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How To Throw Our Bodies Into The Fire If We Need To

Modified from flickr/Beth Scupham // Peter

There has been so much to write about and focus on this month, I don’t even know where to start.

My good old dog is at my feet in a gray dog bed; he’s injured his back chasing a squirrel. We both forget that he’s fourteen. I give him cannabis dog treats to help the pain, and carry him down the back steps so he can go to the bathroom. Now he’s looking at me with his big, button eyes, glazed over. I barely know how to help.

My students recently did a presentation on Childish Gambino’s “This is America” this week. One of my brightest stopped, mid-sentence, looking at the still of Donald Glover holding an assault weapon.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that we just had another mass shooting,” she said quietly. She is talking about Pittsburg, which, at the time of this class, had only happened a few days prior. We were still recovering from Kavanaugh (they’d been learning about moral reasoning, and we’d used the Supreme Court Justice position as an opportunity to explore ethics).

I opened a bright pink box of donuts. “Please eat,” I said to them, my palms open. They each took a donut gingerly, and I felt my heart riotous in my chest.

Let me backup a minute.

When I took this teaching job, I was shown a tiny black box, hidden in each classroom. “If there’s a shooter,” the Office Manager of my department said to me, somewhat cheerily, “just push this button and say ‘everything is just fine.’ That way, they don’t think you’re reporting them, and shoot you.”

I think about the fact that the dashboard of my car still shows mileage in kilometers because I don’t know how to reset it. How I threaten to throw my perfectly good printer out the window on a weekly basis because I don’t know how to unjam paper. My own inability to follow simple directions is something I’m largely OK with, except in my profession, where I’m expected to know how to fend off an armed person determined to kill me.

In a few weeks, I’m traveling to Tucson to teach a Gender Empowerment and Allyship workshop for community members, K12 educators, and parents. I’ve rightfully gotten a lot of pushback about this because even though I’m grayscale genderqueer and a femme who does trauma awareness and transcompetency in education, I’m still pretty comfortable with pronouns that define me as cis.

I get it. The pushback, I mean. And…

I believe that we’re living in a time where we’re redefining what cohesion and solidarity look like. A time when allyship and the work of allies needs to step up and utilize the privileges and resources that we have in order to center and hold up the most vulnerable and marginalized in our communities.

My own inability to follow simple directions is something I’m largely OK with, except in my profession, where I’m expected to know how to fend off an armed person determined to kill me. Click To Tweet

I know that we (my community, educators, activists) have had many discussions about how to center trans and genderqueer narratives without placing the burden of education on said folks, and I feel grateful that this workshop is an opportunity to begin that work. I recognize that this is an evolving process, one that must remain living and porous in order to consistently identify and meet the needs of those who have been pushed even further into the margins by the very real dangers of our political landscape.

I feel honored and excited to be invited to participate in this larger conversation and skillshare. Excited and honored to be just one small piece of this event, which is made up, aside from myself, of locals. I feel excited to be using the education and privilege that I have to help dismantle the problematic systems that keep our most vulnerable community members disempowered. Excited to see how allyship and solidarity can manifest when we have these intergenerational, interdisciplinary, inter-pedagogical conversations.

I’m having these conversations the day the news about the shooting comes through. I’m on the phone with a trans high school principal in Arizona, talking about listening to the most vulnerable members of our community, when Kavanaugh is sworn into the Supreme Court.

See? Every time we start to make a path to healing, another massive disruption happens in our country that derails us. It’s hard to know how to build houses in ceaseless earthquakes.

I like to say, and say it often, that teaching and writing and reading and staying engaged are the answer, and I believe that — I do. And yet it’s difficult to figure out what to teach, what to write, what to read, what to engage with. Sometimes, I feel like I’m merely teaching my students skills for harm reduction: how to not be manipulated by the media. How to be kind to other people. How to take no shit, but do no harm. To be thoughtful.

Then I remember bell hooks and about how syllabi and pedagogy are inherently colonialist, so I also think a good deal about how to make the classroom less of a white, feminized space. And also how to throw my body into the fire if I need to.

It’s hard to know how to build houses in ceaseless earthquakes. Click To Tweet

Is that allyship? Is that taking autonomy? Am I in the right to do this? Knowing about being or not being in the “right” requires understanding one’s own position, which means understanding one’s self. Which, for me, as a person with CPTSD and chronic pain and a smorgasboard of intersecting marginalized identities, means carving time out for therapies.

Is allyship privileged?

“Yes and no” is the answer and has been the answer to all of life’s most complicated questions. Every day I teach my students that many truths can exist alongside one another, that there isn’t really a “right” answer to anything—only an evolving attempt at an answer. Allyship itself, as a concept, isn’t privileged; allyship comes from a place of deep love, compassion, and empathy, which are all traits even people being actively attacked can feel and foster.

But the way self care, as an industry, has been created as a “mindfulness culture” (inside capitalism, inside the United States, specifically)—that is particularly privileged. To have access to therapy, to the education necessary to not only be hired to stand in front of rooms of people for pay, but to also even know that allyship is urgently necessary. After all, it’s a term we use largely in circles that are, if not entirely academic, often radical, activist, or informed by collective consciousness—and in order to have access to that information, that terminology, you still need to have certain resources.

Is allyship privileged? ‘Yes and no’ is the answer and has been the answer to all of life’s most complicated questions. Click To Tweet

This has been my year of teaching out of a suitcase. Of traveling across the country and showing up in classrooms and bookstores and living rooms, poetry centers and bars and cafeterias. Of re-thinking the framework of how education *really* works, and where it gets to live. Of putting down the pedagogical framework for de-constructing the very slight differences between “novice” and “expert”.

Not only because of what is happening in the world, the political landscape. But because it’s become alarmingly clear that our institutions—which produce the results they are intended to—are failing the majority of our most vulnerable friends and community members. They’re failing us, too.

Keep evolving your attempt at an answer.