pisaquari: Who are you known as on the internets?
Amy: Amy’s Brain Today is my main identity. I also used to be maine_amy on some feminist boards, and sometimes I still use radfemlezzie.
pisaquari: Site(s) you blog? If any?
Amy: Feminist Reprise.
pisaquari: Places you most frequent/comment (can be nonfeminist)
Amy: I regularly read:
My Perspective (JusticeWalks) (unfortunately recently deleted)
Speaking Up, An Atheist Woman
Screaming Into the Void (Amananta)
Buried Alive (Pisaquari)
Well, I’ll Go to the Foot of My Stairs (Witchy-Woo)
(And you all need to blog more often by the way!) I get around to some other blogs/sites less frequently (feminist and otherwise).
pisaquari: How would you describe your background? Naming as many points for which you are privileged and oppressed as possible.
Amy: I come from a rural white protestant working-class family in a very white area of New England. I am assimilated middle class now. I went to a Seven Sisters undergraduate college, have a master’s degree and a professional certification so I have significant educational privilege. I live in the US Southwest, where I make about $18,000 per year doing a clerical job. I’m in the middle of changing careers to work that is a bit more creative, and I’m having more success at that than I expected. I’m in an age-privileged position right now, old enough to be taken seriously, but not old.
I came out as a lesbian in college, in a very lesbian-positive environment. Then I went back “in” and dated/lived with/fucked men until I was 27, when I met my first long-term female lover and came out again for good.
I’ve always been fat and that’s had a lot to do with shaping my personality and my understanding of what it’s like to be stigmatized for difference that can’t be hidden, and I’ve written quite a lot about this. I’ve experienced a lot more oppression from sizeism than from lesbian-hating even though I think I’ve been pretty obvious as a lesbian for the last 12 years. But as a fat person I’m constantly subjected to other people’s snap judgments and stereotypes about fat, which has given me a strong character but also a generalized mistrust of people and a somewhat shy, introverted personality. I think both of those things–people’s judgments about me, and the personality that has resulted from them–have negatively affected my work opportunities and social relationships.
pisaquari: How did male supremacy first touch you?
Amy: My family was a pretty traditional patriarchal family–pretty strict division of gender roles between my parents. My father worked in the shipyard. My mother worked as a nursery school teacher and also had total responsibility for housework, cooking, and childrearing; my dad did outdoor things like working on the cars and getting in the firewood. (Isn’t it great how “men’s work” is conveniently intermittent, unlike cooking, cleaning, and childcare which have to be done every day?) We lived eight miles from town, half a mile from the nearest neighbor away over the hill. My parents were also intent on hiding how bad things were at home, so we didn’t have much company or many social ties, and my childhood was relatively isolated.
My dad was a batterer; according to my mother, he “punished” her by hitting her with a belt at least once before I was born. They had come to some kind of détente about that by the time I came along, although psychologically and emotionally they were constantly at odds. I never saw him hit her, but he was verbally abusive to her, and humiliated her in front of family members or their few friends with lewd comments and put-downs. My mother was the typical “nagging shrew,” critical, negative and miserable, obeying the female socialization which says our happiness comes through others and so we have to harangue them into providing it. It was really a toxic environment to grow up in.
My mother was seeking upward mobility, class-wise, and as a teacher she thought she was the expert on raising children. She wanted kids that would reflect well on her in the community, where she was the head of a preschool that catered to middle- and upper middle-class families. She and my dad disagreed a lot about how to raise kids. He was from the “spare the rod and spoil the child” school, and I think hurting those he had control over — us, basically — made him feel like a real man. My mother relied on emotional manipulation and withholding in her attempts to carve us into obedient little plastic people — though she did spank us with a wooden paddle and slapped me across the face when I said things she didn’t like. My mother looked down on my father for not wanting to “better” himself. She was pretty critical and judgmental of him, and of me for the ways that I was like him and his family–fat, loud, “selfish,” “coarse,” “low-class.” (My younger brother’s outgoing personality was more like my mother and her father, whom she idolized, and she loved having a thin, athletic male child with light hair and eyes.) My dad was verbally and physically abusive to me, in a scary and out of control way, for trumped-up reasons, every chance he got. He could only hit me when my mother was out of the house–which wasn’t often, because she didn’t trust him. But the times when it happened are crystal clear in my memory, and it only took a few incidents, plus more frequent verbal abuse including extended screaming right into my face, to drive home the lesson that his anger was to be avoided at all costs.
My brother claims my father never hit him.
Between my father’s harshness and violence, and the ways my mother judged me “lacking” — in particular, having a fat, socially inept daughter didn’t do much for her credibility as the local early childhood expert — there was really no solace for me at home nor, of course, in the wider world, which just loves to persecute fat girls. So pretty much my earliest experiences embody some of the realities of life under male supremacy.
pisaquari: Were there any feminists closely involved in your upbringing?
Amy: My mother was what I like to call a “lip service” feminist. It was the 1970s when I was growing up, and she was very into the whole “girls can do anything boys can do” thing. Because I often believe what people SAY instead of what they DO, it took me years to realize that this espoused ideology did not begin to crack her loyalty to patriarchy, like favoring my brother over me and slotting me into “traditional” female roles. For example, she insisted that I take typing in high school so that I would have “something to fall back on.” This was not expected of my brother. In retrospect, the fact that I’ve made my living since I left college by typing is quite ironic, a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will. I do wonder how my life would have been different if “something to fall back on” had been computer programming or another skill that isn’t part of the pink-collar ghetto. If my mother had had nonsexist expectations of me, would I have lived up to those instead? Or, given the larger reality of employment discrimination against me as fat/lesbian/woman, does it just not make that much difference?
pisaquari: Was there an “aha” moment for you for feminism? For radical feminism?
Amy: Many, many. So many that I can’t even think of one specifically, but I know a lot of them happened while reading Julia Penelope’s book Call Me Lesbian: Lesbian Lives, Lesbian Theory. That book described so many of the circumstances of my life and laid them out in a radical lesbian feminist framework.
pisaquari: What attributes in your personality/upbringing do you think made you more open to radical feminism?
Amy: Well, see the sections above about my family. I basically grew up as someone who was on the outside in almost every way, who was constantly ridiculed, abused, and put down, because of being female, because of being fat and therefore by definition unfeminine and unattractive. I was teased and humiliated relentlessly on a daily basis in school and that continues intermittently today — although more often these days I am simply dismissed as not having anything of value to contribute, as being stupid or incompetent because I’m apparently unable to make my body socially acceptable. Although I am white and have benefitted quite a lot from white privilege–particularly in terms of the education I was able to get– I grew up in an almost exclusively white area, so the focus during my childhood was more on how I was different from all the other kids, therefore “wrong.” I didn’t experience my whiteness as a way of being “right” although that has come into play later in my life.
For some people, and I’m one of them, I guess, if you get dumped on enough, it really trashes your loyalty to the system. My major tie-in to the system was being the smart kid. I did get attention and praise for that; good grades and teacher-pleasing behavior got me into a “good” college. It’s been a long-term struggle to give up wanting to be “right” and always know the answer. I felt like being smart was all I had as a little fat girl who didn’t conform to femininity particularly well, who wasn’t attractive or charming or athletic. My attachment to book knowing is apparent on the website, although hopefully I’ve been able to transform loyalty to patriarchal knowledge into loyalty to feminist knowledge. I think women’s writing is vital for connecting feminists across distance and keeping some remnant of our framework alive until we can come to mass feminist movement again. But, to get back to the question, in general there hasn’t been much for me to give up in becoming disloyal to the system. I’m still working on some of the ways that white supremacy has its claws into me, but I don’t have all that much to lose — and a heck of a lot to gain — by advocating revolution.
pisaquari: Do you call yourself a radical feminist to others?
Amy: I don’t generally use that term in real life when talking to people, no. I think people have too many negative, and wrong, ideas about what it means, and I hate to get into arguments. Though if someone is calm and genuinely curious I will talk with them about it. When it seems relatively appropriate, I will give my opinions on issue-specific stuff.
pisaquari: How do you integrate radical feminism into your personal relationships? Buying habits? Love? Family?
Amy: I’m super-fortunate to have had two radical feminist lesbian lovers. Cress and I kind of discovered radical feminism together, and I met Kya in a radical feminist context. It makes things so much easier, I wouldn’t consider an intimate relationship–lover or friend–with a woman who wasn’t really dedicated to her radical feminist politics. (Which is not to say that women with radical feminist politics automatically make great friends and lovers. Sadly.) My lovers and I have had wonderful adventures in learning together about transforming negative patriarchal attitudes about sexuality. I mean, just the transformation from straight woman to lesbian involves confronting woman-hating where it lives–the mythology about our vulvas being dirty and smelly and lesbians being sick and twisted perverts or emotionally stunted, all that internalized woman-hating gets transformed into this profound kind of appreciation for women on all levels, sexual, emotional, intellectual, even spiritual if you like that sort of thing. And then, ditching porn, “erotica,” together. Learning new ways to talk to each other, in bed and out. Wanting solutions to problems rather than wanting to be RIGHT. Progressively giving up our attachment to dominance and control and giving each other space to be, even when we disagree or behave badly. Trying to stay separate as individuals instead of merging into heterocoupledom. Being more accepting of our differences. Healing some from some of the damage that’s been done to us. When everyone involved wants radical transformation and creativity in love and sexuality, it’s heady, it’s pretty powerful. It’s exciting and real, and I think that part gets missed in so many discussions of “sex positivity.” There’s an incredible energy and freedom in being with another person (or more) when both of you are saying, we’re going to try to find another way to relate to each other, as free humans instead of as cardboard cutouts from some sexually explicit graphic novel. I feel really lucky to have had that kind of love in my life.
Kya is part of a broad network here of counterculture Boomer dykes and I’ve been pretty much adopted into that despite being 20 years younger than most of them. My exposure, through her, to the landdyke culture and communities has helped to develop my awareness of other ways of living. I’ve written some about that too. I have to stop and realize every now and then that, wow, most people don’t live like me. And I don’t mean surface stuff, because in many ways my life looks the same as most middle-class white amerikans. It’s more about the mindset–being part of a community where the mainstream ways of doing things are questioned and often rejected, where resources are shared, where people do things for each other without a lot of negotiation. The relationships have been going on for long enough that everyone knows what they give out will come back to them eventually, that someone will be there for them when they need it. I think that kind of open-handedness, generosity and trust is pretty foreign, at least in the mainstream culture as I know it.
I’ve gradually been separating from my family of origin, to the point where I’m only in touch with them infrequently now. That’s actually been harder than you might think, because despite the level of nastiness my parents created between them, I really always wanted strong relationships with my family. But I wanted honest and growing ones, and that desire wasn’t shared. They don’t want to honor me as a strong vibrant proud fat lesbian. They can’t see who I am. I’m not willing to have duty relationships, to play a fake role as the poor spinster aunt who can’t get a man so everyone has to feel sorry for her and invite her to easter dinner but wishes they didn’t. They can’t realize that almost everything that’s important to them–their loyalty to the status quo–is foreign, irrelevant, or insulting to me. So we just don’t talk.
As far as buying habits, I don’t know how different I am than most white middle-class amerikans. We try to shop at thrift stores, we recycle, we don’t use chemicals on the lawn, all that good middle-class liberal stuff. Lots of people do much better at antimaterialism than I do, many of them out of necessity. The best I can do there, and what I try to encourage others to do, is just to be honest about it. It’s not as good as making real change, but it’s better than trying to justify everything — “Well, I’M a feminist so therefore everything I DO must be feminist!” All that energy going into justification and denial blocks change. At least being honest opens the door to the possibility of doing things differently at some future point.
pisaquari: What has been the hardest part of radical feminism to integrate into your life?
Amy: Well, let me shift the focus of that a little bit and say that the most difficulty I’ve had in living out my radical feminist vision has been working with other women! I hate to say that, but I’m also observing that what feminists do is we either focus on the problems we have with each other, in a negative, obsessive, “I’m right and you’re wrong!” kind of way, or we gloss over them and pretend they don’t exist. We hardly ever analyze them and try to solve them. Call me sick and twisted, but I’ve been fascinated by intrafeminist conflict almost since I started being aware of how much feminists fight with each other. I’ve paid some attention and I do think there are things we can do, and I think we have to do them. Not “have to” in the sense of “because we’ll be good people then,” but in the most practical way. We have to because if we don’t, if we can’t figure out how to deal with ourselves and each other honestly, we WILL fail as a movement. We can’t build a movement without each other–whoever we define as “on our side.” Some women really aren’t on our side, so I’m not going for some rah-rah gooby anti-analytical unity kind of thing here. We don’t all have to like each other or want to be in each other’s presence. And we all have our bottom lines about who’s in our movement and who’s not. But when women agree with us on almost everything but we focus on a minor place where we don’t agree–the only thing that results is fragmentation, splintering, and general unpleasantness. We have to learn to be more honest about our privileges and our loyalties, because those are the places I see us getting stuck–not wanting to admit that we’ve benefited from some attribute that the system rewards, and that we are therefore loyal to the system at least that far. Or sometimes we just simply make mistakes, we behave badly, and mostly we’re unwilling to fess up to that. I include myself in all of this, of course. I spend a lot of time looking back and thinking about what I might have done differently in some difficult situations, in order to build solidarity rather than fracturing. I won’t say more about that now, but I do wish for and dream about — and am willing to work towards — a living radical feminist movement with women who share my principles and are willing to be honest and work together in good faith even through disagreement or personality conflicts.
pisaquari: How do you survive/find happiness living in a patriarchy? What are some things you like to do?
Amy: I’m kind of a practical, hands-on, earthy kind of person, in case you hadn’t noticed, so I like crafty things, particularly knitting. It’s very calming, I enjoy the colors and the textures of yarn and the act of making something for someone I love. I like to bake for parties and potlucks; I like to feed women. I like to work on little projects around the house; we just hung a gate over the laundry room door so the dog can’t eat the cats’ food. I’m pretty home-oriented; I like having a warm, welcoming place to invite women into and to snuggle into, myself. I like to just sit on the couch and look at the Georgia O’Keeffe posters and pet the cats. I like to ride my bike in circles around Kya and the dog while they walk to the park.
I like cheesy movies, mystery novels with female detectives, and young adult fiction/fantasy stories with girl heroes (Tamora Pierce rocks!). I like listening to woman-identified/lesbian music, the kind some people think is awful–folk music about political struggle like Emma’s Revolution, lesbian rockers like the Indigo Girl. The content and the solidarity is a lot more important to me than some white male standard of artistic competence.
As I said before, I’m really fortunate to be connected to a lot of lesbians here who, while they’re mostly not radical feminists, are definitely counterculture, leftover hippie, lefty, progressive, what have you. It’s never a perfect fit politically but it’s a warm lesbian cultural network of practical help and socializing. I had that in college and lost it afterwards, until just the last few years, and I’m really appreciating it, even though I’m sometimes infuriated by it also. It approximates in some way the radical feminist communal future I envision and helps me keep that picture alive in my imagination.
pisaquari: What sort of activist activities are you involved with?
Amy: I’m kind of a yo-yo activist — I take things on, and then I get frustrated with bureaucracy or what have you, and I give up for a while, and then I try something else. This past year, for example, I tried working with the local animal shelter, and I just couldn’t hack it, because so many of the structures and events were about convenience for humans rather than what the animals really needed. I was involved with ACORN during the primaries but haven’t found as much opportunity to be active there lately. Recently I’ve started escorting at the local abortion clinic, and I’m doing that with some other feminists rather than on my own, so I’m hoping it will stick. One thing that I have been consistently able to do is free or cheap web design for feminist and animal causes, and I plan to keep doing that.
pisaquari: Okay, so there is a radical feminist island–you are there right now:what are you doing?
Amy: Well, we’re doing whatever needs to be done! Working for cash money, gardening, building things, cooking, cleaning, endless meetings, processing, oh god the processing. Trying to get radical feminism off the island and into the mainstream, so everyone can be free from white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.