Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Community and Communication: Reflections on the Consent and Interpersonal Communication panel at The Big She Bang V.

I'm just going to say it: I've had a hard time writing lately, and for a while, I was wondering what to do with this blog. For a while, sitting down at my computer and working on posts as if nothing had happened felt wrong to me. My life doesn't exactly feel real lately, and I've had trouble focusing on any one thing for too long since the funeral.

So I've been trying to keep busy in other ways. I've been trying to go out a lot, and I've been doing things that force me to be around people, like going to shows and volunteering. I've been spending time with my family and visiting old friends. I've put a lot of effort into distracting myself.

On Saturday, August 14 I gleefully distracted myself by attending The Big She Bang, where I got to spend time with many fellow rock camp volunteers, talk with some of the organizers of the event, and see some great bands and performers. I also spent a big chunk of that afternoon outside the church where the She Bang was happening, because New York City had some gorgeous weather that day.

But I wasn't outside acting like a high schooler cutting class to go smoke and talk under the bleachers the whole time. I did attend the panel on Consent and Interpersonal Communication, which featured representatives of Support New York and Fuckin' (A).

Having attended one too many sex positive workshops that didn't even start to talk about reproductive and sexual justice or rights in college, I went in to the panel a bit skeptical. But Support New York and Fuckin' (A) presented a truly positive, informative, thought-provoking, and dare I say it mature panel on physically and emotionally safer sex. Panel members shared personal stories, statistical data, and various strategies for engaging with and promoting safer sex, good health, and negotiation of responsibility with sexual partners. In the process, the panel touched on issues like normalizing consent and communication in a decidedly non-consensual and capitalist culture, and reframing personal sexual choices as political choices.

One panelist told a story that I'll never forget, because it made me think about my post-funeral behavior, thought it wasn't a story about grief. A Bay Area native, the panelist told us about his mentor, who was a young queer activist in San Francisco in the '80s. The panelist told us that one day, he asked his mentor what it was like to be be a gay health activist in that time and place. The panelist said that his mentor sighed, "Your community was literally dying around you."

The comment required no explanation; it's a reference to the AIDS crisis that shook the world in the '80s, and had a particular and devastating impact on gay communities in the US. But the panelist told us that after hearing that story, he started to think of his personal choices and his insistence on safer sex and effective communication with his partners as a matter of responsibility to his community.

The story made me think. What about effective communication regarding other issues, issues besides sexual health? What about mental health? If a failure to communicate, and a lack of critical information regarding disease can lead to massive casualties within a community, what would be the result of a failure to communicate feelings, and a lack of information about how to support people and deal with their emotional traumas?

Because of that panelist's story, I faced what I'd been doing all summer: I'd been hanging out with people and going to different stuff, but I hadn't been communicating, at all. I haven't been telling people, people who are friends, about what's been going on with me. I've been hiding, and I've been using going out to keep from having to really deal with my grief. I've been going out and pretending that everything is normal when it isn't.

I've been avoiding my feelings and keeping secrets from the people in my life. I've been self-absorbed, thinking more about my comfort level than anything else. At the same time, I've been needlessly self-sacrificing, justifying not talking about painful things by telling myself "I don't want to bum anyone else out with this, I don't want to be a downer." I've totally neglected my emotional needs, and the impact that my repressed grief could have on the other people in my community. This strikes me as the complete opposite of radical and positive, which is what I'd ideally like both myself and my community to be.

To be clear, I don't think of myself as some sort of scene fixture who has all this influence on everything around her. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm away at school most of the year, and I don't get to spend a lot of time in the actual vicinity of my community. But it doesn't matter how popular or active you are in your neighborhood and at your local events, because every single one of us has an effect on the world around us. Every single one of us is connected to everyone and everything, and we affect each other even when we don't mean to. For that reason we have to communicate with each other. Community requires communication. This might seem obvious, but I need to say it here, if only to be sure that it has been said somewhere.

Since the She Bang, I've gone out of my way to be more open about what I'm going through. I've made a point of telling people that someone I cared about deeply died last month, rather than hoping that they've read about here. I've started asking for help, both in my personal life and with work, including this blog. I am eternally grateful for the personal and professional support I've received.

Because the communication that communities require isn't just the interpersonal sort; mass communication via journalism, music, and other art forms is required as well. Blogs in particular play a specific and important role in the realm of young feminist and queer activism, and especially in the emerging international girl gang underground. As a writer and musician, I have a professional responsibility to my community, in addition to my personal responsibility to my friends and acquaintances, which I take seriously.

So, in other words: the single girl is back in the proverbial office. No more hiding, no more secrets, no more avoidance. From now on, just communication.


KW HQ said...

This was great, Jamie. Beautifully said. I am glad the She-Bang was a positive experience for you, and even happier to know you are having a bit of an easier time with the grief. We are owed some serious Daria time, for real.

jamie said...

Aw, the She-Bang is always a positive experience! I'm definitely doing better, and very much holding you to Daria, pizza, and baked goods; hope you aren't allergic to gluten or nuts.

Kathleen said...

I really appreciate your articulation of the divide between what you are living and what you are feeling--it is especially hard to dive into communication of the tough stuff when you are already feeling more introspective and down and your post reminded me of that. Not sure if you are interested but in this zine multiple authors struggle with the communication of grief--you might be able to find some bits to relate to. . .


jamie said...

Kathleen, I am totally interested in this zine! A couple friends have already recommended it to me, and I wanted to get it at The Big She Bang but ended up buying the Sparklefeathers comp instead. (It was a difficult decision.)

Thank you so much for posting this here, I can't wait to read it. Also, following your blog so I can be up to date on possible future issues!