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Generosity

Generosity

At a concert/conversation we played in Albuquerque, a young man shared with us his impression of what we are doing, which was perhaps the greatest possible affirmation of the heart of this tour.

He said that he often enjoys going to concerts, but that when you show up and listen to music and then go home, it’s ultimately a transactional encounter with the musicians giving and the audience taking. And on the flip side, he and others in his mostly-Mexican-American community are so often approached by well-intentioned researchers asking for their stories. He sees this as a bit exploitative because he feels that they are often taking the stories and experiences for their own benefit, even if people are genuinely listening and learning from them.

He expressed that he saw, in what we were doing, the strongest example of symbiotic generosity he has ever come across in this sort of context: we are vulnerable with our sharing of stories and songs from our perspectives and experiences, and in the intertwined conversations, we hold space for really listening and learning from the perspectives and experiences to those who have gathered there. This kind of mutual sharing is something that he would like to see much more of in the world.

That symbiotic generosity is what I care about most, and it is definitely at the heart of this tour for me. I was so grateful to hear that that heart seems to be manifesting in the way we intend it to!

-Stephanie

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The Trouble with the Word “Alternative”, the Sexuality Galaxy, and the Reflections on Sex Positivity

While we were in Seattle, we got to meet with Alenna Gabosch, the head of the Center For Sex Positive Culture, whom I had met briefly at the Erotic Art Festival in the summer of 2012. The Center holds space for play parties plus a range of educational initiatives, including the Pacific Northwest Library for Sex Positive Culture, which is the largest library of its kind.

Several things stuck with me from our conversation with Alenna.

Her forthcoming book, “Happy Endings”, is a collection of stories and perspectives about break-ups and divorces which were warm and healthy and communicative – in which everyone involved celebrates that their lives are so much the better for having had the connection in the first place, and in which the exes are still friends. I often talk about how we need more visible narratives like this, and I am so glad she is writing this book.

The second thing that I really carry with me is how she is trying to shift the conversation around “alternative” and “normal” sexuality by eradicating the use of the term alternative, which is commonly used to describe sex acts other than vanilla sex and relationships other than the strictly monogamous. In her view (and mine!), there is not really any such thing as alternative in this discourse because each person’s sexuality is totally normal for them. I’m inspired to think harder about how I use the concept of “alternative”, and how that usage may be perpetuating some stigma and shame around parts of my own, and many other peoples’ identities and preferences.

Another big part of Alenna’s mission is to facilitate meaningful dialogue across the sexuality spectrum, or sexuality galaxy, as she put it. This is another thing very close to my heart. It is so easy to claim space as either straight or gay, or even queer or gay, either polymorous or swinger, either kinky or not kinky, either ethically slutty or asexual. It it much harder to acknowledge and embrace how all of our struggles and grievances are connected. But in doing the latter, we might realize what amazing collective power we hold; we’re all in this together!

I think it is easy for the idea of sex positivity to be misunderstood and misconstrued – as though it is rooted in the notion that simply having more sex is a better way to be. But as I see it, and as I believe Alenna sees it as well, sex positivity just means sex and sexuality that stems from a place of wholeness rather than a place of shame. There’s much more to say about the complexity of the term, and I would need to spend more time with the Center to learn about to what extent it s fulfilling its mission, but I am galvanized by Alenna’s views, and I am so grateful that we get to be in conversation with her.

-Stephanie

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OUR LOVE IS WHAT WE MAKE OF IT – FROM AGE SIX TO NINETY-TWO!

OUR LOVE IS WHAT WE MAKE OF IT - FROM AGE SIX TO NINETY-TWO!

(Names in this post have been changed)

In the past few days, we have been on an amazing ride in Missoula – we’ve gotten to sing “Our Love Is What We Make of It” with people ages six to ninety-two, and everyone in between!

Last Thursday afternoon, we played some songs at lunch time at the Missoula Senior Center. Since we weren’t in an actual living room, we didn’t do the whole show. We just joined a group of four people for lunch and sang and talked a bit with them. There was a couple, Joe and Carol, in their seventies, who had been married for over fifty years and shared with us that they had fallen in love all over again about seventeen years into their marriage. Joe also shared the seemingly contradictory strong statements: “if our son wants to sleep with some broad, it won’t happen under my roof!” and “but we had sex before we were married, you know.” Carol talked about how much shame and guilt she had felt when she got pregnant before getting married, and how disappointed her family was in her.

There was also 92-year-old Annie, who I think I want to be when I grow up, by virtue of her beautifully feisty spirit! Annie has been married three times, and in her words, she had “two good ones, one bad”, and she had first gotten married “young and dumb”. Annie’s close friend Evelyn, wise and kind and cranky, had also been married and divorced three times.

Joe asked us why we didn’t want to be married, and we got to talk a little about how we are both hugely in favor of longterm commitment and building chosen family and of celebrating love, but that we have complex feelings about the cultural institution of marriage (and the civil rights that are bundled with it, and the unfortunate history on which is is built).

In the presence of humans with such long and varied experience, I often feel like I don’t know a damn thing. I shared that feeling with them, and we shared a laugh. But I think, in that relatively brief encounter, we all learned a lot from one another.

Later that evening, we did a full concert/conversation at the home of a long-term/committed/unmarried couple: Jacklyn and Zach. The audience included Jacklyn and Zach’s two young children, friends, and the children of those friends. Two women there had recently been divorced. Jacklyn said she cried from joy when she first heard “Our Love Is What We Make of It”, because it is so rare to encounter cultural examples that affirm their choice to not be married, and she was passionate about her six-year-old daughter Sloan hearing our song.

Here’s a recent dialogue that Jacklyn reported between her and Sloan:
S: I LOVE marriage!
J: Why?
S: Marriage means you have babies!
J: But we have babies, don’t we?
S: Because that means you love each other!
J: But your dad and I love each other very much.

Much to our delight, Sloan danced exuberantly for much of the concert/conversation! Jacklyn and Sloan danced together and sang along with “Our Love is What We Make of It.” When we asked everyone to take a few minutes and reflect on their feelings about marriage, Sloan drew a bride and groom and expressed “marriage is when two people celebrate their friendship”. The other young girls there also drew a picture of a wedding. The one six-year-old boy there drew a picture of a man under lightning-filled clouds and wrote “I don’t know how to draw pants”. I find it interesting to note that weddings were very much on the girls’ minds and that the one little guy happened to draw a non-sequitur, albeit a hilarious one.

Sometimes it seems even more significant to get to engage with people who have values and perspectives further from our own. But in the case of Jacklyn and Zach, it was such a rich experience to share in and celebrate each others’ shared values. And it warms our hearts like crazy to think of the ways in which Jacklyn was grateful to encounter our anthem.

-Stephanie

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Recycle Here!

After much recording, practicing, packing, and scrambling we have hit the road!

Our first stop was Detroit, where we talked with life-long residents and new arrivals about the changing landscape of the city. Before arriving I had heard so many differing narratives of the city: that it’s completely falling apart! That it’s being saved by urban farming! That it’s still lived in and loved by lifelong residents! That it’s being gentrified and capitalized on in the name of urban farming!

And I suppose all these thing are true.

There is undoubtedly some amazing organizing being done in Detroit, at places like the Boggs Center and the D-Town Farm (run by the Detroit Black Community Food Network). And I think it is a place that the rest of us should be looking to to see how the destructive patterns of gentrification can be disrupted or mitigated. But not voyeuristically or with the weight of “the future of the entire country” (a phrase some friends seemed wary of hearing) resting on their shoulders. We all have to be responsible to our own communities. And if you do decide to move to Detroit I would advise spending a good amount of time listening to those who are already there. We could probably all do that more, wherever we call home.

–Jillian

(The photo is from Recycle Here!, a recycling center that was started as a private project and is now funded by the city. Stephanie and I learned all about different kinds of plastic there.)