Trigger Warning for Happy Fun Ball?

Safety sign reads "Warning: Unpredictable Triggers"by Roxanna Bennett

A few years ago I signed up for an Artist-Educator class. I was working at an art gallery teaching kids and wanted to learn to write a more structured curriculum. I was super stoked about taking the class. It was a ten-week night school course, the class size was small, entrance was competitive and tuition was expensive.

The instructors were warm, friendly, and knowledgeable. The other students were creative, interesting, and passionate about the pedagogy of arts in education. The coursework was engaging and intensive. There was nothing not to like about having the privilege of being chosen to be a student in this class.

But five weeks in, I was forced to quit.

I have Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,(C-PTSD) which differs from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in that the trauma that caused my condition is not one single event but a lifetime of multiple traumas beginning in early childhood.

C-PTSD is chronic and can mean a lifelong struggle with symptoms like hypervigilance to threat, panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty achieving REM sleep, dissociation, depersonalization, depression, and a host of related issues such as eating disorders, self-harm, identity disorders, paranoia, hallucinations, agoraphobia, and selective amnesia.

One of the hallmarks of anxiety and trauma disorder are panic attacks that can be triggered by outside stimuli. Triggers can vary greatly from person to person. While it is simple to assume survivors of, for instance, sexual assault, would be triggered by watching a violent television show or reading about a similar incident in the paper, this would be disingenuous. Triggers are subjective, intensely personal and can appear innocuous.

At the time I signed up for the class I had been in therapy three to four times a week for several years and was transitioning off of Long Term Disability. I had worked very hard to develop a skill set that would get me out the door in the mornings and allow me to manage panic attacks, a medication regimen to regulate my sleep and a lot of support from friends. I felt in control of my life, positive about my future and excited at my prospects.

Imagine my shock when I experienced a sudden, full-blown panic attack during a simple group game during my class. There were eight of us in the room, standing in a circle, tossing a volleyball back and forth in an example of a warm-up exercise that we could use with future students. Read more

Posted on by Roxanna Bennett in Feminism Leave a comment

FFFF: My Gimpy Life Season 2 Finale

Friday Feminist Funny FilmIf you haven’t been watching Teal Sherer’s webseries My Gimpy Life, you have been missing out. The series follows “the adventures of a driven actress trying to negotiate Hollywood in a wheelchair.” It’s funny, geeky, thoughtful, and I’d argue feminist, especially in its depictions of female friendships and body diversity and challenging ableism.

The Season 2 finale came out yesterday and I wanted to share it here, but if you need to catch up first, you can find all the previous episodes on YouTube.

Warning: a little bit of NSFW language:

For watchers who need it, closed captioning is available for the video.



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The Round-Up: March 11, 2014


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Starting a Conversation on Bisexual Women and Mental Health

bisexual female symbolby Lola Davidson

Over the past few years several studies have shown that bisexual mental health issues are some of the most serious and overlooked health problems.

Bisexual women regularly deal with stigma and shaming from several different communities due to the intersection of biphobia and misogyny. Research shows that bisexuals have the highest risk of anxiety and depression, as well as the lowest level of social support out of any orientation group. I wanted to talk about why that is and how that ties in with the gender issues bisexual women deal with.

Something I’ve noticed that happens to both lesbian women and bisexual women is intense anger directed towards us for not entertaining the idea that our sexuality exists for men. There is still a lot of hypersexualization that happens to women when they’re with other women, and that hypersexualization can quickly turn even more violent when these women make it clear that they are not okay with their identity being seen as a fantasy. This violence can have a huge negative effect on women like bisexual women, who already receive a lot of social stigma for our orientation.

Bisexual women have the lowest overall mental health, which leads to loneliness and suicide attempts (in fact, 45% of bisexual women have considered or attempted suicide). The struggle of bisexual women has been marginalized for too long because of the way we are dehumanized as sex objects and because bisexuality is often delegitimized as a sexual orientation.

This also explains why severe issues of bisexual mental health are commonly overlooked. It becomes a vicious cycle, because the trivialization of these issues adds to the anxiety and depression which bisexual women face, and which women in general face after being told that their struggles are not legitimate struggles.

Being LGBT is tough and being a woman is tough, and being both can sometimes make you a constant target for scrutiny and harassment. I want this cycle to break and I think with March being Bisexual Health Awareness Month this is a great time to talk about how serious of an issue this is, and I truly believe that starting this discussion is the best way to start to end this stigma.

(bisexual female logo via Wikimedia Commons)

Posted on by Lola Davidson in Feminism, LGBT Leave a comment

FFFF: Frozen’s Elsa Teaches the Other Disney Princesses

Funny Feminist Friday Film square logoMichelle Cameron stars as Elsa from Frozen, who teaches the other Disney Princesses that they don’t need to spend so much time worrying about landing a Prince.

Also featuring: Elizabeth Oldak (Belle), Tanja Nagler (Cinderella), Molly Gallagher (Ariel), Tiger Darrow (Snow White), Dominique Roberts (Aurora) and Celeste Hudson (Jasmine).

Note: The video is subtitled so I’m not including text of the lyrics here, but full text is available on the YouTube page in the video description.

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in FFFF, Pop Culture Leave a comment

Sister: An Unflinching Look at Maternal Health Worldwide

Title still for Sister, showing the word "Sister" over a world mapby Roxanna Bennett

“Pregnancy is a normal physiological event,” states Goitom Berhane, a health officer in residency at a rural hospital in Ethiopia. “This is not a disease. It is only that society is not organized enough to handle it, to appreciate its risks. It has risks whether it’s in Europe or Africa. Wherever you are, pregnancy is always a challenge.”

An unflinching look at the stark and bloody reality of infant and maternal mortality, the new documentary Sister follows maternal health care workers in Ethiopia, Haiti and Cambodia. Beautifully shot, Sister captures both agonizing and ecstatic moments in birth and delivery. from a woman whose fetus is dead inside of her, to a successful emergency Caesarian operation.

In the U.S., one in 4,800 women die from childbirth-related causes. The statistics in other parts of the world are staggering. In Haiti, one in 48 women will die of childbirth related causes. In Cambodia, one in 44 women will die of childbirth related causes. In Ethiopia, one in 27 women will die of childbirth related causes – that’s 55 every day. Sister is the story behind the statistics, putting a human face on the very real suffering and death of women and infants across the planet.

Photo of Madam Bwa, maternal health worker in Haiti

Madam Bwa, photo by Alexandra Swati Guild

Madam Bwa, a 65 year old TBA (Traditional Birth Attendant), living in Haiti, started delivering babies when she was 12 years old.

“I have delivered about 12, 000 babies,” she boasts. While she has no formal medical training, she provides the the majority of primary maternal and prenatal health care and education in her community.

“God blessed me to serve the people in this community,” she says, “Mostly to prevent them from dying during delivery.”

“Shada is the most miserable part of the city,” Madam Bwa says as she navigates the narrow alleyways between rickety shelters, “It’s badly built. If you have to transport a sick or pregnant person there are no roads in Shada.” Read more

Posted on by Roxanna Bennett in Feminism Leave a comment

Why Our Response to Uganda’s Anti-Gay Laws Isn’t Working

Photo of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

by Arwen McKechnie

So, as many of you may know, after five long years of advocacy and international pressure against it, the President of Uganda has signed a bill into law which adds horrifically harsh sentences to existing Ugandan legislation criminalizing homosexuality.

The bill originally called for cases of “aggravated homosexuality” to receive the death penalty, but that has been removed. Repeat offenders of Uganda’s new law will instead be sentenced to life imprisonment, which I’m sure is cold comfort. First time offenders would receive fourteen years.

In addition to the increased prison sentences, the new bill also makes it a crime to provide any material or emotional support to LGBTQ people or causes.  Allies would face possible sentences of five to seven years for providing material support to LGBTQ causes or running a business or NGO which supports equality.

For actually “enabling” homosexual behavior – by marrying a same-sex couple, or by trying to aid or counsel a queer person – the mandatory minimum goes up to seven years.

This last clause is perhaps the most ominous, which is saying something, considering all of this legislation is a nightmare.

As a much cleverer friend of mine rightly pointed out, “aid and counsel” can be defined in any number of ways. If a lawyer represents someone accused of homosexuality and that person is convicted, is the lawyer then subject to prosecution herself? Will even the possibility of that happening have a chilling effect on who is willing to take on such cases?

I fear that the answer in both cases is yes – which means that whatever defence a person could offer against conviction will be weakened right from the start. This becomes an easy way for malicious people to ruin their enemies, creating an environment ripe for witch hunts.

These concerns don’t even address the fact that to identify as queer and do anything other than abjectly apologize for it is now a crime in Uganda. How can the Ugandan LGBTQ community do anything to repeal this law or advocate for basic human decency, when to do so is itself against the law?

The witch hunts have already begun: the day after the bill was signed into law, Red Pepper, a Kampala-based tabloid listed the names of “Uganda’s 200 Top Homos”, some of whom were known LGBTQ advocates, and some of whom have never before identified as queer, and, for all we know, may not still.

Red Pepper apparently has a history of homophobic attacks on people, and with the timing of this article, their intention seems clear. This is nothing less than an appeal to mob violence and vigilantism.

The last time such a list was published in Uganda, in 2011, a known gay activist, David Kato, was murdered, shortly after being granted an injunction preventing that paper from publishing the photos and names of any more gay people; his picture was one of the ones that had been published, under the caption “Hang Them.” Red Pepper’s editorial board has poured gasoline on a fire that will almost certainly result in the death or ruin of many innocent people.

Of course, by innocent, I mean everyone. President Museveni previously refused to sign this bill into law, back when it carried a death penalty for repeat offences, because he believed that sexuality was innate, and to penalize queer people so severely, beyond the existing penalties already in place, for something beyond their control was unjust. He’s apparently since been convinced otherwise by a team of Ugandan scientists who have all attested to the fact that homosexuality is a learned behaviour.

What I think much more probable is that President Museveni recognized that this bill was enormously popular within Uganda and got sick of being lectured and threatened by the global North, and recognized that same outrage in most Ugandans. No one wants to be talked down to, or treated as less than, and the representatives of many governments made their views pointedly known on this subject, sometimes in distinctly unhelpful ways. Read more

Posted on by Arwen McKechnie in LGBT, Politics, Racism 4 Comments