Friday, November 25, 2016

The Necessity of Social Justice Work in Climate Activism, Part One: Reflections on Pulse

Even knowing (thinking? wondering if?) I am apparently more likely to be massacred in a queer club, I feel safer in queer clubs than in straight bars. (Clubs. Whatever. I'm using them as synonyms.)

I thought about this in the days and hours after the Pulse tragedy, as I had already been considering going out to a queer bar here in Medellin. I questioned for a moment, in that irrational way humans do, applying something with similar characteristics to our own lives, however distance and removed, if this could happen where I am.

Here's why: Even if there is some kind of hate crime at a queer club every night in a thousand, I experience harassment and lack of consent practices in straight clubs any time I go out and try to socialize.

If I go and don't make eye contact with any male-presenting people, I can maybe get away without being harassed. Not always.

But I want to go out to socialize, and yet the sad fact is that in straight bars people don't know how to respectfully ease into consensual interactions.

I am one to wear my love and lust on my sleeve. When I like someone (blush), I tell them. Often through text messages, drunk or no, because then I can get all my thoughts out at once, without interruption, and be sure that I am saying exactly what I want to say.

Some people think this is weird. I met up with a fellow traveler yesterday who was surprised by this, calling it brave. I have gotten the gamut of responses to my strategy, from "brave" to "awkward and dorky / not smooth." Even "desperate" (probably mostly in my head).

But my question is, what is the alternative? If I am attracted to someone, and I don't just put this out there, what do I do? Well, the alternative given to my by this culture (and I certainly have participated in this as well) is to wait for some chance moment to swoop in for a kiss. Sometimes accompanied by liquid courage. But as the song goes, a kiss is not a contract. What do you think that kiss means?

Anyway, THIS REALLY UPSETS ME. I am so sick of the swoop-kiss, in real life and in media. In TV shows, it is portrayed as romantic. I have even seen, repeatedly, that some character, often male, kisses a female character who is in a monogamous relationship. She doesn't stop him right away, out of surprise and/or enjoyment. Then, she feels guilty, and sometimes her male partner even gets mad at her for cheating. She will often say, "I kissed so-and-so." Um, no, they kissed you. It is not your job to go around fending off kisses. And, for me, an unasked for kiss can be just as violating as lots of other unasked for sexual contact. You can't take it back once your lips are planted on me.

All of which is to say, this is the meat-and-potatoes of straight culture and straight bars, I think. And straight culture in general. Not to say it isn't present in queer culture - as portrayed in media as well. I got mad when, in Pretty Little Liars, Paige swoop-kissed Emily while Emily was upset about Maya. How insensitive could she be? (And I recall times when I tried to swoop in, especially in my high school days, on someone I liked who had just broken up with someone.)

I am probably spoiled. I get to spend parts of my summers surrounded by magical community where consent is a top priority, the norm, the expectation. But this shouldn't be spoiled, I want this to be the norm everywhere. Because once I knew how much safer, healthier, it felt, I can't deal with this violation culture all over the place. I want to be able to go into any bar, straight or not, and have a conversation with someone, drunk, and trust that they won't try to swoop-kiss me. I was at a club a few months ago and danced with a cute girl. Even amidst the loud noise, I was able to easily, and gracefully, lean into her ear and ask, "Before we leave tonight, would you like my number, a kiss, or both?" And she smiled and said both!

Consent is one of my biggest values. It is why I am so distraught over what is going on in the world. We have a disaster going on in the world in terms of consent. Last year, while being trained for my job advocating for climate legislation, I connected my value of consent to the problems of the world, again. If we valued consent as a culture, nobody would build nuclear power plants, coal plants, or fracking operations, because they would have to get the consent of those who live there - including the plants, animals, rivers. And they would never consent to that! It's absurd! I know it is an overused, perhaps even desensitizing term, but this is why the phrase "the rape of the Earth" emerged.

I am wondering how we can, at this moment in time when so many are increasingly betting on worst-case scenarios, bring consent into climate activism. This is how we can make the climate movement feminist. These issues are not silos, as ecofeminists have been aware of for decades. It is all connected. Just as Pulse is connected too (and thank you forever, 350, for acknowledging this).

There has long been a divide between social justice activism, and environmental activism. That is why these days, I talk about and social and environmental justice. Bring these things together. as a global organization is making strides in this department. But I still hear folks in my community, sounding like myself not so many years ago, saying "The environment is more important than human social justice, because we all need it (the earth) to live any life, even a horrible one." I am not going to name any names. I love you, fellow activists. I understand your reasoning, because it was once my own. It is a seductive line of thought, especially for those of us who are White enough, or rich enough, or educated enough, to have some distance on any social problems except the environmental ones.

I no longer think this is true. For some people, they say, we don't have time to be distracted by social justice causes, because we need to put all of our energy into fighting climate change. Slowing it down, whicever. I say, we don't have time to not think about social justice. It is an emergency that we bring our movements together, as some already know. I want to see this happen in my community. It is important for two reasons, that I can name in particular.

One, I don't think humans are inherently greedy and selfish. Some may have their empathy turned down quite a bit. But in general, when we humans have our basic needs cared for, it is easier for us to make decisions considerate of others. Take plastic bags as an example. Here in Colombia, I am using way more plastic bags. This happens because they are offered to me constantly, and it is much harder to turn them down when I don't have an alternative to offer, as I often do at home. When I am grounded at home, and have enough food to eat, options for what to eat, food from my garden, I am more easily able to avoid plastic bags. My mom, who lives off grid, finds plastic bags incredibly useful. When you are poor and may not even have running water or a fridge, plastic helps keep things separate, clean, dry. Another example: when I am here, walking around in the heat, and feeling dehydrated, if I can't find water or a place to get a juice in a glass, I much more readily accept a plastic container of juice, because my more basic needs aren't met. Again, this is a matter of physical priorities. Our organisms must be fed, watered, protected from the elements, before we can effectively reach beyond ourselves to care for the rest of life.

The second reason is that to have an effective movement, we need all hearts and minds in the problem of climate change and stopping capitalism's assault on life. And we aren't going to have all hearts and minds on the problem if some people keep reiterating this claim that it is the only cause that matters. We need solidarity. We need mutual aid. This has all been said before. I am not the first, or the most eloquent. But I hope some people I know will listen to me when I say that I will be able to be more present and bring my whole self to my climate activism if my straight climate activist allies care just as much about ending heteronormativity. I feel alienated when I see environmental activists seeming to ignore the Pulse tragedy, stuck in our issue-silos. I know we are all experiencing compassion fatigue; there are plenty of events in the world I can't always bring myself to act on. But I can still look, I can still breathe into my heart and acknowledge this is happening.

Can we all care about consent together, the consent that stops the rape of human bodies as well as bioregions and ecosystems, and our whole biosphere? I know it is overwhelming, but will you breathe into this with me, and we can share our hearts, and act from here?

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