful. Sometimes, it’s that the person has explicitly asked for support, advice, counselling, or another form of active caring. Sometimes, the answer is that I feel compelled to do something that I think may make someone else’s life easier or happier, whether they agree or not. 
As always, consent is key when caring, and it’s a much more complicated concept than someone asking for emotional labour or not. Ideally, we would live in a society where consent is always given verbally and explicitly. “I need support/advice/help/validation, is it within your capacity too engage in this kind of emotional labour”. I actually have groups of friends where we do this and people will actually reflect and acknowledge whether or not they have the capacity to engage, and in what way. I feel that moving towards this kind of mutual, consensual exchange of emotional labour is absolutely revolutionary. Of course, there are situations where people (ie. me) assume predetermined consent, or where people are physically and emotionally unable to take care of themselves in a way that puts themselves or others in danger. This is where this concept gets really complicated, and I can’t even begin to think of answers. But this is where discussions come into play. The almighty exchange of knowledge based in lived experience.
So, now you’re thinking about authenticity, capacity, and emotional labour, but what next? I think that with this process, there eventually comes a sense of assertiveness. I understand my Self, my capacity, my needs, and I am comfortable asking for them and receiving them. There also comes a time and place where you find a sense of “okayness”. I am okay with my Self and what is happening in this moment because I am in it, and it will pass one way or another in a way that will contribute to my process and my experience of the world. Sometimes this is simple, other times, it may challenge the very essence of your sense of Self, and it feels like you’re back where you began. This concept of “okayness” is often referring to as “radical acceptance”.
How are these concepts revolutionary? By actively caring for both your Self and the people around you, it alters the workings of our social world. First on a personal level, and then an interpersonal one. It shifts focus from productivity, to an ethic of care, which is arguably far more complicated, but also more sustainable. This shift toward an ethic of care then expands:
Self -> interpersonal ->  social systems -> physical environment.
When we learn to prioritize an ethic of care in accordance to the capacity of each of our authentic selves, that is absolutely revolutionary. 

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of social justice theatre and the general concept of using art of a means of expression, healing, and communication. The first time I found myself really drawn to exploring this more, I was sitting in my eleventh grade English class with one of my favourite teachers, who was also my drama teacher. He had us read Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” out loud, and, naturally, I read for the role of Nora. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this play, it’s the story of a woman (Nora) who leaves her husband and children to find herself. In 1879, when the play premiered, it was pretty scandalous.
My first week of university, I walked through the University Centre, carefully scouting out the various tables all the clubs had set up. I came across a booth that said “Vagina Monologues”, and, as a women’s studies major and theatre studies minor, I was sold. I spend that year directing Vagina Monologues’ sister play, “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and a Prayer”, a collection of monologues about stories of violence against women in girls that raised money for the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guelph’s local Women in Crisis Centre. It was a heavy play. Over my university career, I performed in “The Vagina Monologues” and directed “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and a Prayer” for a second time.
When I moved to Port Hope, a small town on the other side of Toronto from where I’d spent my life so far, I produced two collective creation performances, “The Performance and Disability Project” and “The Performance and Disordered Eating Project”, which raised money for a local charity I have since become heavily involved with, Green Wood Coalition. These shows were created over a 5-8 week long workshopping process and a 3-5 week long rehearsal process, each with two performances at the end. The intention of these projects was to give people the opportunity to share their story, on their terms, in a way that utilized the healing potential of performance.
Now, I am acting as the liaison between Green Wood Coalition and the production team (lead by director, Dave Clark and producer, Mary Elizabeth Clark) of a play that Dave wrote called “To Shut the Mouths of Lions”, which is being remounted for one show to raise funds for Green Wood Coalition. From the press release: “To Shut the Mouths of Lions explores themes of social justice, fairness, freedom of expression, and family dynamics. The scene is set on a Boxing Day, when the McBride brothers gather in the home of their mother and father, a patriarch with some very specific ideas about how men (and women, for that matter) ought to be. One son, a left-leaning, gentle soul, is invited to bring his wife, while the other son, an athletic, career-oriented man isn’t welcome to bring his husband, due to their father’s heterocentric family values. The play’s title, a reference to the biblical tale of Daniel in the Lion’s Den, quickly proves its accuracy.
Mouths of Lions Green Wood-page-001.jpg
The play follows the family’s interactions throughout this setting, revealing tensions, differences in values, varying conceptions of masculinity, gender, and sexuality, uncomfortable attempts at communication, and expressions of love. The dialogue is witty, gritty, and honest, keeping audiences engaged through a story that is both dramatic and comedic.”
An issue that was come up for me time and time again in the time I’ve been involved in social justice theatre has been that of trigger warnings, content warnings, and caring for both the cast members and the audience so that it is a positive experience for as many people as possible. Sounds great in theory, right? Generally, when people are involved in creating any type of performance, one of the main goals is to provide entertainment and enjoyment for as many people as possible. No, you’re never going to be able to please everyone (or provide a “safe space” for everyone) because everyone’s needs, interests, and values are different… but the goal is to give people a good time.
When I was involved with “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and A Prayer” and “Vagina Monologues”, it was very clear that a trigger warning or content warning ought to be used, since the plays deal directly with sexual violence, include explicit descriptions of violence, and the shows were produced by an activist organization, not a theatre company. When I was involved with “The Performance and Disability Project” and “The Performance and Healing Project”, again, the content was extremely sensitive and contained specific accounts of violence, struggle, and oppression and was also produced by a charity rooted in social justice principals, not a theatre company. In both cases, actively caring for the cast, crew, and audience were central roles of the production team.
Navigating “To Shut the Mouths of Lions” has looked a little different, since it was originally produced by a theatre company and is not a straight-up social justice play, but rather a play containing social justice themes. This has brought up some really interesting and important discussions for those of us involved in this particular production, and has made me think a lot about trigger warnings, content warnings, and care in the context of not just social justice theatre, but theatre in general. Although the content of the play is not nearly as blatantly upsetting as some of the other more straight up social justice plays I’ve worked on were, I could certainly see watching a gay son triggering some intense shit for someone who grew up queer in a heterosexist household. There are many aspects of the play that may bring things up for people, so I feel as though it’s an important thing to consider, given a dedication to caring.
Initially, I called for a meeting of anyone who wanted to be involved in the planning of the remount and was joined by 3 members of the board from Green Wood Coalition, one of whom is also performing in the play, as well as one member’s sister. At that meeting, in that context, with that group of people, I brought up the idea of whether or not to include a content warning. I stopped using trigger warnings a long time ago, since I don’t think it’s useful to attempt to identify what a group of peoples’ triggers may or may not be, and instead opt for content warnings, a broader kind of heads up about the subjects approached in a performance, tv show, movie, article, essay, book, etcetera. The response from that group at that time was “yes! Absolutely include a content warning on all promotional materials and on the day of the performance!”. Honestly, even given how social justice oriented that group of people was, I was kind of surprised. I wrote up a specific, clear content warning: “This play discusses subjects such as family dynamics, various types of family relationships, heterosexism, sexism, childhood trauma. There will be peer support available”.
I’m the kind of person who loves to hear other peoples’ input on projects. I love collective creation, and I truly value differing standpoints. I emailed my updated planning list to all involved parties including this content warning and the plan to include it on all promotional materials and at the performance. The play’s writer and director emailed me back with some concerns that the content warning may be a bit of a spoiler and might deter people from coming to to show out of fear that it will be upsetting more than entertaining. I could see why that was a concern, and feel as though it’s really important to keep this event within the integrity of the vision of the director of a play. So I reached out to my friends and colleagues, David Sheffield and Jillien Hone, the Community Outreach Coordinator and Community Outreach Coordinator Assistant of Green Wood Coalition to get their thoughts. We had a really valuable conversation where David echoed Dave Clark’s concerns, focusing on the potential of folks not being interested in seeing the production based on their concern that it would be more upsetting than entertaining. (As usual, Jill was on the exact same page as me, coming from a similar background/standpoint regarding content warnings and social justice.)
This gave way to a conversation about content warnings in general. To me, content warnings aren’t about recommending that people opt out as much as the ability to consent and take care of one’s self accordingly. A content warning doesn’t encourage me to opt out of a performance/essay/book/movie etcetera about 98% of the time I see one. However, some days where I’m already struggling to convince myself that not every man I come into contact with is going to rape me I don’t always feel up to engaging with anything to do with sexual violence. It doesn’t mean I won’t ever see that performance/read that book/see that movie/read that essay…it just means that in that moment, I do not consent to engaging with something that will probably make me feel not okay. OR, maybe I really want to engage even though it will probably make me feel not okay, so I give a friend or two a heads up and ask them if they’re willing to provide some support if I do end up feeling triggered by specific content. Or I’ll make sure to engage at a time where my partner is around and I’m not home (to freak out) alone. Or I’ll accept that it’s worth being not okay because it may contribute my healing process…or simply be entertaining. And that’s valid. I think that art can be healing and that there is a place, both in healing and in art, to be triggered. But it ought to be consensual. When you look at content warnings this way, it seems to follow pretty logically to me that, as a person who is invested in caring for myself and other people, content warnings make a lot of sense in working towards a community that is caring, supportive, and autonomous.

I’m part of some communities where this is kind of the general consensus. I’m part of some communities where some people do not choose to ever engage with anything that they may find triggering. That’s where they’re at, and to that, I say: good for them for knowing themselves and their capacity in the moment. In Port Hope, I am situated in a rural context where content warnings are rarely looked at this way, but instead as a warning that this whatever you’re about to experience IS going to feel fucked up. If that’s the interpretation, I don’t blame people for feeling deterred by it. And if two very socially conscious men are concerned about this, you better believe I’m going to take it seriously.

When David Sheffield, Jill, and I had our discussion, we ended up realizing that what it came down to was deciding whether to prioritize keeping as many people feeling safe and okay as possible or getting people to actually come see the show. In the context of this community, that seems to be the way it is. (I’ve gotta say, nothing has challenged my activism more than settling in a small, rural town). We decided on a middle ground of sorts that we felt straddles this line decently. On the posters that are posted around town, there is a brief content warning that isn’t identified as a content warning: “This play may contain some subjects that may be upsetting to some”. On social media, there is a more specific content warning right at the very bottom of the poster.

In the press release, I wrote, “The connection between To Shut the Mouths of Lions and Green Wood Coalition is easy to see, given the shared themes between the play and the organization regarding community, communication, family-based trauma, and caring as the characters discuss issues such as poverty and equality. Given the potentially sensitive nature of some of the topics involved in the play, there will be peer support available during and after the show, as well as a question and answer period with cast and crew following the performance.” Is this too much? Will it deter people? Will it simply be seen and ignored and chalked up to some young radical because it’s a small town and enough people know I’m involved in the planning and this is how I roll? Or will it allow them to make a consensual, informed choice about what they’re about to engage in and give them the knowledge that the community in that space and time will be caring and supportive?

I don’t think there’s any one right answer, and this whole experience has taught me a lot about idealism and activism in small, rural communities-and especially theatre communities within those small, rural communities. The standpoint of most people here is different from my standpoint. Is it more conducive to change to get as many people to see the play (and raise as much money) as possible, or to radically care for the community in a way that will only be useful to some people at this  time? Should I leave that paragraph out of the press release before I actually release it to the press? I have no idea. But this is the way I’ve been thinking about it.

I wrote a status on Facebook this morning as I was lying in bed reading about the aftermath of the American election:

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“People who “can’t believe it”:
 
Is your head a little closer to being out of your ass? This is happening. This is the society (one not so different or disconnected from our own) we live in.
Listen to people of colour. Listen to women. Listen to your queer/LGB friends. Listen to people with disabilities. Listen to sex workers. Listen to transgender people. Listen to immigrants. Listen to refugees. Listen to homeless people and people living in poverty. Listen to children.
At a recent Take Back the Night, my friend’s little son asked, “what can we do so people will feel safe at night?”. He’s a smart guy.
So I want to ask all of you:
What can YOU do to help the people around you feel safe(r) and (more) okay?”
And then I called people out for liking the status without sharing an answer to the question. Not individually, I just made a comment on the status that invited people to “do the work”. Between this and my questioning whether people who “can’t believe it” are any closer to having their heads out their ass, it was pointed out to me that I came off as “confrontational and alienating”, which may discourage some people from choosing to engage.

To this, I said, “Fair enough” because it is. Some people do not react well to conflict and confrontation. There have been many times where I have been one of them. There are many reasons for this, everything from it being a keystone of Canadian culture to be polite and neutral to it triggering feelings that are reminiscent of the ones experienced while living in abusive situations. When people feel threatened, their limbic system shifts into fight/flight/freeze mode, and some people freeze. Or the fly.

I used to be that person. That freeze person. Or that fly person. Recently, I’ve come to a place where I feel as though there is no other way to exist (and resist) but to fight. But I am working towards learning to choose getting things done over being right. I’m not talking about literal violence. I’m talking about confronting conflict head on. Being authentic. Being accountable. It doesn’t feel good, but it does feel real. 

I want to be clear: I am not saying that any type of reaction to conflict is inherently wrong or “less-than”, simply that they are different ways of reacting. I cannot be responsible for anyone’s reactions but my own, so I have shared my experiences and been honest about where I’m at. I am not saying how I have/am react(ed/ing) is the best way or even a good way. I’m just saying that this is the way it’s been for me.

This kind of fight doesn’t feel like it did when I first got into activism as a teenager, when I would pick every battle that came my way. I don’t want to pick battles. I want to engage in conversation. I was to listen to people whose subject positions are different than mine process around their emotions and their experiences and I want to process mine in a way that feels honest. And I want to be able to walk away at the end of it and say, “your truth it different than mine, and now I am more aware of something I was not aware of before”. I want to have someone tell me that, although my emotional response is valid and honest, it may not be productive.

The intention of my post was to draw attention to the fact that the outcome of the American election, a political scape that affects the entire world, is a manifestation of the deeply rooted systemic paradigms of colonialism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and classism. We live in a world where the biggest political superpower of a Nation has elected a reality t.v. star who believes it’s appropriate to “grab [a woman] by the pussy” as their leader. This didn’t just happen, it’s just another way the dominant system of power is expressing itself. 

It’s time to get real. And to address these systems of power when they come up instead of brushing anything aside as “too radical” or “social justice warrior tactics”. Yes, I know there are people out there who practice some pretty super aggressive shit. But if you start from a place of thinking everything you get called on is bullshit, you’re coming from a place of ego- a place that is not conducive to your well-being or to the well-being of those in your community.
I recognize that not everyone has the capacity to engage, and it should be up to them to choose when they engage. And also that engaging looks different for different people, and that it should be up to them to choose how they engage. And also that people do the best they can with what they’ve got. I’m big believers in all of those things.

But I’ve also got to tell you, it gets exhausting and frustrating when you’re in the fight and then other people superficially jump on board the fight without realizing that the root systems of power have been alive and well for a really long time and that maybe now it is finally coming to a breaking point. As scary as it is, maybe things will get bad enough to inspire people to come together.

But I am angry that it’s come to this. I’m angry when people tell me that we live in a “post-racial society” or a society where genders are equal and expression (and speech) are free. The reality of the situation is that people of colour and women and other marginalized groups have been speaking up about these issues (more and more!) for a while now, and that we (yes, all of us “woke” or not!) continue to find ways to silence people whose voices might sound a little shrill because they have been screaming to be heard for so long.

I see us trying to silence emotional reactions because it is uncomfortable to deal with conflict.

Thanks for letting me process this here with you. I have a lot of feelings. I feel very conflicted.

I’m just trying to be real, not be mean.

Unlearning shit is hard. Listening is hard.

I am hearing women who are terrified that their rights to maintain bodily autonomy will be taken back fifty years. I am hearing people of colour who have already began to experience an increase in violent attacks in the last 24 hours and are scared to go out by themselves after dark. I am hearing from chronically ill and disabled people who will face the fear that they may not have the same access to health care and financial assistance. There is so much pain and fear. I am hearing people pleading with one another to listen to how they want to be cared for and what that looks like. 

I asked people on Facebook, “What can YOU do to help the people around you feel safe(r) and (more) okay?” and there were some beautiful ideas. I’m gonna list them anonymously here, but if anyone reads this and wants credit, let me know and I’ll put your name beside your idea:

“We need to protect, not protest the love and care we have”

“Create space where we can come together”

“Don’t let any of your minority friends be out by themselves at night. Use buddy systems, create some sort of volunteer groups where people can contact others to come places with them”

“I have dedicates my life and career to helping others.If people are open to healing , I’m open to helping .
Listening is a virtue one must practise. Daily . In order to have someone feel safe , they need to feel they are able to cope in situations that they may have felt unsafe in before. By empowering them with skills , knowledge , and increased confidence”
“I can be a witness to someone’s lived experience. Listen and acknowledge the validity of that story”
“By not being a silent observer.”
“Learn to practice forgiveness, share and honor our differences we are all connected and when one of use hurt.”
“I’m going out of my way to extend more compassion and care to everyone I see today, and for days to come. especially those marginalized folks who are greatly affected by this. Standing in solidarity with my american friends who are terrified and hurting, offering and giving them support, listening to them, etc.”

This is what I mean by “the fight”. The fight comes in the form of caring for yourself and caring for others, however they want to be cared for. And all you can responsible for is your own reaction, your own actions. By focusing on this, perhaps we can come together as a slightly more conscious, mindful people to do a better job of caring for one another.

Because what we’ve been doing obviously isn’t working. Let’s get real and take a good look at ourselves and do better. Because I know we can do better. I know I can do better.