SUICIDE, Identity, and Survival.

Death has seemed to permeate spare moments recently. First I learned of the death of an influential teacher, then the news of the suicide of Robin Williams. In the meantime my own mind was manufacturing thoughts of my own death, so when I heard about Williams my thought was, “wow, he lasted a long time.” All the listings seemed to include his age at 63, a full 20 years more than I’ve lived, and in the moment of my own darkness that was seeming really amazing (as in how could he do it: live so long with such hopelessness!)—and I write this also knowing that 63 can be very young, but for someone carrying psychological heaviness 17 can also feel old.

In 2011 I wrote a couple pieces on SUICIDE (Suicidal Education. How Thinking on Death Might Help. and Open to a Radical Acceptance of Life, including Death and Suicidal Thoughts.). And a few years later, my thoughts on the matter have developed—go figure!

I was saying that suicidal thoughts can be seen as faulty ideation—which they can! But I also think that there is something to be honored and respected about experiences of pain and difficulty, and to simplify that process may not serve as strongly as delving deeper. And to just give some credit to the experience that life is hard when you feel that.

It is possible to try to live in a positivity bubble, but I think if we are lucky it will actually burst to let more of reality in. It is very hard to have one’s state of awareness shaken, but I also think that we are here to heal. And as we start to move through some of our personal pains, then it is time to open our cloak a bit wider to serve community and world concerns, and this—in my experience—wraps back in to deeper personal healing.

Let me explain about the “positivity bubble”:
Earlier in my process of learning yoga, I heard people talking of “news fasts” to clear your self of negativity. This can either be a helpful break, or the beginning of a habit to block out information. I do think it’s okay to choose and be discerning about news sources, but I also think that it is important to be open to hearing news beyond one’s self. Also it was suggested to use affirmations to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. I tried this, and what I discovered at that time was that my mind has a bullshit detector. Lying to myself had limited effect, but to ask yourself those questions about growing into greatness to help open a mental door you might not have seen before can have a helpful effect of affirming a positive light in the self. And practices of only surrounding yourself with happy people seems fake, and can be warped into only engaging in friendships and interactions that will advance one’s social standing or wealth which can result in more imbalance in our culture at large. Everybody’s individual actions (and actions of our ancestors) accumulate to produce all of the disparity and injustice in the world today. What are the actions that are more inclusive of community and world wellness?? is a question I ask in an attempt to direct healing rather than adding to the weight of the dynamics of injustice I see in the world today.

So if the positivity bubble isolates a person with people of power/privilege all lying to themselves, then it should be opened to include more air, information and people with different backgrounds and experiences. plainly said.

On the other hand I do think it’s important to bring love and compassion to life’s interactions, this is different from the harmful, policing, isolating form of positivity practice I was offering some space to explaining above.

make sense?

People should not use yoga and positivity practice to isolate themselves, people should use yoga to amp up energy and vibes that can help serve physical, mental and emotional healing with a greater goal of inclusivity of self-understanding, people, and environment in perceptions, awareness and choices.

I have discovered a great deal of healing in developing my self and connecting to others beyond the yoga community. At this point it seems like a non-negotiable to allow myself freedom to explore gender identity. It really seems clear that when “male” and “female” boxes are applied to things like identity, personality, skill-sets, and body type that those differences are often false. And to freely discover and be who I am means to look beyond who I was taught to be, and so much of that has to do with having been seen to have what is called a female body. There is also a spiritual healing that is represented by the integration of so-called male and female aspects in one’s self. Is it just taboo to talk about it in lived perceptions?

I think that the power differences that men and women commonly experience help to make our culture oppressive and harmful (rape culture is already an established concept, wage differences are also commonly known about). And I don’t believe that there is anything about this that needs to be permanent. We are humans. We can grow. We can learn, integrate, and heal. I believe that a part of this healing work has to do with how gender is commonly seen to be divided into 2 categories or classes. And I also think that this “war” not only harms the people involved, but it also distracts from the complexities of healing race and the harms, not yet fully healed, of slavery and colonialism on people and land.

What makes me want to live is a belief in love and healing, and to have specific ways that I, Brooks Hall, can experience and express love of self and others, and concrete ways that I participate in change, including cultural change that supports freedom of personal and gender expression. What stops me is overwhelm, and I promise to take daily steps to release that pressure.

So what I’m saying is that my life and artistic expressions of late have offered me a lifeboat of survival. It is no small matter or frivolous pursuit. To pursue ideas and expressions that can be challenging for people can appear like a kind of suicide, since the culture I am in values conformity. Men are like this. Women are like this. Yoga teachers are like this. I know I am not alone. In fact I know people who seem way more courageous to me than myself, but I do feel that I am doing my part in healing by pushing my own boundaries and creating an artwork, a life that is mine—while I have it.

When “All One” Becomes Oppressive.

Photo credit: MARS

Photo credit: MARS

Of course I get the warm and fuzzy good intensions and vibes that can surround a sentiment of “all are one” in a yoga class. The widely accepted interpretation goes something like, “under the appearance of difference we are all connected and somehow essentially similar with the same human needs for food, shelter and affection.” Feel that expanded consciousness of connection! Good stuff!

Realize how people are reduced to basic survival instincts when “all are one” is taken literally: now it’s not so good. So much of what I value about being alive is not included. I love art and expression, and have made no secret about my passion for queer theory and expressions. My art will be different from your art. My gender and expressions of gender may be different from yours. You can’t possibly understand me without getting to know me.

“All are one” becomes flawed when it becomes a concept that attempts to homogenize difference.

“We are all one.” ≠ “We are all the same.”

But just under the surface of thinking this can be what happens. I imagine the functioning of the problem to be something like, “I feel/believe I am one with this other person who is a virtual stranger to me so I will expect that they will like what I do/feel safe when I do/want what I want.” Without realizing it someone can fall into some harmful assumptions about other people.

I am always super-honored when I am published on YogaDork, and my recent piece Questioning Queer Yoga is no exception. (I hope you’ll go over there and read it!)

In the comments section the validity of queer yoga classes are questioned. My interpretation of what was written there includes a questioning of the right of queer yoga to exist. Queer yoga is already happening in many places in many cities, so reality might be truth enough. But the logic of the comment I am thinking of seemed to question a need for a class like this. Just because one individual feels their needs are met in a yoga does not mean that every other individual will also get their needs met.

And when people assume that everyone is the same, or they assume that they know what everyone needs, and they are in a position of power—like a yoga teacher—these assumptions can harm students. We need queer yoga right now because there is not sufficient awareness of respecting difference, agency and self-determination of yoga class participants.

Authoritarianism in Yoga.

untitled31of89Hello. In my recent post Why Queer Yoga? I raised the question, “Can we have yoga without the authoritarian class environment?” There was a response on Facebook that expressed curiosity about what I might mean by using the word “authoritarian”. Here I plan to offer a few thoughts on that.

An authoritarian class environment is a situation where a teacher/guide/guru is seen as someone who has the power or right to make decisions for students/class participants at some expense to their personal freedom. A teacher (and people close to the teacher in some cases) is regarded as someone who has a greater status than students. The class contains a hierarchy. Sometimes it is personal power that is wielded, and there are times when the power is a replication or amplification of oppressive aspects of our daily life in the current cultural climate, including sexism, racism, and ableism.

Sometimes people can feel like their yoga teacher is their “guru”. When this happens a person might give away too much power, and trust too much, too soon. It can feel wonderful to think one is special and that a magical teacher figure has chosen you, but beware. People in a human body (I know that might seem redundant, but sometimes an awe-struck yoga participant can think that their teacher is god-like) tend to have human distortions in their personalities, and even teachers with good intentions can create harm in an over-trusting student.

This happens a lot to different degrees in relationships. Anytime someone claims to know what’s right for you, remember that they have not lived as you. The only person who is an expert in being you is you. Any time someone claims to know what’s right for you this is something that should be examined for potential manipulation, or simply disregarded.

An experienced yoga teacher may be able to help you with your body, and they might be able to offer technique that can free the mind and even ease suffering. But we need to be able to discern how a teacher can help, and where they might be overstepping appropriate boundaries. Basically when it comes to choices about life expression, this is a sacred choice and holy territory for individuals to claim for their selves.

When someone leading a yoga class claims to have the power of someone else (their guru) to offer class participants, this is usually a way to get control and harness enthusiasm of students. Some might argue that this is an effective way to circumvent students’ natural defense against doing something different with their bodies, and feel that you can get more work done more quickly when students decide to “trust the word of the guru” even if it comes from someone’s mouth who is not the “guru”.

The yoga teacher or guide who is in the class with you is the person who is there. Again this sentence might seem redundant, but it exists as a point of confusion at times. Teachers are sometimes trusted as the word of a famous yoga teacher (possibly a “guru”) if they have spent some time studying with them.

Another situation that is authoritarian, more in the category of systemic oppression than a personal dynamic, is anytime yoga facilitators (teachers) refer to “men” and “women” to describe difference in practice or postures. It can be seen as a perpetuation of the deeply entrenched systemic categorization that supports sexism, the condition where “men” are seen as different enough to merit a higher status than “women”. It also causes violence to identities that don’t align with the assumptions about who gets privilege and who should submit to power that go with forcing people into two separate groups.

Also, shaming students for not being able to do certain physical feats in yoga is an expression of ableism. It appears to say that students who are stronger or more flexible are better (a higher status) than those whose bodies are weaker or stiffer.

And racism might show up in how yoga guides speak to class participants, or who they pay attention to in class, and what assumptions they make about “everybody.”

As people who choose to engage in yoga classes, either as facilitators/guides or as class participants, we can do well to educate ourselves about the dynamics that play out in class. It is a common teaching that we encounter situations within our selves on our yoga mats that tend to show up in our lives, too. This post is about seeing power dynamics, whether it is personal or systemic, as showing up in the yoga room that also play out in life beyond class.

Aging in a Queer Utopia.

My age has always been a lie. The first time I remember it coming up, I was 7 years old and was being introduced to people at my father’s country club. I was wearing little girl clothes, and a woman in the group asked me if I was 15. I was tall, and still am. I also had experienced more change and moving around than many others my age, especially in the small town in Ohio where my father is from. I was considered “mature for my age.”

I think I really was older than “7”.

Chronologically I was 7: I had been on the earth for 7 revolutions around the sun. I was born on a certain date in a certain year, and so there is a mathematical logic that equals 7 at that time.

But I had also rationalized and normalized interactions with a mother struggling with her reality, and had figured out being okay with her gone from my life. I had lived in 3 different states with 3 different families (all a part of my extended family). The number was 4 families if you say that the family of my mother and father was different from the family of my father and stepmother. They were different.

So I was “older” than 7 in experience and handling skills when people read me that way, and even when they didn’t.

And these days I am often seen as younger than my “age” to many people I know. I also wonder—similar to the example from my childhood—if in some way I am actually “younger” than the number of times the earth has traveled around the sun with me on it, or possibly “younger” in comparison with what that is usually seen to mean in our culture.

Have the losses I’ve experienced, the radical letting go that I’ve done, or circumstances totally beyond my control actually lightened me in some way to receive life in a way that we usually associate with youth?

Part of the launch point for my current reality had something to do with turning 40.
40

Around this time, I finally took the pressure off of myself about what kind of life I thought I was supposed to live based on what I had been taught and started to explore available options in my life that appealed to me.

I went to my first queer performance because a coworker friend was involved.

I started to go to more because the images and words populated my mind and also spawned exciting and titillating new thoughts.

I was welcomed into these intentional queer spaces. I made new friends. And went to more kinds of events like readings and trainings on trans awareness and disability justice.

A new life opened up for me. It was a gift of my aging process and personal choices that I dropped old fears and questioned my self and my life anew! I have now met people with values, attitudes and worldviews who I feel like I have been waiting to meet for my whole life.

I have evolved with Chicago queer culture. It has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.

And yet my age also seems to pose an issue in my new life. It is a crowd with many folks in their 20’s. I have been so afraid to destroy what I have enjoyed, and to face people’s possible ageism by saying that my age is 42.

How old am I?
How alive am I?
How creative am I?
How loving am I?
How curious am I?
How adventurous am I?
How well can I listen to and support others and my self?

What is important?

In my own work on queer time, I have shown that queer people do not follow the same logics of subcultural involvement as their heterosexual counterparts: they do not “outgrow” certain forms of cultural activity (like clubbing, punk, and so on.)…queer spaces tend to be multigenerational and do not subscribe to the notion of one generation always giving way to the next. Other theorists, such as Elizabeth Freeman, have elaborated more mobile notions of intergenerational exchange, arguing that the old does not always have to give way for the new, the new does not have to completely break with the old, and that these waves of influence need not be thought of always and only as parental.
~J. Jack Halberstam, ‘Gaga Feminism’

In queer culture there is a potential for continued engagement and creative expression. We are only limited by our imaginations.

Earlier this year a friend shared that they had lost 2 friends to suicide in the last year, and expressed an impression that some people in their 20’s can’t always see an interesting or fun future for themselves.

I remember feeling that there was a black hole in my imagination as I approached age 30. And in my 30’s I fell into it, and I also invented a new life for myself as a yoga teacher. Becoming helpful seemed a strategy for survival.

One reason I want to come out openly as someone over 40 years old is to share my enthusiasm and excitement about what I see in my self and my friends. In myself I see a hope for the future based on the activism and values of people in queer community, I also see a future for myself as an activist, artist, writer and yoga teacher. In my friends I see community leaders/organizers and amazing activists and artists.

Queering has to do with taking on one’s identity and stepping away from an inherited lineage of ableism, racism, sexism, homophobia, patriarchy, privilege, money focus, misogyny, ageism, sex-shaming, fat-shaming, objectification, coercion, bullying (…) and consciously being a person—even creating a self through chosen actions and expressions—that better reflects values of the heart with caring awareness of other people in community emphasizing inclusion of people (of a different race, body type, or gender presentation for example) helping to expand the understanding of the person reaching out as well as to reverse the effects of the old ways of domination, control and repression.
~from ‘Self-Determining Queer Pelvis

untitled (26 of 89)

The above photo illustration is from a project of mine that explores human morphology and gender assignment in yoga. photo credit: Mars

And if I ever seem to be glittering like a jukebox from the early 1970’s (reference to Sandra Beasley), well… That’s when I was born!

Self-Determining Queer Pelvis.

In understanding bodies there is often an implicit sense that “the pelvis tells us.” The pelvis tells us when it’s time to pee. The pelvis tells us when we gotta poop. Does the pelvis tell us when we are attracted to someone or an idea? We can tell the pelvis to hold the pee/poop/sex. The menstrual cycle just flows. Many people assume that the pelvis tells us a lot more than it actually might.

Does the pelvis determine identity? Does the pelvis determine gender? Many people assume it does—at least to a large extent. Having a perceived identity that includes the descriptor “female” does have an effect of determining the opportunities one has, or one thinks they have and what others will think is available for them. It also guides how a person might choose to express themselves in life. And some people find that the gender role assigned to them by others, or from the outside doesn’t work for them. Or perhaps those assumptions seem a bit off. It is different for different people.

My body is sexed as female. When I was born people said, “She’s a girl,” and confirmed that “fact” when they changed my diaper or saw me wear girl-appropriate clothing. People seemed to assume that I would eventually marry a man and have “his” children. A power dynamic was assumed for me before I could speak for myself. Many times these assumptions have seemed inappropriate, yet I, myself, also assumed (as soon as I could start assuming) that my life would follow the path laid out by my family/culture.

At some point the outer noise—which I was holding in myself—of what I “should” be doing started to quiet down, and I started to try doing things the way I thought I wanted to. And I tried to survive. The “me” in myself that is real awkwardly tried to emerge into this world. I gave up—with some sadness—the assumptions I had for my life including marriage. I don’t think I need a legal marriage with a male-bodied person to be whole. I am me right now. I’m done with waiting for a me that only exists in a fantasy—this rejects the living person I actually am.

I wrote an article last year called Queering My Sexuality about actively “being a sexual person whose wants and needs are self-defined.” Now I would extend that concept far beyond sexuality.

Queerness, then, is not an identity, but a position or stance. We can use “queer” as a verb instead of a noun. Queer is not someone or something to be treated. Queer is something we can do.
~Kimberly Springer

Queering has to do with taking on one’s identity and stepping away from an inherited lineage of ableism, racism, sexism, homophobia, patriarchy, privilege, money focus, misogyny, ageism, sex-shaming, fat-shaming, objectification, coercion, bullying (…) and consciously being a person—even creating a self through chosen actions and expressions—that better reflects values of the heart with caring awareness of other people in community emphasizing inclusion of people (of a different race, body type, or gender presentation for example) helping to expand the understanding of the person reaching out as well as to reverse the effects of the old ways of domination, control and repression.

Queering has to do with getting my needs met. Now I have the freedom to begin to understand my needs—which I have discovered—are different in some ways from the cultural recipe for success (marriage+money). The recipe for my fulfillment needs to be determined by me, otherwise I am just going through the motions of a life that doesn’t feel like mine. This creates a lot of anxiety.

Queering has to do with rejecting some of the things that are often assumed to be true. If I believed that I cannot exist as a whole person without a husband while also living unmarried, then clearly I am limiting my ability for self expression and happiness, and feeling less than this so called “ideal”.

Queering can have something to do with radical self-expression. I think queering can also be quieter, yet as it is better understood within a person it may also yearn for greater expression, visibility and celebration.

Queer community and books, conversations and art have offered me so much support and hope as I have discovered another sense of myself that is different than the old assumptions I learned.

If you were to ask me about my gender, in the right context (queer) I would tell you that my gender is orange. This color inspires me, as discovering myself and my desires also inspire me. And just the way a color is wide open in that it can appear on so many different things, I also feel that the way I might want to present myself and express myself may also prefer to embrace a range of possibilities.

orangebh

Who Polices Gender? Thoughts On Invented & Sustained Difference.

MF

Graphic from ‘You Have Been Toilet Trained’ PDF.

A couple of years ago, when the topic of gender came up in conversation with my friend, A.J. Durand, the first place I went to in my mind was to the thoughts of my uterus, ovaries, vulva and vagina and that I was a woman because how could I really be different from my biology?

Don’t “I” emanate from my biology? At the time, I was also reading Wild Feminine. The author, Tami Lynn Kent has a loosely biological determining philosophy that guides her notion of wild femininity. In the book she allows for different expressions for femininity, and simultaneously shares a mostly ideal narrative (in our popular culture) for what that means. The book tells an abuse-free story for healing (hard for me to identify with that, as I consider our culture to be quite abusive). This book had me thinking about birthing my spiritual self and life expression through my uterus. It’s not a bad book, even helpful when it comes to female bodies and normalizing vaginal massage (which I think is good). It also holds a model for a healthy life that seems to say that a woman is happiest when she is in her place in the natural order of things as determined by her biology or feminine spirituality—to be determined by the woman, herself.

When the question came up: “Do you think you are a woman?” Or similar question…

I thought and said, “Of course.” Feeling that my identity was determined by my crotch.

Energetically—the root chakra, which is in the pelvis, is thought to house our sense of home and security. And I have found it to be true that to focus on the pelvis in yoga is super-helpful for increasing feelings of being safe and comfortable in the body.

What if some of what we learn about our pelvises teach us to not trust ourselves, and therefore to feel unsafe in ourselves?

In his lectures to young communists in Germany during the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, psychologist Wilhelm Reich theorized that the suppression of sexuality was essential to an authoritarian government. Without the imposition of antisexual morality, he believed, people would be free from shame and would trust their own sense of right and wrong.
~Dossie Easton & Janet W. Hardy, ‘The Ethical Slut’

What role do I play in policing the bodies and identities of others?
~’You Have Been Toilet Trained’ PDF

This second quote from the toilet training PDF helped me to make a connection to why what I’m wanting to talk about is so slippery.

Many of us assume that it’s normal to be either male with masculine traits, or female with feminine traits, and we also very often will correct one another, or talk about it/laugh about it when we see something that fails to fit what we think of as the right behavior for how we identify the person we are seeing based on physical attributes.

These slights can seem so small and usual for many of us and we just go through life hardly noticing, and basically accepting these standards as reasonable for men and women, as well as doing our best to conform to these standards ourselves. Many people also feel that they are performing aspects of their identified gender that aren’t really them, but help meet expectations. Some of it is forced.

This tendency of seeing people, discerning a “gender” and then expecting divergent behavior based on a read of “male” or “female” particularly damages people who identify as trans or those who feel that the expectations of their perceived gender do not agree with how they want to be (or are) in the world.

One place this shows up is around bathrooms. I know I’ve received a funny look when leaving a men’s bathroom before. Why should someone else care if I just relieved my bladder in there? I had to pee.

Why do we police basic bodily functions?

I was thinking about segregation in American history, and how there was a time when people of color were expected to use different bathrooms than white people. Now we are in a time when it is common that women are expected to use different bathrooms than men. This separation confirms many times a day for many of us that there is a recognized difference and reasonable separation and even class difference between women and men. It is one of the ways that difference is maintained that seems to legitimate a power differential between men and women.

And it all stems from our pelvises! And imagined sex organs! …since we rarely see what people have “down there.”

What if the differences of our sex organs really represent more about what we might need to do to pleasure and play, rather than dictating who goes where and can do what? What if these commonly held beliefs about what men and women can and should do are really false, and have more to do with maintaining power structures based on class differences, rather than having much to do with determinations from nature?

A great thing: gender neutral bathrooms. One step towards accepting people as they are (needing to pee), and welcoming expected and unexpected gender expressions…

GenderNeutral

Gender neutral bathrooms at Saturn Cafe in Berkeley, California where everybody can pee!