An Open Letter of Support Regarding Lindsey’s Experiences of Workplace Sexual Harassment.

When one of my best friends told me she had acquired a job, I was overjoyed. An art gallery. She had been through a lot over the last year, and this was a job where the hours were reasonable for her and the tasks at hand were not only doable, but something she was interested in and knew about. “Which art gallery?” I asked her. When she told me, I bit my tongue and continued to celebrate with her, hoping that if I didn’t voice my concerns out loud, that maybe they would be proven unfounded. After all, she knew I had had some significantly creepy experiences with her new boss in the past, and she made the decision to work there, even knowing that he had the capacity to be a creep. Now, I wish I had shared my concerns.

The Boss is a prominent member of our community: a business owner, a councilman. I voted for him a few years ago because I saw him around the downtown often, supporting local businesses, including businesses owned or managed by intelligent, entrepreneurial young women. I heard a few stories about his strong personality and his willingness to pick young, intelligent, pretty women to mentor…but these reports were always given in hushed voices, with a hint of reservation. I met him briefly a few times while visiting a friend who was working at one of the local downtown shops and I immediately noticed that he was the kind of man who undressed me with his eyes when he looked at me. But I had become a bit used to letting that kind of behaviour fly since moving to this Small Town.

When I became heavily involved with a local charity that had a history of inconsistent support from the Municipality, I made it my goal to help bridge the relationship between the organization and the Town. So, I reached out to The Boss and asked if he wanted to meet for coffee, hoping to gain some perspective from someone at the Municipality about what kind of information the Town would like from the organization. This happened a few times, and each time he treated the meeting as a date. He commented on my appearance, made sure he always got his hug, and made a point of touching me at any opportunity. He also made a point of telling me how beautiful and intelligent I am and joked about dating me, kissing me, even having sex with me. Although he was joking, the way he joked clearly communicated that if I were to accept any of these offers, he would jump at the opportunity. Regardless of the fact that I am younger than his children or that we are both married.

I am ashamed to say that, in hope of minimizing conflict and forging a better relationship between the organization and the Town, I laughed off The Boss’ behaviour and managed any major physical risk by only meeting with him in public places. I did not communicate to him that he was making me feel uncomfortable, because he held the power to fund an important charity program or not. He held the power to ruin my reputation among professionals in the community. He held the power to make me feel like I wanted to throw up when I saw him on the street. Eventually, after he got mad at me for meeting with a friend instead of carrying out plans he and I had, I stopped engaging with him unless it was necessary, at which time I was polite and distant.

When my friend started to tell me about some of the comments The Boss would make to her at work, I encouraged her to stand up for herself, which she did. She was clear and communicative. You can read her story here. When she decided to leave this job, as it was affecting her emotionally, I told her I would support her in sharing what happened to her, and I would share my experience to support her voice. So that’s what I’m doing.

One evening, when I was especially upset after hearing this friend and several other friends talk about sexual harassment they were experiencing, I posted a status on Facebook that was something like “I’m hearing a lot of stories about old men in our community who are sexually harassing young women and if you want to talk about it or if you want to know which names I keep hearing so that you can keep yourself safe, send me a private message.”

Over and over, smart, pretty, young women messaged me with his name.

I’m not speaking out because I think this person is a bad person. On the contrary, I believe he can do better. Until more women speak out about the ways men treat us that make us feel unsafe, it’s not going to change. As Lindsey says so clearly here,

“I want so desperately for him to admit to his abuse, to take responsibility, and apologize for it. It destroys me to think he will go on to subject other women to the same abuse. I don’t want to be just another casualty in this systemic abuse of power.”

It’s important that this doesn’t keep happening. I would like to see the man who has behaved his way acknowledge what’s he has done and that it is wrong. I would like to see him do better, and to truly treat women with respect and authenticity rather than objectifying us for his own amusement and pleasure. I would like a real apology- not just for myself, but for all of the women he has treated this way and for our community, who he has committed responsibility to.

 

 

 

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One survivor’s take on discussions about gender-based violence becoming mainstream:

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CW: rape, sexual violence, gender-based violence, restorative justice, hollywood, violence against women, masculinity, emotional labour, men’s mental health, #MeToo campaign, gender

 

 

Nearly a decade ago, I read a book called “Cunt: A Declaration of Independence” by Inga Muscio and it kind of changed my life. It’s a book that’s far from perfect, but it was perfect for me to read at the time. I had been sexually assaulted and slut-shamed a few months prior, and was coping by self-harming, writing songs I’d never show anyone, and listening to a ton of Bikini Kill in my bedroom.  Although I was always told I was an emotional being, not a logical one by most people when I was growing up, I know now, looking back, that I’ve always been a very logical and analytic person. I wanted to understand what had happened to me, and I desperately wanted to be well. “Cunt” was just what I needed to begin to feel knowledgable about the dynamics behind why gender-based violence happens and empowered regarding what comes next.

So I did a lot more reading, went to university for Women’s Studies, focused my work on sexual violence prevention, and produced 6 plays about the stories of sexual violence survivors (directed 2 of them). Then I moved to a rural community where I situated myself firmly on the ground of anti-rape advocacy. This whole time, I was in and out of therapy, I was writing, I was learning to form positive relationships, and I was working hard on my own (continuous) healing process. For the better part of ten years, my life has largely revolved around gender-based violence. Why it happens, what to do about it, how to live through it. It’s complicated and layered and non-linear.

During my first week of university, in 2009, when I really started to dedicate myself to this subject, I remember introducing myself to people who asked what my major was only to have them scoff at me and tell me we don’t need to study gender and that I’d never go anywhere with that degree. During my final semester, in 2013, I remember trying to write a major research paper about the representation of non-binary gender and having a difficult time finding academic resources on the subject- to the point where I used blog posts and tweets as sources for my academic paper.

Four years later, that paper is now so outdated that you couldn’t pay me enough to let you read it. But at that time, it was pretty cutting edge and I was really proud of it. That much changed in only four years.

Over the time since I first read “Cunt”, there has been a MASSIVE shift regarding the topics of gender and, more specifically, gender-based violence. Especially recently, with the viral social media #MeToo movement and the trend in Hollywood where serial abusers are being called on their behaviour by the women they have assaulted, discussion around gender and gender-based violence is becoming mainstream. And I get it: it’s a lot to ask someone to radically reconsider who they are and the way they exist in the world, which is what happens when you ask people to critically reflect on the ways gender rolls are constructed.  But at the end of the day, I would like to believe that most people don’t want nearly every woman in their life to have experienced gender-based violence in some form, as evidenced by the massive success of the #MeToo movement. And I want to believe that anyone is capable of doing better.

I also want to take just a moment, before I continue, to be extremely clear that I am referring to women in this essay because women are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence. And even more disproportionately affected by gender-based violence is women of colour, indigenous women, immigrant women, queer women, women with disabilities, transgender women, and women living in poverty.

I’ve recently had some friends who know how obsessed I am with gender-based violence ask me to comment on the discourse rising in mainstream culture. And my over-all comment is that it’s amazing and important that light is being shed on gender-based violence in mainstream culture. With that being said, that discourse is overwhelmingly immature (which is to be expected!) and I urge people to listen to the survivors who have been speaking out about these topics and symptoms for longer than it’s been cool (even, arguably, safer) to do so.

Regarding discussion in mainstream culture on the topic of gender-based violence, there a few specific subjects I’d like to share my thoughts on. Here they are in a slightly more digestable format:

Yes, people who have been doing the work around these topics should have their voices magnified over the opinions of people who are just starting to think about this. And no, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging you’re just starting to learn about a subject and listening to the people who have put in extensive time and energy around it.

Hopefully, by this point in the essay you already get my perspective here. But I’ll give you a metaphor to help communicate my point.

I drive a car pretty much every day. I own one, I know a little bit about how it works, I live in a world where there are lots of cars around. But I am far from a car expert. I haven’t really spent that much time thinking about how cars work, or the history of cars. I don’t know statistics about cars off the top of my head, and I haven’t spent years tinkering around under/inside a car, examining parts and trying to figure out what makes them work best (or at all). So when I take my car in the mechanic for maintenance and they tell me that I desperately need a part replaced or my car is gonna be seriously messed up, I’m not gonna go “well, I haven’t noticed anything wrong with my car, my car gets me to and from work every day and it’s fine”. If I have time, I might educate myself on the part of the car that’s apparently damaged, I might call a friend who has spent a lot of time and work learning about cars, I might consult a few other mechanics, but I’m not going to consider my limited knowledge on the subject equal to theirs. I’m going to listen and try to learn more.

To be clear, it’s not a matter of anyone being “better” than anyone else or attaching value judgements to knowledge that people do or don’t have, or recreating power dynamics. It’s about knowing when to share your perspective and when to sit down and listen.

I also want to be clear that the time and space I’m referring to need not include formal education, however, participating in formal education does take a lot of time and space. It’s not a reason either way to invalidate the type(s) of work a person has put in.
Don’t derail conversations about gender-based violence by centring the conversation around men as victims.

There are many cases where men experience rape and sexual assault. All sexual assault survivors deserve support and space and communities, and I do not, for a moment mean to diminish the importance of men’s mental health. I’d like to be clear that it’s not men who are the problem here. There isn’t even a one-stop answer regarding what the problem is. But a major part of it is the way that masculinity has been defined and then systemically privileged . A key component of the definition of masculinity is being more logical than emotional and being emotionally strong. This doesn’t leave much space for men to cope with their every-day feelings, mental illness, or trauma. As a result, there are many men who struggle because of this definition, as well as women and femmes who are, by negative definition, left to bare the brunt of the emotional labour.

Constructions of gender are not innate, they are something we can actively work to redefine- if you’re willing to do the work.

Although all gender-based violence statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, over 80% of sexual assault victims are women and something like 99% of rapes (against people of all genders) are perpetrated by men. When you derail conversations about gender-based violence to redirect the conversation to focus on men who are sexual assault survivors, you’re taking up a disproportionate amount of space.

Instead, I would encourage people to actively dismantle gender roles and to make appropriate space for men who have been victims of sexual assault to talk about it and heal. This isn’t going to happen through derailing women’s social media posts about gender-based violence.

Don’t derail conversations about gender-based violence to make disproportionate and inappropriate space for conversations about false allegations.

If you think being a man is scary right now because you’re worried about false allegations, maybe you should consider how scary it has been to be a woman or femme throughout history. Only between 2-4% of rape allegations are falsely made.
A study a few years ago found that 1/3 college men would rape a woman if they knew they could get away with it. According to a far larger study done by the UN, most men actually don’t believe that they are raping women.

What this shows is that a lot of the “false allegations” are made when a man didn’t understand that what he was doing wasn’t consensual. Again, this is related to the construction of masculinity- and not just that- the construction of femininity as the negative definer of masculinity. This is why learning about consent is REALLY important.

Exclusion isn’t restorative justice and it will usually result in more problems than it prevents.

There are cases where people are part of a community and they harm people in that community over and over again. There’s a clear pattern, and then when confronted with being called in (not out), they repeatedly get defensive, aggressive, and refuse to listen and (un)learn. In that case, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to ask someone not to be part of a space/venue/show/event/whatever. There are also situations where a survivor may not feel safe being around someone who has harmed them, and that’s valid and well worth working to navigate, based on the specifics of the situation.

There’s this thing that often happens now in popular culture (and in communities) where someone is exposed for something problematic they’ve done and then everyone either jumps on the “I’m so edgy” bandwagon (spoiler: condoning people hurting other people isn’t edgy, it’s just shitty) or boycotts their existence. The person accused of perpetrating harm immediately gets banned from community spaces, blacklisted from work opportunities, and abandoned by a good portion of their support system.

I get why this happens. It’s a reaction that many feel is justified, and I believe in providing space for that. But I also don’t think it’s particularly useful in a larger context. When we position people as inherently a perpetrator or inherently a victim, we do justice to no one. Reducing anyone to such a simple definition simply doesn’t allow for the root issues to be addressed or for working towards a place of healing, learning, or reconciliation.

That being said, restorative justice and accountability are complicated and fuelled concepts that don’t have any definite definition. I recommending reading up about it and talking about it a lot. It’s really complex.

There’s so much more to say, but I’m so tired. I’m excited for these conversations to be on the table in mainstream Canadian culture, not just in women’s studies classrooms or rape crisis centres or teenage girls’ bedroom floors. But there is a lot of work to do, and there will be growing pains. Please. Do the work, listen to survivors, and do better. Because we are all capable of doing better.

 

What it’s like being mentally ill with a mentally ill best friend.

Content: mental illness, mood disorders, mania, depression, anxiety, smoking, cannabis, xanax, blood, suicide attempt, suicide threat, hospitalization, self harm, parent death, friendship

 

For years before we met, people told me I would love you. So many of our mutual friends used to tell me about how similar we were, with so many mutual interests and mutual mental health issues. And when we finally met, we connected instantly. I remember sitting on the bed in the spare bedroom of my apartment, window wide open, chain-smoking cigarettes and exchanging stories about the fucked up things that had happened to us, fucked up things we had done, and weird shit we experienced. You intermittently popped Xanex, while I packed bong bowl after bong bowl of Indica strains. We had some overlapping clinical diagnoses, and some similar but different ones too. I could see myself in you, like a mirror image. After twenty-something years of feeling isolated and loved by my other friends, but never really seen, you saw me.

We both lived with mood disorders, eating disorders, anxiety disorders. We were tattooed smokers, self-harmers, daughters of long-dead mothers. We both loved sex and the occasional drug binge. We both had wonderful, long-term, committed partners. We both longed to be well while simutanteously accepting that mental illness was a permanent part of our lives that we couldn’t help but romanticize and struggle with and commit to in our own ways.

I remember asking you what to do when you inevitably became manic. We made safety plans. I remember you asking me what to do when I inevitably self-harmed. We made crisis plans. I remember discussing how much we should discuss our weight and our eating habits. We made resource lists.

And then the time came when I looked into your eyes and it wasn’t you, it was this live wire, electric version of you. You started lying to me about things like if you were using or if you were hanging out with people who you knew I knew used. And then you told me about things and acted in ways that weren’t in line with the way I knew you wanted to be and I fought my way in to advocate for you as well as I could while trying to keep you relatively safe.

And then a time came where I was so depressed and had been texting you about it that you broke into my apartment early in the morning, nearly in tears, to find that I was still alive after all.

And then there were all those times I drove you to the hospital, or offered to drive you to the hospital because that was the only way you felt you could be okay.

And then there was the time where I told you about that really bizarre recurring experience I have that 99% of people don’t know I have that only you can even begin to understand. Because you’ve been through it too.

And then there was that time where you told me that you hated me and wanted to kill me. You told me I was faking my mood disorder and that if I saw you on the street, I’d better run, because you were going to kill me. But the moment I looked you in the eye, I knew it wasn’t you. It was that live wire version of you again.

And there were times where we both told each other that we couldn’t be there for each other all the time, that we needed to focus more exclusively on taking care of ourselves.

And then there was that time that your partner called me to tell me I needed to come over because our worst fear had come true and I made it around the corner just in time to watch as the paramedics wheeled your seizing body on a stretcher from your apartment into the ambulance. And I stayed back while your partner spoke to the cops and cleaned up the bloody vomit on the kitchen wall and went with your partner to the hospital where they told us they needed to take you to a bigger hospital. And then, when your stepmom called me at work the next day to tell me to come say goodbye, I raced to the hospital from work to slip my hand in your limp hand and and sang you Bad Religion songs.

“There will be sorrow no more”.

That last thing nearly ruined our friendship. But it didn’t. It took time and space. It took me adjusting my expectations and you forgiving yourself. And I am so beyond grateful that you lived. And even though we both know that we will both continue to struggle from time to time, the history of our own lives and of our friendship proves that no state is permanent. It will always end. There will always be another time for us to sit on the bed, drinking tea, and smoking, and laughing way too loudly. Because we see each other. And we’re learning to navigate what it means to be a mentally ill person with a mentally ill best friend. And that’s a pretty magical kind of friendship.

Intimate Partner Violence, Healthier Relationships, and Redefining Masculinity.

By Lyss England

A few nights ago, there was a fatal shooting at my local hospital. A couple in their 70s who had been spending the summer, as usual, in Northumberland County were patients in the hospital for undisclosed reasons when the husband, Tom Ryan, shot his wife, Helen Ryan, before being shot and killed by police. Immediately, there were vague reports released on social media by local media, and immediately, people began speculating.

The overwhelming response I observed was that it was a mercy killing where Helen must have been terminally ill and her husband, graciously, had agreed to end her suffering. Within the next day, the story was uncovered that Tom had been a “violent, horrible man” who Helen’s cousin, Connie Woodcock, had expected would potentially kill her eventually.

“I did expect him to kill her sometime. We are all shocked it happened, but not terribly surprised,” Connie told Northumberland Today’s Pete Fisher.

I’d like to believe that the reason so many people immediately assumed this to be a mercy killing is due to people wanting to believe the best about one another. However, I think that this reaction is also, at least partially, due to our culture’s tendency towards sticking our heads into the sand when it comes to intimate partner violence and unhealthy dynamics in relationships. Maybe it even has something to do with the dynamics associated with ageism, where few people realize that domestic violence is an issue for seniors who have been married for a long time.

Even with the #MeToo campaign going viral, and the more local expression of solidarity with survivors of gender-based violence, Take Back the Night Port Hope in the very recent past, there were only a few women I knew who were whispering amongst each other, do you think this may have been intimate partner violence?

The standard gendered expectations are often our default: he was protecting her. As it turns out, Tom Ryan had been controlling for a long time in ways that many intimate partner violence survivors can relate to. Helen’s cousin Connie told Pete Fisher,

“He had threatened Helen many times. She had no money of her own,” she said. “I thought at times that she was right over the edge too, except when I spent time with her she started to be more normal and like the person I knew as a kid. He completely had her under his thumb.”

This kind of behaviour is common in many relationships. Sometimes it is obvious to friends and family members, but often, it’s far more subtle. In fact, there are similar toxic relationship habits that are relatable for far too many people. Some of these habits may include:

  • Feeling as though your partner is your “everything”
  • Constant communication (phoning your partner multiple times throughout the day, getting angry when they don’t respond instantly to texts)
  • Expecting your partner to solve your problems
  • Expecting your partner to change for you
  • Spending little to no time with your friends, only spending time with your partner
  • “Keeping score”
  • Being dishonest to “keep the peace”/Being afraid that if you don’t be dishonest to “keep the peace”, that your partner may be so upset that they may harm you or themself
  • Threatening suicide or self-harm if your partner does something you don’t want them to/tries to leave
  • You guilt your partner into doing what you want them to do/not doing what they want to do

Sometimes, it can be really dangerous for women to leave abusive or unhealthy relationships. Sometimes, it can also be really dangerous for men to leave abusive or unhealthy relationships too, but the reality of the situation is that women are disproportionately affected by intimate partner violence. And even more disproportionately affected by intimate partner violence is women of colour, indigenous women, immigrant women, queer women, women with disabilities, transgender women, and women living in poverty.

Regardless of identity, one way to work towards less intimate partner violence is to talk about healthy relationships. Some qualities of healthy relationships include:

  • Regular check-ins/Setting aside time to communicate (being honest about what’s going on for you and asking how things are going regarding the relationship for your partner goes a REALLY long way)
  • Respecting each other’s privacy
  • Knowing and being able to list positive qualities of your partner’s close friends
  • Thinking your partner has good ideas
  • You trust your partner
  • You appreciate and value your partners growth
  • You support your partner in their goals and accomplishments that they’re proud of
  • You can name things your partner enjoys
  • Even when you argue, you are able to acknowledge that your partner’s feelings are valid and that they have some good points that you may just disagree with
  • You compliment your partner
  • You enjoy spending time with your partner
  • You say positive things about your partner to other people
  • You and your partner each have your own friends, hobbies, and interests, as well as shared friends, hobbies, and interests

It’s important to talk about these things. It’s also important to talk about the role toxic masculinity played in this murder, as well as in intimate partner violence in general. While women are expected in our culture to be polite, caring, and submissive (an expectation that is changing, but still systemically ingrained in Canadian society), men are expected to be the opposite. Strong, emotionless but for anger, controlling, in charge. Basically, constructs of masculinity encourage a kind of spiritual death that isolates and dehumanizes men, and feeds violent behaviour, especially in relation to women, who are constructed as opposite these highly-prized masculine traits.

While constructs of femininity have been and are continuously going through a radical reconstruction, constructs of masculinity, by their nature, have not evolved in the same way. Further, the radical reconstruction of feminine gender appears, in 2017 Small Town Ontario, to be causing a reaction in the form of hypermasculinity. It makes sense- an action results in an equal or greater reaction.

So let this be a call of anyone who bothers reading this to work harder on doing that work that healthy relationships require and to magnify is voices of survivors of intimate partner and gender-based violence.

And let this be a call to the men reading this to do that work required to redefine masculinity- because the current construct isn’t working for anyone, when you really think about it.

Resources (to be added to):

Healthy Relationships- LoveisRespect.org

50 Characteristic of Healthy Relationships- Psychology Today

Healthy Relationships vs. Unhealthy Relationships- Kids Help Phone

10 Habits of Couples in Strong and Healthy Relationships- Bustle

Worried Your Partner is Emotionally Abusive?- Everyday Feminism

10 Toxic Relationship Habits- Everyday Feminism

How to Recognize and Respond to Intimate Partner Violence- Everyday Feminism

 

 

Why I am a Medical Cannabis Advocate

Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 5.36.26 PMContent- medical system, ableism, denial of access, chronic pain, mention of parent death, pharmaceutical medication, naturopathic medication.

I was eight years old, running some relay race in gym class, when I first experienced the pain. Burning, throbbing, aching pain in my ankles and knees. My ankles gave way, and I fell, embarrassingly, in front of my peers. That was how it all began- a lifetime of chronic pain.

Between then and when my mom got sick when I was fourteen, she advocated or me to have any and all testing done to rule out any potential chronic health issues. She had fibromyalgia, and had since my brother was born, so she knew to believe me when  said I was in pain…though I don’t think she wanted to believe the extent of it. As tests came back negative again and again, I grew to normalize my pain, assuming everyone lived this way. By the time I was in university, the pain wasn’t just in my ankles and knees anymore- it was overwhelmingly in my shoulders, neck, and back, though my legs also often ached and I couldn’t seem to digest any food or drink aside from water and milk chocolate. It was overwhelming, but as far as I was aware, everyone felt this way.

If anything, I believed that the issues all stemmed from my depression, which is what my doctors told me after yet another CT scan came back normal. My doctor had prescribed me Prozac and Clonazopam after my mom died, days before my sixteenth birthday. By the time I was in university, my prozac prescription  had been maxed out and replaced with a high dose of Cipralex. Despite this, I was actively self-harming (via cutting and self-starvation) daily and was in more physical pain than ever.

Then the accident happened. You can read about it here. After that, my pain got infinitely worse. What I had been able to normalize before was no longer something I could even think about ignoring. So I went back to my doctor and we started the torture- I mean testing- process again. CT scans, (“inconclusive”) MRIs, EKGs, and a million other tests I can’t even remember the names of. For one, they put thin needles in my nerves and sent shocks in to test my nerve response. The specialist didn’t believe me when I said it was excruciating. At some point, my doctor diagnosed me with fibromyalgia. In other words, he gave his lack of understanding about what was going on with me a name that was meant to acknowledge and validate my wide-range of painful symptoms.

I took to the Toronto Public Library, reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. I made lists of potential treatment options- both based in traditional Western medicine and more alternative methods. I  stepped into the role of advocate for my own treatment and watched the battle unfold. Since I was no longer a passive recipient of my doctor’s decisions, he and I began to clash. At one appointment, he suggested the third or forth pill I could try (he’d prescribed me more medication, Lyrica and Tramadol, on top of my psych meds upon my diagnosis).

I said, “I use cannabis to manage my symptoms and have for years, that’s how I am able to function. Can you please give me a prescription so that I don’t run into any issues with the law while trying to medicate appropriately. My understanding is that fibromyalgia makes me eligable for this prescription”.

He said, ” I will maybe consider it after you have tried every approved pharmaceutical drug approved for your condition”.

He sent me to a pain clinic in Hamilton, where the doctor prescribed me Gabapentin and began to give me nerve block injections, a cocktail of drugs injected directly into the nerve in the curve where my neck and shoulder meet with a long, thick needle. The first time, I screamed the way people cry when they get punched in the nose. The spasm I experienced throughout my entire body was simply indescribable.

“Be quiet, you’re going to scare the other patients,” said the specialist. He turned to my partner, “don’t let her read up on the Gabapentin, I’m sure she’ll just end up with all the side effects if she does that”.

As it turns out, Gabapentin was one of the medications I got the most side effects from. It’s also the most common medication people recommend to me to this day when they find out I experience nerve pain.

It took three or four trips to the pain clinic before the specialist diagnosed me with neuropathy and declared that nerve block injections were not an appropriate treatment method for me after all.

I don’t even remember how many medications I tried to appease my doctor. Lyrica, Gabapentin, Tramadol, Nucynta (a powerful opioid similar to oxy), Cymbalta, Amitriptyline, Prednisone, and more. I was a full-time student in the first few years of my twenties, and feeling like a drug addict because I was following doctors orders. It was around this time that my partner’s father accused me of being an opiate addict and threatened to disown us (flash forward- we ended up disowning him). It was right around this time that I failed the only class I would ever even come close to failing. It was right around this time that I was constantly suicidal because the quality of my life was so deeply affected.

I began to try every alternative treatment I could think of- yoga, acupuncture, massage, naturopathic remedies, homeopathic remedies, energy therapy… Most of them seemed to work a bit better, but I had a  long way to go. Regardless, it cemented my commitment to having some control over how I managed my symptoms.

I went back to my doctor and said, “I’m done with this. I don’t want to me on drugs anymore. I want to manage my symptoms naturally, and I know it’s going to take a lot of work, but this is what I want to do. I brought my paperwork, I’ve filled it out, please sign off on a cannabis prescription.”

He said no.

I found another doctor through a friend who was compassionate and gained legal access under the MMPR in 2013. After evaluating my symptoms, he prescribed me 20 grams per day so that I could tincture or eat it if I wanted to, rather than smoking it. At the same time, I (against the advice of my doctor- don’t do this!) went off all my medication cold turkey and changed my diet to exclude gluten, sugar, and nightshades. I went through about two weeks of the hell that is opiate withdrawal and sugar withdrawal combined, and then almost immediately noticed a huge difference in the way I felt. I still lived with serious pain, but I was able to manage it- through choices I made.

Because my prescription is so large, I realized the importance of having access to grow it myself. It would cost over $100 000/year to purchase my medication from an LP. Since having my prescription, I’ve experienced two sets of law changes and the advent of recreational legalization.  At one point, I literally received a letter form Health Canada telling me to destroy my plants because they were no longer allowing patients to grow for themselves. LPs were to be the only option. While I’m excited that access will be easier for many people and they won’t have to go through what I did, I’m also terrified that it may impact my access moving forward. My access, and thousands of other people who could probably tell a story similar to mine.

I am 26 years old, I received my diagnosis 7 years ago, and I work full time, volunteer 10-20 hours/week, maintain countless beautiful relationships in my life, and manage my pain pretty damn well overall. I smoke a ton of cannabis, am conscious of my lifestyle, eat really well, go to therapy once a month, and take naturopathic medicines. Because that is how I choose to manage my pain.

I want to see the widest possible range of access for this versatile plant. I want to see people having access to grow their own, cultivate the strains that work best for them. I want to see dispensaries where  people can easily access multiple strains. I want to see mom-and-pop shops instead of LPs. I want to see less stigma, because autonomy is important for disable people like me. Access is important to disabled people like me.

6/21/16// my septum was a site of violence.

CW: bodies, trauma, rape, rape culture, body modification, consent, coercion, violence, assault, police mention, racism, transmisogyny, sexism, ableism, healing
I’ve always loved body modification- tattoos, piercings, weird hair. I have my ear lobes stretched, and have for a long time. I have 17 tattoos, and have had pink, purple, blue, white, and red hair. At various points in my life, I’ve pierced my eyebrow, labret, lip, nostril, ears x like a million, bellybutton, and nipples. I also have my septum pierced. I think part of it is that I like to shock people (it weeds out those who are judgmental based on appearance really easily), I like to set myself apart from the preps (as any Good Punk does), and I simply appreciate the aesthetic. As a sexual assault survivor and a person in recovery from an eating disorder, I have also found found an immense amount of healing through the choice to modify my body in a way that suits my aesthetic in a way that is permanent (tattoos), or semi-permanent (piercings and hair). I get the choice. I get to consent. As an artist, I get to treat my body as a canvas. My body tells my stories in a way that I can always hold with me. I can see them, and I know they are real, even when I’m not sure what else is. I like the way I look because I love my body modifications. Modifying my body has been a hugely liberating, empowering, and healing process for me.
I grew up in a Suburb of Toronto that has since become a Big City. Then, I lived in a mid-size University Town full of hippies, anarchists, and students. For a period of time I also spent a lot of time in the Toronto Punk Scene. In all of those places, I found my people. I had a community of people who, like me, considered their bodies art forms that told their stories. To them, the ways I choose to modify my body weren’t overly shocking. In fact, my modifications really weren’t particularly radical at all. After I finished my undergrad, I moved to the Small Town where my partner had grown up. in this Small Town, there is a vibrant music, theatre, and art community, and on top of that, it seemed like the ideal place where we could slowly build our careers and raise our one-day, hypothetical family. 
In spite of the vibrant arts community and the small, but mighty radical community (which looks a lot different than the radical communities of the University Town and Toronto Punk Scene), I began to run into the problem my preppy parents had always warned me about: the vast majority of people in this Small Town took one look at me and identified me as not only a New Girl, but a Freak. In the 3 years I’ve lived here, I have grown to be a part of this community, and I have a lot of love for it. But I have also experienced violence based on the way I’ve chosen to modify my body. 
Now, I should note here that I chose to modify my body, and I chose to settle in a Small Town. There are many demographics of people who experience violence based on things that are not choice, but are visible and significant parts of who they are. As a white woman, I do not experience the violence that people of colour face in my community, and systemically. When my Small Town’s police association chose to launch a “Blue Lives Matter” campaign to make money to benefit the police, I had the privilege to make noise about how inappropriate that was without the fear of being harassed or attacked. As someone who is identified as cis by others, I do not experience the violence that visibly and openly transgender people face in my community. I can use a public restroom without people following me in and inquiring about my genitals. As a person who, more often than not, passes as able-bodied (even though I’m not), I do not experience the same types of violence as people in the community who are visibly disabled and/or who use visible mobility aids. I am able to shop in the stores downtown. The level that these acts of violence exist on are systemic, and they thrive in my Small Town. The violence that I am talking about regarding my body modifications does not diminish the fact that there are people in my community who experience violence on levels that I am privileged enough to never have to experience. 

That being said, I am a disabled, mad, modified femme who has experienced violence that is rooted in these subject positions and the power structures they exist in in the context of my life and the social world around me. I could write a million essays on gender-based violence and ableism and madness (okay, I already have and will continue to), but this essay isn’t about those things directly as much as it is about the violence I’ve experienced because I have chosen to modify my body. Even more specifically, this essay is about my septum piercing being a site of violence. My horseshoe-shaped, silver, 16 gauge septum ring.

Sometimes these acts of violence are subtle. Sometimes they’re off-handed comments about how it looks weird, or about how other people don’t like it. I know it may seem like a stretch to consider those things violent, but when one thing about you is a constant source of harassment, that begins to feel a lot like emotional abuse. And that shit feels violent.

It felt violent when a manager told me I could have the job if I took out my septum ring because it made me look like a freak.
It felt violent when another manager brought up that, although she liked my look, some clients may not feel comfortable receiving counselling from me because of my septum ring, and that this has been an issue in the past.
It felt violent when people came into bars I used to work in and told me I’d be so pretty without my septum ring and that I should take it out.
It felt violent when family members told me the same thing.
It felt violent when a youth I was working with told me I was stupid for having a septum piercing. 
I could go on for a while, but I won’t bore you. I will share the most explicitly violent thing that happened regarding my septum piercing though:
 I was working with a youth who loved candy. We went into the dollar store to buy some, and I lead him to the candy aisle. We were intercepted by a middle-aged woman who reached out, grabbed my septum ring, and held on to it tightly while telling my client that this was the best way to “keep my under control”. Shocked, I reached up, held onto the woman’s wrist, and gentle peeled her fingers off of my face. She continued ranting about how I needed to be controlled with a piercing like that, and then reached up and grabbed it again. I blocked her with my own arm, turned my back to her, and made space for my client to pass by me. He was scared and shocked and had a lot of questions I didn’t know how to answer, like, “why did she do that to you?”. 
The escalation of violence regarding my septum ring lead me to take it out (that, and because I felt as though my manager had a point that that particular form of body modification may isolate me from clients, which is the last thing I want, wrong or not). I no longer felt safe wearing my septum ring in public. I felt exposed, vulnerable. I like the way I look with it in, so I continued to wear it at home, but took it out when I was in public. After a few months without it, I put it back in today. I’ll still take it out for work, but on my days off, I want to try it out again.

The fact that anyone feels as though it’s appropriate to police what anyone does with their body or their expression of self feels really fucked up to me. It feels like a violation. The fixation on the way other people look fosters such a toxic culture of alienation and unattainable perfection. It took me a long time to learn that perfect isn’t a thing, and that my stories and how I choose to tell them (including my obsession with embodying them) are a hell of a lot more authentic that meeting a beauty standard set out by anyone but myself. But my believing that didn’t stop that act of violence from happening to me.

I mean, let’s call it what it is. Rape culture. Rape culture is all about coercing people into believing that they’re living authentically and that their identities were formed through consensual experiences. Rape culture it about deciding what is best for other people, touching people without their consent, maintaining control, and stripping control away from people who may question the authority of hegemonic society. Rape culture is why a middle-aged woman felt it was reasonable to grab something that was attached to my face and tell my male client that violating my personal space, body, and choices was the Right Thing to Do.

And I’ve gotta tell you, it sure did feel similar to being raped. I mean, obviously not in such an intense way, but my brain did the trauma thing. I remember freezing and thinking, “she is holding something that is attached to my face and she’s won’t let go” and then snapping into flight mode the same way I remember freezing and thinking, “he is inside of me, and he won’t listen to me saying no” and then snapping into flight mode.

I wish I could say that this essay is a call to action. A call to respect other peoples’ choices regarding how they express themselves, physically or otherwise. A call to get consent before touching people. A call to respect the boundaries of survivors regarding their own healing (and to give people the benefit of the doubt if they choose not disclose their survivor status to you). But it’s not. It’s just one of my stories.

6/23/16// a letter to the woman who hit me with her car.

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I was nineteen, living in downtown Toronto with my partner for the summer. We did a lot of going to punk shows, and a lot of drinking beer. One evening, our friends stayed over. We didn’t stay up late, didn’t drink much, but had a nice time. The next morning, I walked one of our friends to her streetcar stop, which was across the street from our apartment. We were walking across the intersection at College and Dufferin, with me just behind my friend. The crosswalk symbol glowed a half-burnt out white man walking. 
And then I saw your car, about to turn left, right into the crosswalk. I thought you were going to stop, it was our right of way, but you kept going. You never stopped at any point, and were clearly in  hurry. I would guess you were going at least 40km/hr. I thought you were going to stop, but you kept going. You hit me, as I turned towards your car at the last minute. I ended up flat on my back in the middle of the street. That was when you stopped.
I jumped up, shot full of adrenaline, I didn’t feel anything at all. Frozen, my typical initial response to a threat. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine. You got out of your car, ran towards me, and hugged me. I thought you were going to stop, but you kept going. You said, “I’m so sorry! Please don’t call the police, I have so much going on right now”. You were crying.

My friend’s streetcar came. I turned to her, “go, catch your streetcar. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine”. She caught her streetcar. A man who had been parked just down the street yelled, “call the police!’ to me. I hated the police. You were obviously not okay right now. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine. I said, “listen, go pull over somewhere until you calm down”.

You got back into your car, and I crossed the street again and went home. As I entered my apartment, I felt the pain hit. My arms and legs were numb. My neck hurt so fucking badly. My entire body ached like the worst flu I had ever had. Like I’d been hit by a car. I told my partner what happened, and he told me I should have called the police to report it. To hold you accountable. I told him I was in too much pain to hear him out in that moment.
I want you to know that I have lived with pain every single day. 
I want you to know that typing this letter to you may be the only thing I’m able to do today, because my arms feel like there are pins stuck in them that have been roasting in a fire for three days. 
I want you to know that I have spasms in my neck, shoulders, back, legs, and arm every day.
I want you to know that finishing my undergraduate nearly killed me because I was trying to figure out how to manage my chronic pain. 
I want you to know that I’ve been on countless medications, each with side effects worse than the last. 
I want you know know that I spent years fighting for my right to medicate naturally with cannabis, and that the legal structuring of the laws around that have made it incredibly difficult to access and that the stigma I deal with because of it threatens my present and future every day.
I want you to know that starting my career has been made more complicated by my chronic pain. The career I’ve chosen involves shift work (including overnight shifts), physically assisting people at times, and a lot of emotional labour. The shift work fucks up the rhythm I’ve worked so hard to establish, the one that managed my pain, the physical assistance of people is simply not possible at times, and it’s hard to allot emotional labour for work AND for managing my own pain (not to mention layers to trauma). I have had to advocate for my physical needs, sometimes successfully, sometimes at the detriment of my career.
I want you to know that I regret not getting your contact information so that I could send you this letter, if not hold you accountable.
I was nineteen. I was young, idealistic, scared, and shocked. You were a middle-aged woman with a big fancy SUV who had the nerve to ask me not to call the police. You had the nerve to drive away. I thought you were going to stop, but you kept going. I don’t know what you were going through at the time, but you didn’t know what I was going through either. I wonder if you live with the effects of this event every day, like I do, or if you’ve forgotten. I wonder if you told your partner or your children or your parents or your friends or you coworkers what happened, and what they said to you. I wonder if you kept it a secret.
I thought the pain was going to stop, but it’s still going. 

 

– A.