The REAL Origin of the African Birth Song: Surprise, It’s Racist

As many of you know, I spend a lot of time browsing Tumblr. Though it has a ton of problems (like refusing to shut down blogs being used to harass women, trans folks, and people of color), I’ve had an account since 2008 and it has accompanied me on my journey through college, years in the working world, and now—graduate school while I juggle staying in my field with expanding my horizons. I’ve found brilliant things on there, and while some posts only garner a tiny modicum of attention even if they’re wonderful, other posts can spread like WILDFIRE and go hugely viral. One such post is this one, about an “African birth song,” which almost has 150K notes:

[T]here is a tribe in Africa where the birth date of a child is counted not from when they were born, nor from when they are conceived but from the day that the child was a thought in its mother’s mind. And when a woman decides that she will have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child that wants to come. And after she’s heard the song of this child, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father, and teaches it to him. And then, when they make love to physically conceive the child, some of that time they sing the song of the child, as a way to invite it.And then, when the mother is pregnant, the mother teaches that child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the old women and the people around her sing the child’s song to welcome it. And then, as the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. If the child falls, or hurts its knee, someone picks it up and sings its song to it. Or perhaps the child does something wonderful, or goes through the rites of puberty, then as a way of honoring this person, the people of the village sing his or her song.

In the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them.

The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.

And it goes this way through their life. In marriage, the songs are sung, together. And finally, when this child is lying in bed, ready to die, all the villagers know his or her song, and they sing—for the last time—the song to that person.

You may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings your song to you at crucial life transitions, but life is always reminding you when you are in tune with yourself and when you are not. When you feel good, what you are doing matches your song, and when you feel awful, it doesn’t. In the end, we shall all recognize our song and sing it well. You may feel a little warbly at the moment, but so have all the great singers. Just keep singing and you’ll find your way home.

Heartwarming. Much inspiration. Wow. So beautiful we could all cry a thousand tiny tears.

So what’s the problem, in a nutshell?

The “African birth song” is a half-baked invention of a White man that essentializes the “African experience” and does not event attempt to give any real details because it relies on collective ignorance about Africa that centers the world on a White axis. The text above does not provide any sources or even NAME this African tribe (though other versions do, but I’ll get into that later). The story uses exotification, the Noble Savage Myth, and people’s ignorance to make others feel warm n’ fuzzy and perpetuate incorrect narratives in the name of New Agey birth BS. This Tumblr post specifically, as many others have when they get reblogged, also uses the image/body of a RANDOM, unnamed indigenous woman from the Himba tribe. The list of problems goes on, because in the eyes of many non-African people, Africa is apparently just one huge jungle where everyone looks and acts the same, and all women run around topless feeling super connected to Mother Earth or something, giving birth in The Most Spiritual Ways We Should All Be Inspired By.

Himba woman who always remains nameless in reblogs of this stupid story.

Himba woman whose picture is used in reblogs of this story and always remains nameless.

Though this post focuses on Black and Indigenous folks, the same rule applies when discussing all other communities of color: we are not here to be your nameless, faceless inspirational memes. We want to be seen for who we are, and we want our own voices uplifted, not those of White folks who cannibalize our histories and profit off inaccuracies and tall tales.

Origins Of “THE AFRICAN BIRTH SONG” And Its Variations

While the story sounded cool and all at face-value, I knew there was more digging to be done because this smelled pretty fishy. What’s the real root of this “African Birth Song”? Beyond Tumblr and Facebook,  I found some other birth/parenting websites linking to this story, and that it has even been translated into Spanish and into Portuguese. It has been called “Your Song,” “The Song of Men,” “Remember Your Song,” “The Song of the Soul,” and more. The Birth Psychology website sources this book (“Welcoming Spirit Home: Ancient African Teachings to Celebrate Children and Community” by Sobonfu Somé) as the origin of the text but, SURPRISE, I looked at it and the book doesn’t actually make mention of this story—though it does describe other ritual birth practices in certain African tribes.

Some don’t even try to source it to a person, and say this tradition comes from Namibia as a whole. Others say it’s rooted in the Himba people (the picture above, and the “featured image” for this post by J. Gerrits, are Himba women), even though the location of that tribe is apparently in an arid area, so there wouldn’t be a “jungle” to go to as the story say. Meanwhile, other Internetters say the source is the “Ubuntu tribe” even though there is, uh, no such thing—Ubuntu is a philosophy. Again, we see a trend: folks ascribing things to peoples they do not know or understand because they sound “appropriate” or “distant enough” to be credible (and again, such credibility relies on assuming the audience is NOT from Africa or any of these communities).

Aminata Traore, not Tolba Phanem

This is actually Aminata Traorè, the Ex-Minister of Culture from Mali, NOT Tolba Phanem.

Those that try to credit an individual (aside from Sobonfu Somé) cite “Tolba Phanem (African poet), 2007” and use another image of a Himba woman to accompany the post. Some websites say that Tolba Phanem is a great women’s rights activist, and show off her “picture.” Except a reverse image-search on Google shows me that the picture they are using is actually of Aminata Traorè, the Ex-Minister of Culture from Mali.

It actually looks like Tolba Phanem doesn’t actually exist, and the person who truly originated this story is a dude named Alan Cohen*, who published it in Issue #33 of Pathways to Family Wellness—”a quarterly print and digital magazine whose non-profit mission is to support you and your family’s quest for wellness.” (If someone does find that Phanem is a real person, do let me know. I found nothing on her that was accurate/unrelated to this “poem/story.” And even the websites that cite very specific sources for this story don’t seem to return any hits or information—AND they also show incorrect facts that I *can* verify easily which makes them less credible from the get-go.)

[*EDIT 4/19/16: Commenters have been kind enough to keep digging and sourcing further. There seems to be another thread to this story linked to a White, Jewish man named Jack Kornfield which you can read about in this comment thread. I reached out to him but never received a response. Seems like HE may have been the originator of this story before Alan Cohen, but there is still no information about legitimate connections to actual tribal practices.]

So there we go. This story is a load of crap being adorned with “exotic” origin stories in efforts to legitimize it. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only person who was skeptical, but not everyone’s skepticism drew them to my same eyebrow-raising and frustration. For example, this person was also skeptical, but much to my facepalming, this was their conclusion:

I’m an artist. A spontaneous, story-singing artist.
I work in the abstract and unproven, the ethereal and profound.
I make up stories and songs all of the time.
And they’re true.
They are invented and (sometimes) nonsensical, and maybe they never happened, but at the heart and at the center, they are true.
Because when we hear them (or tell them), we can imagine and believe that they really happened.
Or wish that they had.
This is a true story.

On some level, I get it. I used to do a lot of art, and I am surrounded by artists, writers, and storytellers. I know not everything that gets written down has to be non-fiction, and that we can spin stories out of grains of truth and blah blah blah. I get it. But to use THAT as an excuse for writing racially busted stories, and especially those that go viral on social media? No. Your art is not an excuse. Your art does not exist in a vacuum. Your art is not separate from the systems of racism and oppression in which we live, and to be an artist is not to be exempt from cultural critique and social responsibility. If you want to tell a story about healing, restorative justice, song-singing, and birth, then make it stand on its own merits and power instead of being lazy and using some nameless, faceless “tribe” to help make it sound more legitimate.

Connections To Reality & Healing/Justice

So is this “African birth song” remotely related to actual tribal birth practices in Africa? Or indigenous work around healing? Sort of. Does the idea of being “in tune with our song” sound deep, and like it would be amazing to find ways of achieving justice that don’t just rely on punitive measures, but instead look beyond that and aim for reintegration and accountability? Heck yes. But none of that erases the racist mess I describe above. However, let’s leave that behind for a bit so we can look at what connection this actually has to reality.

Because I don’t know much about birthing practices in Africa, and I doubt I could do ANY sort of justice to an entire CONTINENT in a single blog-post, I’ll focus on the healing/justice portions.

Indigenous/ABORIGINAL/FIRST NATIONS healing circleS

  • Here’s a quick explanation of what healing circles are all about and where they come from. Though there are not a ton of studies about them as far as “evidence-based research” goes, there are some folks working on this kind of thing (example!), and I was honored to meet a group of them at the 2014 National Sexual Assault Conference.

Restorative justice, transformative justice, and community accountability

The line “The [group] recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity” encapsulates a big part of the RJ, TJ, and CA models. While different organizations may have different definitions of these concepts and how they relate to each other, at its core, the ideas behind these models and principles are that a) communities as a whole must be involved in eradicating violence, b) perpetrators of violence should not just be “passively responsible” for their actions, and c) healing must be directed by survivors and those impacted by the violence. Finally, a tenet of TJ (though not always RJ) is  the idea that we must transform—not merely slightly modify—our societal structures that currently enable violence and set up punishments for it.

  • Here’s a great resource that explains both TJ and CA with text, graphics, and a list of resources. It also gives credit where credit is due (read: to groups like Incite! Women of Color Against Violence and Generation Five for their work theorizing, writing, and operationalizing these concepts). This other resource also gives more historical background on it because our current police state wasn’t always what it is now, and this one discusses how the RJ model has been co-opted by the criminal justice system in certain ways (and thus how TJ can be an alternative to that).
  • Another slew of resources aggregated by Critical Resistance on addressing harm, accountability, and healing. It lists books, toolkits, zines, websites, articles, and more. While CR focuses on the prison industrial complex (PIC), this list of tools is about multiple forms of violence, including sexual assault, DV, state violence, and so on.
  • Here’s the Creative Interventions Toolkit, which “embracing the values of social justice and liberation, is a space to re/envision solutions to domestic or intimate partner, sexual, family and other forms of interpersonal violence.”
  • The Revolution Starts at Home is a fabulous book, and here’s an excerpt on these kind of strategies from a grassroots lens.
  • Here’s another CA wheel that focuses on domestic violence and explains what kind of actions should be taken by men, media, educational systems, the justice system, clergy, etc. (though it’s heteronormative and presents men as the only batterers).

SO IS THIS STORY WORTH IT OR NAH?

I think the ideas about healing and community-building in this story are awesome, but Mr. Cohen is not the originator of the concepts AND he’s using a racist, colonialist, tired ol’ lens to share his regurgitated opinion. Thus, I think that while this story has some good nuggets in it, there are WAY better resources and texts out there to illustrate these concepts in ways that are historically accurate, relevant, and non-oppressive. We ALL deserve better than this story.

[Added 2:15 pm EST] While this may seem small to some of you, this is part of a larger trend—this is a pattern, not a story in isolation. If you’re an educator, activist, teacher, parent, speaker, power-wielder of some sort, imagine incorporating this into a lesson about media literacy in a classroom, so students can find appropriate sources of information for projects. Imagine incorporating this into a workshop about birthing practices if you work with expecting parents. Imagine bringing this into a discussion about POC solidarity, or a lecture about art and social responsibility, or a class about international feminism.

The Neverending Story (A.K.A. The Ballad of Margaret Brooks and The CSPH)

I love open letters, especially humorous ones like those I used to read back when I was 13 years old and were aimed at celebrities like Tom Felton (who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series—don’t judge me). Coming in close second, my other favorite types of open letters are those that shed light on things that had previously been hidden in the shadows.

Today, an open letter went out—from Erin Basler-Francis, one of our champs at The Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health, to Margaret Brooks. (This is not the first time she gets an open letter like this, though the one I wrote years ago was much shorter and crankier). You should click over and read it, stat. Here’s some context:

The CSPH has faced a fair amount of adversity since its inception in 2009. Members of the Citizens Against Trafficking (an anti-rights, sex work abolitionist group) continue to harass staff and supporters of The Center, particularly regarding our outreach on college campuses. These bullies use both overt and hidden tactics in an attempt to delegitimize the importance of conversations about sexuality, pleasure, sex work, and sexual rights.

Most recently, Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks, director of the Economics Department at Bridgewater State University, sent a series of emails to the provost of Vanderbilt University using a series of red herring, slippery slope, and equivocation arguments as well as ad hominem attacks in an attempt to convince the school that it would be legally liable for sexual assaults that occurred on campus after the Study Sex College Tour workshop, “Brilliant in Bed.” While not the only protestation, Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks decision to use rhetoric causally linking pleasure focused sexuality education to sexual assault on campus is both inaccurate and insidious. 

We at The CSPH have chosen to address this issue publicly because the tactics used by Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks in this case are irresponsible and dangerous when the context of the climate at Vanderbilt University, as well as the current conversations around sexual assault, BDSM, and Intimate Partner Violence.

While part of me kind of wants to commend Margaret Brooks for her passion, it’s terribly saddening that it manifests in the ways it does and I cannot in good conscience do so. We shouldn’t stand for the bullying of youth, and we should also not stand for the bullying of adults at the hands of other adults. Obviously, if you’re working toward social justice and not ruffling feathers, you’re not making big enough waves (to, uh, mix some metaphors there), but man—the repercussions aren’t pretty, and we need to change that.

boston snow

Pictured here: the Snowpocalypse that’s as cold as the attitude from Donna Hughes.

It’s not like we haven’t reached out to Ms. Brooks, either. We’ve personally invited her and her crew to our events, and extended olive branches in the spirit of dialogue both online and in person, and none of them have been acknowledged or even accepted. In fact, we’ve been pretty straightforward and transparent in all our dealings. To her credit, I guess, she DID shake my hand once? This is when I was trying to show her I was a real person and not some nameless undergrad she could just bully without having to ever face. That is more than I can say for Donna Hughes (a professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island—how appropriate, right?), who very much did not shake my hand when I greeted her and gave me a cold shoulder of Boston weather proportions. It was pretty epic. But I digress.

Margaret Brooks is the same person who (along with Donna Hughes and Melanie Shapiro) tried to get a slew of events (including KFAPVD) I organized at Brown University canceled while I was an undergraduate. This is the cohort that misrepresented SO many things about the work the Sexual Health Education & Empowerment Council (SHEEC) at Brown and The CSPH were doing. This is the person that sent countless emails to Brown’s administration (including the President) warning them of the “dangers” of these events, blatantly spread inaccurate/misleading information, and wrote bulletins claiming that we were to blame for a spike in young RI men contracting HIV. This is one of the people that made my time at Brown tough for a while, and made me have to watch my back really carefully.

On some level, I’m glad it started early so I could protect myself before things got too serious, and I’m very fortunate to consistently work in spaces that respect my endeavors and where I can be open about who I am and what I do, but many people aren’t as fortunate

This is the person that sent my personal Twitter account to professors and deans before it was something I shared as publicly as I do now. This is the same person that sent critique-laden, alarmist emails to my supervisors at Sojourner House—about my personal life and affiliations to organizations that believe in kink/BDSM education and reproductive justice—trying to possibly get me fired, and definitely trying to put me in hot water and endanger a health fair I was coordinating. Fortunately, I was out about my identities at Sojourner House, because if I hadn’t been, she would have outed me to the director and my supervisor, as well as other colleagues. That is not okay.

I am eternally grateful to all the professors, deans, staff, friends, and colleagues who were and have been supportive, understanding and wonderful throughout all this and its multiple iterations. You know who you are. Thank you for believing in me and in sexuality education. While Brown is a deeply flawed institution, certainly, I am incredibly proud that they institutionally backed up my right to hold the events I did, and supported my health and dignity during that process. I firmly believe I didn’t bear a bigger burden while I was an undergrad because I was still a student and thus not as “fair game” as professionals in the working world.

You know who was the fairest game of them all, and the original target? Megan Andelloux—one of the best and most hardworking educators in the field today. megan andellouxMargaret Brooks is the person that time and time again contacts places where Megan Andelloux and her close friends/colleagues present with scare tactics in efforts to squash their/our attempts at education. This bullying not only harms the institutions and their populations who are sometimes deprived of accurate sexuality education, but it takes a huge emotional toll on honest, hardworking sexuality educators and advocates who are trying to make the world a better, more sexually literate place. The case with Vanderbilt is not the first time this happens.

This is the cohort of people that tried to stop The CSPH from opening back in 2009/2010. The same cohort of people that have accused my colleagues of pedophilia because they believe in giving kids accurate sexuality information and answering their questions at whatever age they start asking them. This is the cohort that, under the guise of “academic” and/or “professional” writing used blatant inaccuracies and decontextualizations (not to mention shoddy record-keeping and citations) to “make points” about how, basically, we are The Worst.

As far as ethics and academic integrity, I would expect better from a Brown alumna/Economics professor and a Women’s Studies professor.

This needs to stop, and we need people to listen. We will keep doing the work we do because we believe in it, and these things are not going to stop us, but we are not made of steel. We are committed to bringing these issues to light, but remember—all this takes a toll. How are you helping break down this misinformation? How are you supporting the victims of bullying and stalking and professional attacks? If you’re not already, imagine having to watch your back constantly for people like this. Where will they be next? What professional gig will they try to wreck soon? What kind of misinformation will they try to spread? This is why we need to speak up and support each other.

50 Shades of WTF: A Livetweeting Experience (Book 1 of Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy)

Love it or hate it, the ridiculously popular Fifty Shades trilogy has spread like wildfire so it’s crucial that we take a closer look at what this story is actually about. (I know I’m about a million years late in writing about this, but with the movies coming out, it finally felt like the right time.) Take the plunge with me and look forward to word-counts, memes, alternate universe versions of the story, and actual tips. Read my Storify [here]. This is just one piece in a larger series of posts I’m writing as a lead-up to Valentine’s day, so get ready for more!

50 shades doge

The Ferguson Masterpost: How To Argue Eloquently & Back Yourself Up With Facts

We encourage you to share the link to this rather than reblogging the entire post (since this is frequently updated and we want to minimize the spread of outdated info!): bit.ly/FergusonAEM. Also, comment volume is high enough that personal replies are not always possible anymore; browse through the comments & see if your issues/ideas have been addressed there.

As the folks from Sexplanations say: stay curious! Know that this is just one drop in the bucket. We encourage you to do your own research and follow the links so you can make your own informed opinion.


Introduction From The Curator

Updates & Notes After Initial Publication

Note (12/1/14 at 11:45 PM EST): Overall goal is to overhaul this post in the coming weeks so that it’s easier to read and further updated—taking into account the many, many comments flowing in. An “archive” GoogleDoc version will be made of its previous iteration for transparency and a new cleaned up version (with an extended introduction or a link to another post with such information, as well as a more cohesive author voice hopefully!) will be posted here in its place. Once it has reached an acceptable level/condition, we will probably close edits and comments.

Note (12/1/14 at 2:19 PM EST & 5:25 PM): For those of you asking, I am moderating posts, yes. If a comment is spam or hatemail w/ no points, it’s not going through. If it’s arguing against statements we’re linking to or things we’ve said, that can be posted [but if it’s clear you didn’t read or are willfully misinterpreting the post, nope]. For those of you leaving long refutations or additional details, thank you for taking the time to do so. I have some colleagues working to sort through those before approving the comments so we can fact-check and incorporate into the text as needed. It’s finals season in my world!

Note (11/30/14 at 12:35 PM EST): This was initially meant to be a smaller post, but I feel a duty to keep updating and fleshing it out. Still, I won’t be able to go past a certain point. That said, I hope it’s still helpful to y’all in whatever iteration is final & that you continue the conversation.

Note (11/29/14 at 8:00 PM EST): Holy moly, this got a ton of traction. Thanks to all the folks sharing, commenting, and helping us correct typos, inaccuracies, and so on! Keep it coming, but please note that comments are moderated & this is a one-woman-show from a busy bee, so responses and updates will not be immediate. We’d love to hear what you’re doing with this information, so definitely let us know of success stories in talking to family-members, using it in lesson-plans, and the like. You can say hi through my contact form &/or tweet at me @neuronbomb.

Note (11/29/14, don’t remember time): Consider this a living document! If you have things to add, put them in the comments! Because this is a collective work, there may be areas that need to be clarified, cleaned up, or entirely fixed. Further note: this article is not “Is Darren Wilson Guilty? Was Mike Brown innocent? We have the answer!” — this is a tool for discussions, compiling useful information to PRIMARILY speak about police brutality, racism, and the like.

Note (11/29/14 at 9:25 AM EST): To clarify, just because we link to something doesn’t mean it’s an endorsement or that the source is completely unproblematic. For example, while I personally have my issues with Tim Wise and how many institutions choose to bring him in to speak vs. the many POC who have been doing anti-racism for longer, we do include information about his documentary here.

Actual Introduction To Masterpost

The only kind of bombs I fully support are truth-bombs, and that’s why I’ve come together with a group of POC and select White allies to write this post. We feel it’s critical to have conversations about social justice loudly, noticeably, personally as well as systemically, and eloquently*—in this case, specifically around Ferguson, #stoptheparade, #BlackLivesMatter, #IndictAmerica, and all the myriad things happening right now around police brutality and the devaluing of Black lives. We need to connect our struggles and see where they intersect, while not pretending that we all face the same issues (today I’m lookin’ at you, non-Black POC). To do this, we need tools, scripts, data—means of having and supporting these conversations, as well as our communities.

That’s why we’re here.

We want to give you tools to support that work and that dialogue. If you’re facing tough questions from friends, family, colleagues, or even perfect strangers, we hope this will help you answer them. We need to collectively build support and awareness to build a better society, and part of that means challenging those who assume “we are already there,” exposing those who would further marginalize already disenfranchised communities, and educating those who do not see why any of these things are issues in the first place. Please contact me if you find any inaccuracies in this post; we’ve worked hard to dig things up, but sometimes new details come to light! You may also want to peruse other “master posts” that are out there (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). If you just want to read “what next, and how can I help?” you should scroll all the way to the bottom.

With Love and Solidarity, 

Aida

The fantastic team who helped out and suggested info included: Renee Cotton (who was a total rockstar), Luisa Ramírez-Lartigue, Sara David, Linda Hower Bates, Tamara Williams, Michael Becker, Katie Lamb, Dani Da Silva, Shanice Yarde, and G Starr Vidal.

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When the Professional Is Personal: Calling Out the Whitewashing of the Sexuality Field [Updated 12/3/14]

NOTE: First time reader? Skip the text between the two horizontal lines below. Already read it? Most recent updates are summarized at the top but you can also see their expanded form within the text. Barring any huge developments, there will be no more updates to this post.


12/3/14: Further updates, in summary form: Reid [a contributor] wrote publicly about this (video is still forthcoming). His partner, Allison Moon (of Girl Sex 101 and Tales of the Pack) has written a post as well. Carl Frankel has once again revised his statements. Sadly, the process has still not been transparent. For the curious, here are the various iterations of it (and note the comment section): version 1, version 2, version 3, and the currently live page. Finally, for a variety of reasons, neither I nor WOCSHN as a collective are engaging with advising or collaborating on the Secrets of the Sex Masters revisions process any further.

12/2/14: Key updates in a new section have been added. Click here.


On first glance, 95% of people can’t tell I’m Latina, or that I’m bilingual—born and raised in Puerto Rico until I turned 18 and came to the continental U.S. for my undergraduate degree. My face adds exactly zero racial diversity points to pictures because I’m pale as heck, and due to my  knack for languages, I don’t have an identifiably non-Anglo accent. However, I identify as a person of color (POC), and more importantly, a woman of color (WOC) due to my ethnic and cultural background, as well as my political leanings and activism around these identities. That means a lot of things, particularly because even in POC spaces, colorism and anti-blackness still exist, and being Latina in the continental U.S. is very different than being one in PR.

So when I saw a recently-published book that highlighted 16 “sex masters” and noticed everyone was White (with no one bringing it up publicly), I figured I needed to do something as both a WOC and sexuality professional. (I didn’t focus on other oppressions because I hadn’t read the book and didn’t know more about the personal IDs of the contributors around axes like gender ID, ability level, etc. but maintain that inclusivity along these axes is also critical).

SOSM

If you know me, you know I’m an activist, but also pretty damn diplomatic, so regardless of whatever I was feeling, my first step was to publicly ask the author and some of the contributors (including some I consider friends as well as professional colleagues) what the deal was. This set off a chain of events that continues to be in motion right now, and I want to share with you. [If you’re looking for the official, collective WOCSHN response which I worked on with some fierce ladies, peep it here instead.]

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That Time My Uber Driver Spent The Entire Ride Hitting On Me (A.K.A. On Challenging the Urge to Minimize Predatory Behavior)

670px-Say-No-to-Sexual-Harassment-in-the-Workplace-Step-3Public transportation in Boston is infinitely better than in Providence, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect, or that getting from Point A to B doesn’t sometimes take 1 hour when it could take 10 minutes by independent car. Fortunately, there are private-driver services to fill in the gap (for those who can afford it), especially if you don’t own a car or, like me, don’t even have a license. In short, you download one of the apps and request a ride, then someone comes to nab you and you can track their trajectory on your phone. Easy peasy. No cash needs to be exchanged because you enter your Paypal or card information into your phone.

I started out by trying Lyft in Providence and was charmed with their super friendly service. Now I regularly use services like Lyft or Uber to cut my transportation time or get me places public transportation doesn’t easily access. But this post isn’t about the wonders of getting to and from places. This post is about sexually predatory behavior, customer service that didn’t suck, and how victimized people often have an urge to minimize the actions taken toward them.

(So trigger-warning for descriptions of sexual harassment)

Update 7/8/15: TO BE CLEAR, I’m not trying to say Uber is a great company here. Their RESPONSE to me was really stellar, but there is a LOT wrong with Uber as a business. They have a bad track record of ignoring activists and denying sexual assault allegations, they have some senior executives that spout tons of sexist statements, and let’s not even get into their business model. As more information about those things has surfaced, I have worked to wean myself off supporting them.

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SFS14 Workshop Recap: “Beyond Yes Means Yes: The Law, Activism, and Practice of Consent”

Two-people-talking-logoMissed the Sexual Freedom Summit by @WoodhullSFA this past weekend? Fear not! I’ll be recapping some of the sessions I attended. First up: “Beyond Yes Means Yes: The Law, Activism, and Practice of Consent” by Andy Izenson (@andyeyeballs).

Overall, I want to commend Andy for a wonderful session. He managed to strike a good balance between hilariously personable and serious, all while providing useful information and having us directly practice some of the concepts through engaging activities (AND giving space to not participate for those who hate activities and/or may be triggered by ones specific around consent). I’m a pretty harsh critic when it comes to judging presentations, and I had a lovely time.

While I don’t think everyone left the session with the same delicious taste in their mouth (especially not the cisgender white man who probably felt attacked when he mentioned that a way for people, and particularly women, to stay safe was to do things like “not go into the dorm room of college guys if they’re drunk,” and there was a palpable sense of rage in the room), I’d venture to say 95% of folks felt good about the workshop. Curious to hear more? Check out the workshop description to start:

This workshop will take participants through an understanding of the current state of and conflicts around sexual consent in the law, within activist communities, and in their own practices. After last year’s workshop focused solely on personal practice, this workshop zooms out to take a wider view of what it means to commit to fighting rape culture on multiple fronts. Participants will have opportunities to learn and practice positive consent strategies in their interpersonal interactions, and takeaways enabling them to empower the members of their own activist subcommunities to speak up and connect against abuse and assault. The session’s goals are to allow participants to experience consensual empowerment in a safe environment and learn strategies for spreading that empowerment throughout their own work.

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VICTORY! RI ends ICE Holds // ¡VICTORIA! RI quita los ICE holds

The following text was sent out (and posted online) by the Olneyville Neighborhood Association, a small, grassroots organization in RI that “organizes low-income families, immigrants communities, and people of color in Olneyville and beyond to create a diverse, community-led movement that wins economic, social and political justice.” I worked with them as a digital literacy instructor for a while, and then I moved into the role of board chair for two years. It’s a scrappy, hardworking organization that creates real, meaningful change in the community, and I’m so so proud that after so much work on the ICE holds issue with other community organizations, this victory has been achieved. I’m also proud to say that, while I was at Sojourner House, we also signed on to this work and supported these actions.
Foto de Toño y apoyantes, saliendo de la cárcel, libre después de 7 meses con ICE Hold // Photo of Toño and supporters, leaving jail, free after 7 months with an ICE hold

Foto de Toño y apoyantes, saliendo de la cárcel, libre después de 7 meses con ICE Hold // Photo of Toño and supporters, leaving jail, free after 7 months with an ICE hold.

VICTORY! RI ends ICE Holds 

Dear friends, family, and compañer@s,

It is with overwhelming joy that we share the news that yesterday, July 17th, 2014, RI Governor Lincoln Chafee signed an order directing our state’s prisons and jails to end their practice of holding immigrant detainees for additional time in order to transfer them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  The previous policy of accepting “ICE hold” resulted in unknown hundreds of our community members being unfairly held by RI authorities, sent to ICE, and deported, often separating them from family members in Rhode Island.
Today, following the order, ONA member Antonio Mejia was released after nearly 7 months of detention on $300 bail for the charge of driving without a license.  Toño was arrested in Central Falls, RI in December and sent to RI’s state jail, where ICE placed a hold on him.  Had Toño paid bail, he would have been sent to ICE and likely deported.  Instead of accepting this fate, Toño made the courageous choice to stay and fight, organizing from behind bars to pressure Governor Chafee to end this unjust practice.  This victory is a testament to Toño’s courage, sacrifice, and faith in the power of organized communities to defend their rights and win justice.
With the signing of this order, Rhode Island has implemented the strongest statewide policy in the country limiting collaboration with ICE.  This policy comes on the heels of years of organizing against ICE holds by a strong coalition of organizations (see below for a list of campaign supporters).  After numerous meetings with the Governor and other state officials, delegations, forums, press conferences, marches, rallies and call-ins, the state has finally taken action.  The policy comes a month after leading gubernatorial candidates committed to ending compliance with ICE holds if elected.  The policy also comes out in the midst of a lawsuit: Ada Morales, a US citizen, has sued the state and ICE for twice being detained on an ICE hold.
We celebrate this tremendous victory and the impact it will have on our communities; however, we also believe that for the hundreds who have been held and deported because of ICE holds, and for the tens of thousands who have had to live in fear for years that a routine traffic stop could lead to their deportation, that justice delayed is justice denied.  Up until the night before the policy was issued, ICE was in our jail picking up members of our community.  Governor Chafee bears responsibility for maintaining the holds policy for years after this issue was brought to his attention.  Even now, his office tells us that the policy was issued this week in order to protect the state from liability in the ongoing lawsuit.  The Governor’s foot-dragging and reluctant acceptance of community demands represents a missed opportunity for moral leadership at the highest levels of state government.
Rhode Island now joins over 160 jurisdictions in 20 states rejecting ICE holds.  These figures represent the victories of a growing national movement challenging the collaboration of local law enforcement in President Obama’s policy of mass deportation.  We celebrate our win here in Rhode Island and at the same time recommit ourselves to the fight against deportation and the separation of families.  We won’t rest until our communities can live free from fear of deportation.  Please take a moment to read about the case of another ONA member, Ernesto Tipaz, who is currently in ICE detention facing deportation, and send ICE and email calling for his release.
Thank you again to all those who made this tremendous victory possible.
¡Hasta la victoria siempre!  Until victory, always!
Olneyville Neighorhood Association

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My Weekend Warrior Profile (Cross-posted)

This entry was originally published on the Sojourner House blog on May 30th (link here). I’m republishing it here so that people can find it with more ease. There will be more writings on my career path for those interested in following it or doing something similar too! Also, it’s important to note that the WW feature was heavily inspired and modified from The CSPH’s “Hump Day Heroes” feature. Credit where credit is due!

Every weekend, we feature different individuals (“Weekend Warriors”) that are working around social justice and making a change in the world so that we can all live free from violence and oppression. The goal of this project is to raise awareness of the work that is currently being done, highlight the amazing people doing it (with a focus on Rhode Island) and show the varied paths people have taken to this kind of social change. At its core, this project is about empowerment and building community!

What kind of work do you do?

I often find myself with my spoons in multiple pots at once. Broadly defined, I do sexuality education, project management, and public speaking. While not something I’m actively pursuing right now, I’ve also done more direct community organizing and digital literacy instruction. That has been really fun, especially when working with the elderly and with immigrant communities.

Where are you based out of (geographically-speaking)? Do you work as an individual, as part of an agency, or…?

Currently based out of Rhode Island, but the Internet is my playground, and I’m moving to Boston in the Fall. Right now various agencies have joint-custody of my time! I also do some individual work on the side. My almost 3-year term at Sojourner House as the Sexual Health Advocate (and seasonal Vagina Queen as a colleague called me) is ending on June 30th, and I’m incredibly proud of the work I’ve done with the agency—a lot of innovative, wonderful stuff (including this project, so filling this out feels very meta).

The other primary place where I work is The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, a sexuality training and education organization devoted to reducing sexual shame, fighting misinformation, and elevating the sexuality field.

Outside of those two main projects, I do sporadic educational work for youth on behalf of Partners in Sex Education and I also deliver community presentations through Good Vibrations’ SHOW program as an offsite sex educator.

What things do you focus on? What are your specialties?

Sex(uality)! But that’s a simplistic answer. For me, sexuality is my focus, but that’s a fairly broad category that encompasses reproductive rights, issues of gender and orientation, healthy relationships, communication skill-building, the mechanics of pleasurable sex, and more. My primary areas of focus right now are LGBTQ issues, domestic violence (as well as sexual assault), sexual health education, and HIV. It’s funny because for a while I didn’t want to work on issues of DV and HIV, and instead wanted to focus more on niche topics that didn’t have a lot of folks working on them, like BDSM/kink and polyamory, but I realized that there was (and is) still a lot to be done in the realms of HIV and domestic violence, especially as far as inclusion for varied identities is concerned. I’ve had the privilege of working on “mainstream issues” while also making space for those more marginalized experiences and communities, and that’s what I hope to continue doing—connecting struggles and knowledge instead of having them sectioned off from each other (though that at times is necessary).

What are your goals and passions in this field?

I love bridging gaps with information and connections, getting people the resources they need when they need them. Also anything related to marginalized identities speaks to me on both a personal and professional level, especially because often too many people speak “on behalf” of communities they’re not a part of instead of standing together in solidarity with those folks and lifting THEIR voices up. I want to get it right. To that end, I hope to keep juggling many projects (both clinical and macro) in service of my communities.

I’m passionate about making conversations about sexuality and health easier to have, fostering diversity through a lens of paying attention to our intersecting identities, and fighting for sexual freedom and wholeness. What do I want to see? I want survivors of violence and abuse to feel empowered. I want clinicians to provide competent care to their “alternative” clients. I want us to use positive messages instead of shame to reduce negative health outcomes, and even redefine what “negative health outcomes are.” I want more representation of multiple bodies, genders, sexualities, races in the media. I want us to recognize the connections between different forms of violence. I want accessible reproductive healthcare for everyone. I want people’s autonomy to be respected. I can keep going… I just want EVERYTHING!

Why did you choose to start working in this field and what has kept you motivated to continue?

This video interview someone did with me actually sums it up pretty well. Long story short, as a queer Latina, when I arrived at Brown University I knew I wanted to work on issues of LGBTQ rights and racial justice. My life since then has taken some twists and turns, but that’s been at the core of it all. I branched out into sexuality education more specifically, but it’s all rooted in wanting social justice and being able to focus on achieving that through the things about which I’m passionate.

In a nutshell, seeing how far we’ve come but how much we still have yet to do is what keeps me motivated. Also super crucial? Being surrounded by key people who are amazing, valuable human beings also devoted to doing this work, or supporting those who do it. Creating/finding and nurturing a community has been vital for me.

Where did you go for school/training?

Brown University was my undergraduate home, and I emerged with a Bachelor of Arts in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I’m about to head off to graduate school this Fall to pursue my Masters in Social Work at Boston University. Outside of that, I’ve gone to a LOT of professional development events and conferences, probably more than one single person should ever go to! I just love learning a lot and being able to get that knowledge in varied ways, not just from a university. Locally, the Rhode Island Foundation has been a great local resource in learning more about nonprofit management.

Have you published any material (books, articles online, etc)?

No books published yet, but a project is brewing so I’m excited to see where that might go. I’ve also contributed to the last 3 issues of #24MAG (www.24mag.org) and my favorite piece was one I wrote about ASMR (Auto Sensory Meridian Response) for Issue 4.

Outside of that, my writing has been on the back-burner while I’ve been busy with other endeavors, but I co-edited “Sexual Health Education and Policy in Medical Schools: The Importance of Incorporating Basic Human Rights into Medical Education and Training” (written by Megan Andelloux) published in the Woodhull State of Sexual Sexual Freedom Report of 2011.

I also self-publish some writing online via my blog (neuronbomb.wordpress.com).

What would you recommend to people who want to work for a more just world, free of violence and oppression? Any tips on how to get into this line or work?

Figure out what unique skills you have (or can develop) and see how THOSE can fit into the larger fight for social justice. Not everyone has to be a public speaker or community organizer. Movements need a variety of talents—we need organizers, yes, but we also need bookkeepers, lawyers, people who can make huge meals, people with coding experience, interpreters, comedians, the list goes on.

Also, know that you can be an amazing contributor to movements without being or making yourself a martyr. Being able to set boundaries, ask for help, and take time to refocus and have some time to oneself = crucial skills that usually need to be honed with practice.

Take advantage of any opportunities that come your way, and soak in as much knowledge as you can.

Finally, make sure you nurture strong networks and give back to the community (there are many ways to do that), not just because those connections may serve you in the future, but because we’re all in this together and we cannot simply fight to get ourselves to the top–we should be working to help our communities, those who are marginalized by our current social systems, and those at the intersections.

What is the most personally challenging aspect of your career?

Not having enough time for all the things I want to do or need to do! Or feeling like I have no more help or resources to give someone, whether it’s because I’ve exhausted every option available to them, or because their issues are over my head and require intervention from someone with more clinical expertise. It can also be really tough to see people face the same problems over and over and feel powerless to do something about it. I’ve had some really terrible interactions with certain government or housing officials that have outright lied about hearings with clients, and confronting the reality of corruption can be really disheartening.

Outside of that, there are the obvious challenges of sometimes being persecuted for tackling taboo subjects or denied access to certain things due to prejudice…but that’s not personal/unique!

If you had to recommend one book and/or one film to our audience, what would you suggest?

“RACE: The Power of an Illusion” was a really fascinating documentary. By the time I saw it, I had already had my mind blown with the idea that race was a social construction, but this film did a great job at explaining a lot of the different ways we’ve understood race throughout U.S. history, and taking into account how race and class intersect with each other. Everyone should watch it!

As far as books go, “The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within ActivistCommunities” is crucial for those seeking to learn more about IPV in activism-focused spaces, to see why speaking up is hard, what transformative justice can be, and what are the complications of enduring abuse from a “well-respected” activist.

Please list where we can find you online! (Website, Twitter, Facebook, Website, other Social Media/Online Websites)

Primary Blog: http://aidamanduley.com (or smutandsensibility.com)
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/neuronbomb
Assorted collection of sites: http://neuronbomb.flavors.me

Loving My Job Doesn’t Mean You Get to Exploit Me (Or “Why My Time & Work Ain’t Free”)

Illustration by http://melaniegillman.com/

Illustration by http://melaniegillman.com/

“DWYL” & The Intersection of Capitalism/Sexism

Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!” –a glimmering promise of joyous labor that’s fun 24/7 and somehow secretly “not work.” Miya Tokomitsu thinks the “intoxicating warmth” of that line’s promise must be critiqued:

“Who, exactly, benefits from making work feel like nonwork?” “Why should workers feel as if they aren’t working when they are?” In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, DWYL is, in fact, the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism. If we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.

This idea of “not-work work” creates a cycle that enables many employers to exploit their employees (especially in nonprofits doing social services/justice-related things) because they rely on the workers’ “love of their jobs” or “passion for social change” to offer low wages, never give raises, demand outcomes incongruous to the hours being paid, and more. As someone who works “doing what she loves,” but is frustrated by the ideas that “if you love it, it’s not work, and thus you shouldn’t charge for it,” I cannot stress enough how timely and important this article is.

Tokomitsu drives the point home even further, explaining how this disproportionately affects women and is embedded in sexist notions of labor and “whose job it is” to do certain activities:

Yet another damaging consequence of DWYL is how ruthlessly it works to extract female labor for little or no compensation. Women comprise the majority of the low-wage or unpaid workforce; as care workers, adjunct faculty, and unpaid interns, they outnumber men. What unites all of this work, whether performed by GEDs or Ph.D.s, is the belief that wages shouldn’t be the primary motivation for doing it. Women are supposed to do work because they are natural nurturers and are eager to please; after all, they’ve been doing uncompensated child care, elder care, and housework since time immemorial. And talking money is unladylike anyway.

“Come On, Anyone Can Do That!”

When people think “pffft, anyone can do that” about fields like art, caregiving, and education, they erase the level of preparation many people have to get to actually do those things well. Yes, there are things “anyone can do” to an extent, but the results/quality will vary widely. This often happens because people think they understand a field and assume they can do just as good of a job (which is often untrue). This happens to me with sexuality education all the time.

While I fully support popular education methods, community skill-shares, and decentralizing power (especially in fields that get increasingly professionalized at the expense of including the affected communities in their own healing/work), those strategies fulfill a very specific need. Sex education, particularly in school settings, is not just something you can wake up one morning and do with the same level of knowledge, grace, and skill as someone who has invested a lot of time and resources into their preparation.

Social media is another prime example of this issue. Many people are ON social media and think that automatically gives them “expertise” to do high-level social media management and content strategy. Yeah, no. Just being able to boil some pasta and mix it with cheese doesn’t make you a chef either.

Like the image at the top of this post points out, though, these kinds of attitudes are are RARELY directed at medicine, chemistry, and pretty much any STEM field (which BTW are male-dominated, surprise!) because society places those bodies of knowledge on a pedestal and presumes (or knows) they take a great deal of technical knowledge. Especially in regard to STEM fields (since some people don’t even want to touch those areas with a 10-foot pole out of fear), even relatively simple tasks are seen as impressive because of that fear and ignorance. Not to say chemistry is a piece of cake or that neurosurgery is just like teaching a room full of students, but that we must acknowledge the complexity and nuance of fields that are socially considered “soft” and are also often associated with women.

On The Other Side Of Sex Education Programming

By the time I graduated from Brown University in 2011, I had a slew of campus event organizing experience. As the chair of various groups, I coordinated a large number of events to promote wider dialogue and education around sexuality issues. My set of tasks included being the liaison with outside speakers and negotiating prices to bring them to campus. Looking back on it, I realize how underpaid some of the speakers were.

In fact, sometimes I actively haggled prices down so I could make the events more attractive to the funding boards and so we could put on more events. Part of that was just because of the way certain groups and events got funded and my desire to do as many educational activities as possible, but I also think that it’s related to not fully grasping the type of work and hours that can (and often do) go into delivering a stellar college workshop or lecture. Now that I’m on the presenting, rather than the college organizing, end and I also work for a small organization that does training/education on sexuality, I have a more informed perspective about these issues.

When your eyes widen at the prospect of a speaker asking for $2,000-$5,000 for a presentation, think about that for a second. When you hire consultants and freelancers, they often have to charge more per hour and per project than organizations because you are hiring them sporadically instead of putting them in a long-term, stable position with benefits they can rely on. When independent sex educators are pricing their work, they have to think about things like:

  • their past/present/future professional development and education
  • having to (often) pay for their own healthcare and insurance(s)
  • time spent preparing their outlines and materials (which can involve a great deal of research)
  • expenses related to travel (food in new places, places to stay, transportation itself, time spent away from home-base, etc.)
  • expenses to make the presentation worthwhile (e.g. purchasing new PowerPoint or Keynote themes, buying props, mailing items to the presentation location, paying for extra bags on airplanes, etc.)
  • fees taken by booking agencies if they don’t handle all their bookings/gig logistics

On top of that, educators doing the college circuit have to think strategically about where they speak and how much they charge so it can be sustainable. Student organizers often want to bring in other speakers too, and schools aren’t often willing to pay someone to come annually & speak to the “same” student body, so educators can’t always count on that money being stable from year to year. Think about all the other offers that might be competing for attention, too! Especially if someone is in really high demand, they’re not going to take 20 low-paying gigs instead of 20 high-paying ones, so they will prioritize the things that make sense and/or money.

Please note: this doesn’t apply to everyone 100%—there are people who consider themselves sex educators with little education and grounding in the field beyond personal experience (I’m not saying you need a degree in sexual health to be able to speak about these topics, but that some people think that taking one class in college or one workshop somehow makes them An Expert in All Things Sex). Not every sex educator reads through medical journals, uses fancy slideshows, spends hours preparing for their presentation, or combs their work for racial diversity and inclusive language. There are also people with stable income who just do sex ed on the side every so often and don’t have to deal with some of the things above.

What’s more, there are also people out there who “drive down the market” in other ways—who shamelessly spread misinformation, steal workshop titles and materials from other sexuality professionals, and actively try to lasso work away from people who already have it by saying “Hey, I can do what [insert name of presenter usually does XYZ] does but for way cheaper!”  TL;DR: Some people will charge “a lot” for a presentation and it will not have been worth it and it will not be backing up any of the things I said above.

That being said, you know what the reality is, spoken from the event-organizing end? If you are amazing at what you do, many places will find a way to pay you. If you command a decent price-tag and aren’t wishy-washy (note: being flexible isn’t the same as being wishy-washy), many places will respect that and just get you the money. When I had speakers who haggled with me, we haggled. If there were speakers I really wanted who had a firm price tag, I just bit the bullet and dealt with it (or didn’t bring them in because we just didn’t have the money at a given time).

But It’s Not That Simple!

I don’t want to place the blame on educators and speakers for “undervaluing themselves” as if there were no other relevant factors here. I also don’t mean to imply that there’s some magical level playing ground where all sex educators get equal opportunities. Outside from a passion for sexuality issues, a love of teaching, and an imperative to give back to their communities, some educators shift their prices down because they’re not in a financial position to decline, and/or because they’re just starting out and don’t have enough professional experience or clout to ask for more. The advice of “just decline events that don’t pay you what you’re worth, stop underselling yourself, you’re hurting the field” is busted (plus it’s classist, racist, and homophobic in its assumptions and implications).

For folks who are part of minority groups, this is can be especially tricky. For example, due to things like racism and homophobia, many LGBTQ/POC speakers are:

  • offered less money from the get-go
  • are passed over in favor of white/straight folks, all other qualifications being equal
  • get trapped into offering their work at a lower rate so it will even be CONSIDERED (this also affects people tackling “unpopular” or “niche” subjects such as, say, the intersection of sex and disability)

So often we even have to fight and make special deals/packages to get certain topics addressed because they aren’t seen as pressing by the dominant group (e.g. discussions of LGBTQ people in the domestic violence sphere). It’s seen as our duty, or perhaps as our “privilege,” to be able to educate and train organizations on things like being sensitive to gender and sexuality minorities, when it should be recognized as valuable work as well as a social justice imperative.

LGBTQ/POC speakers often get shoved between a rock and a hard place—we either do the work for less than we’re worth or it just doesn’t get done. We either compromise ourselves and our livelihood for our communities and visibility of certain issues or they remain invisible and silenced. Add all this to the fact that many LGBTQ/POC folks are already battling with impostor syndrome due to lack of positive media representation and messed up social messages about the value of our work, and is at all surprising why this problem exists? This needs to change.

Not The First (Or Only) One To Say It

I’m not the first one to say some of these things. In fact, Jill McDevitt just posted about how she gets asked to do her work for free or “for exposure.” Hanne Blank has written about how “Jesus doesn’t pay her rent” (in reference to a deacon’s ignorant comments about her work as a professional singer) and there’s even a depressing/amusing Twitter account devoted to highlighting this kind of cycle, particularly in the art world.

My friend Chihiro also wrote about this and shed some light on the costs behind artwork:

Don’t ask your art friends to draw something for you for free. If we give you a gift it’s because we are generous and like you; it’s not an invitation for free art requests.
Don’t try to haggle too much, because when we price our work we have to factor in materials fee and hours we spent. If you’re skeptical, just ask us to break down the prices because we will happily do so. You may be surprised to learn a single sheet of archival drawing paper can be $13. Or that it takes well over an hour to build a frame, stretch canvas onto it, and prime the surface (gesso, sand, gesso, sand, gesso, sand… Yes this is all before a painting can even begin!) Some quality oil paints are $35 a tube (that’s not even the most outrageous price either.) If an artist requires a studio, that should be factored in too. You’re not just paying for a pretty image. Pretty images don’t come from thin air. Time, space, materials, skills, inspiration… remember what you’re paying for and maybe think of the money you spend on other things. (…)
If you can’t pay them at least offer an exchange or services. A lot of us are trained with over a decade of expensive schooling too, just like doctors!

In Conclusion, Don’t Expect My Time & Work for Free

It’s not that I’ve paid all my dues or that I’m done doing work for pro-bono. I will always strive for sliding scales, for accessibility, and for working with/for my communities. I will always understand fledgling organizations, niche topics, and the #strugglebus. However, I’m pretty damn good at what I do, and I’ve put (and continue to put) lots of money and tons of effort towards my [continuing] education and expertise. Just like you wouldn’t expect a doctor to do surgery on you for free, don’t just expect my work for free. Sometimes I WILL give it for free and volunteer my time, but it’s not something anyone can or should demand. As Hanne so eloquently put it:

[When] artists, myself included, make our work available for free, as I do in this blog, we do it consciously knowing that we are giving it away.  That’s our right as artists.

Just like your neighbor has the right to give you some of hir homegrown tomatoes — the ones sie nurtured and watered and weeded in the hot sun — if sie so chooses, just like a lawyer has the right to work pro bono for a cause sie wishes to support, just like a bricklayer can spend hir day off building a wall for Habitat for Humanity if sie desires, an artist has the right to give others access to some (or even all) of hir work for free.

No artist, however, has an obligation to give others access to hir work for free.

I strive to balance paid and unpaid projects in a way that makes sense for me and leaves me feeling good about paying it forward and leveraging my areas of privilege for the greater good. This means, though, that I do have to say no to certain projects and even have to turn away friends because there’s just not enough time in the day to Do All The Things for Everyone Who Asks. I love helping people and teaching, but please consider the requests you make and how (in)appropriate they are. If you’re asking that I take an hour or two to teach you about a topic, or counsel you about your relationship that’s in shambles, or read your manuscript for something—don’t be surprised/hurt if I say no or tell you I’d have to do it for a fee/barter. (Seriously, don’t underestimate the magic of bartering. I’m all about that.)