Saturday, September 21, 2019

Book Review: Oppression and the Body

Image: The cover of the book is a dirty pink color background with black abstract images in the foreground that resemble a person's body silhouette, their shadow, and patterns of lines over all of it that almost look like ribs from a chest x-ray. In large, capitalized, white letters that cover most of the space is, "OPPRESSION AND THE BODY." I smaller black letters across a dirty pink stripe at the bottom reads, "ROOTS, RESISTANCE, AND RESOLUTIONS." Below that in smaller white letters is, "EDITED BY CHRISTINE CALDWELL AND LUCIA BENNET LEIGHTON."

"Oppression and the Body," begins from a place of introspection and intentionality. Both editors took the time to explain where they are positioned in society via privilege or lack of it, how this may affect what they produce, and steps they took to even things out. Both editors come from a background of somatics and did make attempts to have representation across authors chosen for the book. There were some times where their language fell short, such as using "transgendered" instead of "transgender" on the back cover and elsewhere as well as taking Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes about Black peoples experiences out of context and generalizing them to everyone. I thought the former was because an Eli Clare essay from 2001 was included in the book using that term, but they also have another trans person in the book using updated terms. I found it a little strange that such an old (while excellent) entry from Eli Clare was chosen because he expands upon it and addresses some things he has changed his thinking about in his recent book, "Brilliant Imperfection." But, that could simply be a publishing/copyright issue. That said, it served an important function in discussing disabled, Queer, and trans bodies in Clare's consistently elegant ways.

The entries in the book are grouped into three main sections: Oppression of bodies in societies, marginalized bodies in society, and embodied action. The authors come at the topics using multiple mediums including descriptive analyses, therapeutic interventions, and poetry and other types of art. I really appreciated that some authors were inclusive of nonhuman animals in their discussions of somatic oppression and healing. Most of the essays are academic in style and nature. I am not a poetry person normally, so I am not sure if my distaste for it was because of preference or quality of the poetry. I really enjoyed and got a lot out of most of the other entries though. I also enjoyed that each essay contained both citations and bibliography offering the reader a lot of other sources that expand upon these topics.

The entries I enjoyed the most were the two at the beginning by each editor and those by Carla Sherrell, Beit Gorski, and Jen Labarbara. The first two gave me a better idea of studies in somatics and did well setting the stage for the rest of the book. Sherrell brought needed attention to the white centrism of many somatics practitioners and practices, leading many people to see the term "somatics" as meaning white. She explained how Black people suffer in unique and transgenerational ways, requiring tailored interventions such as those inclusive of their ancestors. Gorski shared xyr experience and knowledge as an intersex, nonbinary, trans person by explaining ways in which the medicalized binarism of sex and gender are problematic and harmful. Xie showed that it is not only gender that is socially constructed, but also sex. In xyr other essay, xie offered models for defining and coping with body and social dysphoria via "transforming distress" group intervention. Labarbara utilized her knowledge and experience as a Queer, Femme, woman to destigmatize Queerness as a response to trauma. She describes Queerness as a sublimation and "welcome effect" of sexual violence and other trauma, smashing ableist, rape culture ideas that stigmatize survivors and/or LGBT people or attempt to separate us from the whole of our lives. I chose to focus my review only on these entries because I enjoyed them the most, but do not take the intentional brevity as indication that the other entries did not have immense value as well.

While this book didn't hit on every demographic out there, there comes a point where attempting to do so can amount to destructive tokenism. Given that reality, I thought the authors did well finding voices across a pretty specific field of study. I also really enjoyed the graphic design of the cover and book, as a side note. You can judge this book by its cover.

This was also posted to my goodreads.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Book Review: Reimagining Death

Image: The cover of the book shows a colorful photo of a shroud. The body is wrapped in a white shroud and covered with wildflowers. There is an illustrated white ribbon added to the photo over the shroud. The top part of the ribbon says "Reimagining" in script, the next section says "DEATH" in capitalized letters, the next portion says "stories and practical wisdom for home funerals and green burials: in smaller capital letters. Across the bottom is a white box with the author's name and the foreword author's name in capital letters.

Reimagining Death tackles very important topics that many human beings shy away from confronting, often until the last minute when it is too late to have access to the most choices. The book definitely has a target audience- one that I thought I was part of but it turns out, not so much. This affects my review, but does not mean someone else would not enjoy this book more than I did. I am reviewing mostly on my own tastes and unmet expectations.

It is necessary to mention that I'm an atheist, but not the annoying internet dude kind that finds superiority in their lack of belief in God(s.) I respect that religion and spirituality have important and often positive roles in peoples lives and have no desire to take that away. That said, my opinions and outlook on green burial and other topics covered in this book come from a love of nature and desire to feed the Earth and those on it when I die. It comes from a rational place of wanting to avoid contributing to the suffering of others and to climate change in death. I also have thought about death fairly regularly from a young age, so I didn't need to learn a lesson that death should be spoken about and embraced as part of life. I was hoping that this book would teach me a lot about conventional and green practices in depth, how far reaching the negative effects of the former are, and the importance of viewing death differently. Instead, I got a book that is very heavy on the stories and very light on the "practical wisdom." Every time I would get past a long, drawn out story about a death ritual, I would get to a section I thought would teach me what I wanted to know. Unfortunately, I would just find a bullet point list with a few bits of information before the author moved on to another story. All of the stories were written in a style that just didn't work for me. Most of them seemed longer than they needed to be.

It is very clear that the author is writing from her perspective as a a "woo woo" spiritual hippie type who lives in a community on Whidbey Island that I assume is predominantly white, middle to owning class people of a similar bent. I have been to the island once and it is an absolutely gorgeous place, but is very unlike where most people live. Every story is written in this very new agey perspective, assigning extreme cosmic significance and meaning to all sorts happenings. There is a lot of psychic, spiritual, and other things that were of no interest to me, however much I understood the significance to the author and her friends. I think I was just hoping for something that didn't treat everything around death as a magical experience all the way down to washing the genitals of your mother's dead, rigored body or anointing your dead husband's perineum with oils. Sure, we can find spiritual experiences in after death rituals, but is all of it a fantastical experience full of immense meaning? It may be for some, and that is fine. But, the book is written as if it should be for everyone.

Another thing that makes the author's centering of her own experience clear is that cost is pretty much never discussed. Is a green burial and home funeral cheaper (after all of the legal paperwork and home hospice care many cannot afford?) I don't know. It was something I wanted to know. The author discusses her housekeeper nonchalantly as if it's something everyone has and all the stories focus on people who were able to afford home hospice care from what I can tell. Do I believe people should be able to die at home or wherever they prefer? Absolutely. But, many people don't. There is a section about if someone dies in a hospital, but it is not a centered experience throughout the book. Pretty much everyone discussed seems to be someone the author is related to or is in her community.

Even though I did not get a whole lot out of these stories, though, I do think that some people can. I think that reading these stories can help people realize that there are alternatives to many mainstream western after death rituals. I think that these stories could be comforting to someone who has recently lost someone or who needs to see death as a topic that should be embraced rather than avoided. I think people similar to the author in particular could enjoy these stories. I think people looking for story telling more than practical information on the topic would enjoy these stories. 

I didn't really get what I was looking for until the last two chapters of the book. The chapters, "Reimagining the Future in Ecological After Death Care" and "Be Prepared: Creating a Plan with Family and Friends," were the most useful to me. They were still too light on the information I wanted, but I did finally get to read more about what practices like embalming and typical cremation do to the body and the environment. There were a lot of things I learned such as alternatives to cremation if you don't want a burial and how these alternatives can actually be good for the environment rather than neutral. I found things like composting burials, the use of cryogenics, water processing and other methods to be very interesting. The appendices at the end also offer information and sources for those looking for more outside the format of the book. There are also a lot of lovely photos of green burials and rituals that were really cool to look at.

All in all, I don't regret reading this book. I would recommend it to someone looking to understand how after death rituals do not have to be as expected. If you are more looking for the kinds of information I was, I think you could easily skip around in this book, choose what you need, and leave the rest.

This was also posted to my goodreads.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Book Review: Empowered Boundaries

Image: The cover of the book has a white border with most of the center of the book coated in light blue to look like an uneven paint job. All of the fonts resemble hand-writing in capital letters. Across the top in black is, "EMPOWERED BOUNDARIES," with "power" underlined in orange. Below that is a horizontal orange strip with "SPEAKING TRUTH" written inside. Below that is "SETTING BOUNDARIES" in white. Below that is another orange stripe with "INSPIRING" in black letters. Below that is "SOCIAL CHANGE" in white letters. Coming out of the orange stripes are thin, curby arrows made of orange dotted lines. Across the bottom in yellow is the author's name: CHRISTIEN STORM.

Something that frequently goes through my head when reading various self-help books is the phrase, "must be nice." As in, "it must be nice to have the privilege and/or luxury to do (xyz.)" Many self-help books reflect the dominant culture or demographics which leads many of them to fall short. Different people experience the world in different ways based on how they are positioned in society. One of the best things about Cristien Storm's "Empowered Boundaries: Speaking Truth, Setting Boundaries, and Inspiring Social Change" is the author's intimate understanding of and connection with the great diversity of human experience.

Boundaries are something I have struggled with endlessly and I sought this book out in hopes it would give me more of a backbone and better communication skills. I did not expect it to be as relatable as it was. I didn't realize from the name that Cristien Storm is one of the founders of the group Home Alive which formed after the brutal assault and murder of a close friend. Storm not only has personal connections with oppression, but has educated herself about things she may not suffer personally. These things help create a book that includes the premise that societal oppression is intimately linked with boundaries. We all have power in some situations and lack it in others, thus there are always power dynamics at play in all of our interactions. As she states near the end of the book, "power cannot be communicated away." Thus, she offers a wide range of tools to navigate boundaries while also navigating human interactions in the real world.

I do think this book will be received best by people at least slightly on board with leftist ideas of collective liberation (i.e. people who at least believe oppression exists and have an introductory understanding of it.) There is a central theme of the issues with individualist, victim blaming culture vs creating supportive and functional communities. Storm communicates how setting boundaries can foster community-wide change for the better.

Something that adds a very human touch to the book, among all of the deep discussions of oppression dynamics and complicated social interaction, is the real anecdotes peppered throughout. Storm uses groups and interactions she has had over the years to give the reader examples of each concept as she goes along. These anecdotes represent a wide variety of voices, allowing her to better explore the nuance of these topics. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for boundary setting, self defense, communication, conflict resolution, or any other human interaction.

Storm is very thoughtful with her use of language and it shows. I could tell throughout the book that she made an effort not to leave anyone behind. She regularly brings up how one experience or technique will work for one person but not another. There are a number of helpful exercises included at the end so that people can practice and figure out what works best for them. Storm is also exceedingly kind and highlights the importance of being gentle with ourselves. This was especially evident in discussions of survivors who thought they didn't do enough to defend themselves or others. Storm re-frames things to help people focus on all of the things they did do to survive, once again breaking through patriarchal, victim blaming ideas that are internalized by many if not all people, feminist or not.

After reading this book, I feel like I have a much better understanding of boundaries and how to create and communicate them. I believe that if this book was not written from such a radical perspective, I would not have gained so much from it. I have been able to assess things throughout my life that make more sense now. I have a much better idea of how I can handle boundary setting in the future. It really brought the point home that boundaries are a critical aspect of all relationships. As the saying goes, "good fences make good neighbors."

This was also posted to my goodreads.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Book Review: We've Been Too Patient

Image: The cover of the book is light blue with a large illustrated dandelion going to seed. A few seeds fly away from the flower in multiple directions covering the top half of the book. In the center of the book in large white illustrated letters reads "We've Been Too Patient." Below that in smaller, navy blue letters reads "Voices from Radical Mental Health." Below that in slightly smaller white capital letters reads "STORIES AND RESEARCH CHALLENGING THE BIOMEDICAL MODEL." Across the bottom of the book are the author's names in navy blue letters "L.D. Green and Kelechi Ubozoh, Foreword bu Robert Whitaker."

As the cover of the book shows, "We've Been Too Patient" is a collection of voices from radical mental health movements in a variety of mediums including storytelling, poetry, academic essays, and other types of nonfiction. It is organized into two larger sections- narratives and interventions- allowing contributors to share stories and offer solutions. This book did a relatively good job of being inclusive of a wide range of voices from people who have identified with, been diagnosed with, or otherwise personally experienced mental health disturbances in ways that were medicalized (with and without their consent.) This is a refreshing update from a lot of radical mental health voices that were often heard the most- mainly middle class white people with depression and anxiety disorders (whose voices have also helped me immensely, don't get me wrong.) This book offers a much needed expansion on the topic and I am happy to see that it will likely be accessed by wider audiences outside the movements such as mental health professionals currently immersed in the biomedical model. I am going to use diagnostic terms in this review for brevity's sake and because I honestly don't have a wide enough vocabulary to know how to describe these experiences otherwise. However, I do not intend to label anyone's experience. I have chosen to share more personal anecdotes than I usually do in reviews because it was the only way I could think of to properly explain my nuanced perspective.

I want to start with two minor notes, one positive and one negative. 

First, this is not something I normally discuss, but the graphic design of the print version of this book is really lovely. The use of different complementary fonts, light grey graphics, and dandelion seeds scattered across each chapter was a really nice touch and made for an enjoyable experience of a tough subject.

Second, there is a troublesome problem with the foreword of this book. Given that Deaf communities are used as a model for radical mental health movements in more than one instance in the book, it was pretty disappointing that Robert Whitaker used "deaf" as a pejorative at least 5 times in his only 8 page introduction. I am not sure if it was not properly edited, or if it was included after the rest of the book (which is very well edited) was put together. I won't dwell on it much longer, but it should have been addressed.

Moving on... I have fairly long history with radical mental health communities and literature. Some of it was amazing and probably saved my life. The Icarus Project literature was handed to me at a time that I really needed it and it changed me for the better. At other times, some aspects of these communities and ideas created struggles for me and other members. I do believe that sometimes, individuals in radical mental health movements can swing into territory that often excludes those with the most severe symptoms and or struggles with mental health. In their valid and desperate attempts to escape the often abusive biomedical psychiatric model, they'd create a polar opposite model and express that there is no mental illness, only problems with society and environment. This lacked nuance and mainly manifested in people reducing everyone into a category of creative artists with "dangerous gifts," claiming mental illness was not actually an illness, just a different way of thinking pathologized by society. There is a lot of truth to this, but it can be all too reductive. There are many radical people who have never and will never consider themselves particularly creative nor do they see their mental health struggles as gifts in any way. A similar critique can be made of the social model of disability. There have been healthy disabled people who claim that with societal and environmental changes, all disabled people could have access to the world as abled people do. But, for unhealthy disabled people- such as those with chronic illness(es)- this would surely improve things and help, but would not make their struggles disappear.

I am a person who has dealt with psychiatric abuses and has been in the system in some shape or form since I was 9 years old. I have had the bruises on my arms from hospital workers being rough for the fun of it and was on a giant cocktail of psych meds (including some later taken off of the market for destroying organs) as a teen that I believe caused damage to my development. I also got a B.S. in psychology, did research in cognitive neuroscience, worked in a clinical facility for people with intellectual disabilities and mental health struggles, and still voluntarily go to therapy because I believe that psychology holds many truths. Along with my personal experiences, have one parent who died by suicide and another that has extremely severe, near constant paranoid psychosis. They refuse any treatment and live in a nightmare world. When you have a beloved and caring parent who claiming everyone around them is part of a vile government conspiracy to destroy them because of something they wrote on their computer; someone who is getting into fights with people on the street for being "in on it;" someone who is banging on your windows or yelling in your face in the middle of the night after hearing voices telling them you are being pimped out for heroin by your roommate to the free masons and lying about it; someone who later claims you are dead and visit them as an angel to tell them that the corporeal version of you is an evil doppelganger; someone who gets arrested 3 times in one week- once found sitting in the middle of a highway in the dark- and who disappears for years at a time to escape anyone who tries to help, it becomes very distressing to hear all of this boiled down to just a "different way of thinking" or just a manifestation of a struggle with "dangerous gifts."

Did the state of the world, trauma, stressors, triggers, and other circumstances outside of biological functions play a huge and dominating part in this? Absolutely. But, I have spoken to radical mental health community members who experience psychosis who shared that it is only (often non-consensual) hospitalization and/or drugs that help them get out of psychosis. They shared that it was terrible every time and that the system needed major improvement, but it would happen any time they stopped their meds. They often feared judgment from other radical mental health people if they spoke the truth about this. One of the only essays in the book that centers psychosis- by Imogen Prism- touches upon this in stating, "For me, meds do the job. They do it quicker and dirtier, and with potentially devastating long-term results, but they do the job." They express that they have survived 4 involuntary hospitalizations within terrible often medieval institutions. They also admit that they are "not sure" of the solution. They do offer many ways that they have found within and outside these systems that work for them and may work for others. This was very real, honest, and was one of the best essays in the book.

While the phrase "dangerous gifts" is used multiple times by multiple contributors in this book, they use it in a way that it was likely intended by its original creators- as descriptors of how they relate to their own experiences with mental health struggles- not a dismissal of any need for medical intervention. There is a constant focus on adopting recovery and harm reduction models over biomedical models- which is something I whole-heartedly agree with. The adoption of trauma informed therapy and community models of mental health and support were and still are some of the best teachings that come from radical mental health movements. Many writers shared very real experiences with pain and heartache that came with their struggles along with tangible techniques they used to keep themselves stable enough to enjoy life. Some of the people who were involved in founding radical mental health communities like The Icarus Project went on to get degrees and positions in psychology fields and are bettering the system. 

There was only one academic essay- by Jonah Bossewitch- that manifested my aforementioned issues with the "dangerous gifts" and "mental health issues are not illnesses, just problems with society" type of thinking, but the essay also offered a lot of really good history, information, and critiques. So, I still consider it a very positive and necessary contribution to the book. The entries by Kelechi Ubozoh were particularly informative in that they included both stories of her personal and community experiences with mental health along with a large catalogue of suggestions of how to deal with mental health struggles. She also brought a personal perspective that included the intersection of race, gender, and Black community with mental health struggles. These are conversations that Black people have been having for some time, but they have not been centered enough in radical movements.

The epilogue of the book by Jessie Roth ties everything together in recapping the need for recovery and harm reduction models over purely medical models. They also remind the reader to look at the book as a whole. The wide variety of voices make it clear that these communities are not one dimensionally anti-psychiatry (like scientologists, for instance.) They remind the reader that for some people, medications are ok, they and the system just need a ton of improvement.

The only thing that I think this book needed was more voices talking about psychosis and the best ways to cope with it, particularly when it becomes dangerous (usually for the person suffering it more than anyone else.) Psychosis is one of the experiences that is punished tortuously in institutions and represents a huge amount of people- especially sufferers of color- that are murdered by police. Some techniques that work for non-psychotic disorders like depression may help, but psychosis also needs it's own focus. I still often feel lost in finding ways to navigate that aspect of mental health crises. I believe this book could appeal to a wide variety of readers from people like me to completely unexposed psychiatrists in the field looking to update their education. In fact, the latter group needs to read this book. The voices represented here are far reaching and diverse and the people contributing were willing to be vulnerable and share their lives with us. This is more difficult than many people may imagine. So, to those in the field, accept this gift with open arms. We all could learn a thing or three.

This was also posted to my goodreads. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Book Review: Rebent Sinner

Image: The cover of the book is a black and white photo of a light skinned child blowing bubbles out of the window in the foreground with a snowy hill lined with black silhouettes of people standing or sitting with several people riding sleds down the center. The left side of the cover is a thick, pink margin. Just above the center of the book, across the top, reads "REBENT SINNER" in capital, white letters. Across the bottom is a thick black margin with "IVAN COYOTE" in capitalized pink letters.

Rebent Sinner is Ivan Coyote's memoir/autobiography told through magnificent short stories, essays, and letters. Coyote's skilled story telling made this book more enjoyable than most memoirs and the like that I have read. I cannot think of one that was formatted in the creative and interesting way that this one was, alternating stories that ranged from one sentence to many pages.

Coyote invoked a wide range of emotions in me with this book. There were times I would laugh out loud, times I would be nodding my head, times that my heart hurt, times that I felt understood and met, and many other feelings. Gender and sexuality are obviously large parts of this book given who Ivan Coyote is and the intention conveyed in the book's description. But, Coyote has a way of telling truths without, frankly, making me feel endlessly depressed after reading them. There is a kindness and honesty to their work that allows them to convey the whole picture of what it is like to move through the world as we Queer and trans people do. They capture the daily grind of what it's like for many of us who move through the world as visibly trans and gender non-conforming people.

Coyote holds human beings' complexities at the center of their stories. There is discussion of LGBTQ elders, or lack thereof, throughout some of the stories that reminded me of how few there often are. Coyote and I have a lot of things in common, being cross-stitching non-binary butches who are read in the world in different ways by different people every day. We also have a lot of wonderful differences such as age, residence, and experience. I saw myself in many of their stories and was grateful for the history lessons told through them. I felt that Coyote captured the complexities of generation gaps between LGBTQ people of different ages without falling into ageist tropes against older or younger people.

One thing I truly appreciated about many of Coyote's tellings was the humor brought to each situation. There are countless misgenderings that I related to that Coyote helped me laugh about. We share similar feelings about inevitable ways that people gender us, but they took what can often be anxiety-inducing situations and helped me smile and see them in a different light, or just made them feel less defeating overall. There is something that happens when all of the stories we read about ourselves are of terror and violence. That said, Coyote did not shy away from the realities of when things are truly terrifying such as AIDS crises of the 80's and 90's and trying to navigate abuse or violence in public bathrooms in (big and) small towns. Coyote did not shy away from the discomfort of being on stage in front of largely cishet audiences that they knew were visually dissecting their body piece by piece. I actually learned a lot about the critical need to be patient, intentional, and to take our time when responding to others' well-intentioned ignorance (when possible.) 

Coyote also has a lot of social commentary peppered throughout that isn't specifically based in stories of personal experiences. Their discussions of safer spaces, education, bridging generation gaps, changing with times that must change, seeing and being seen help this memoir extend even further outside the boundaries of the genre.

All in all, this was a beautiful and engaging book that was an absolute joy to read. Rebent Sinner is due out in November of 2019 and is definitely worth picking up regardless of the demographics you come from.

This review was also posted to goodreads.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Book Review: Dopesick- Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America

 Image: The cover of the book is a black and white image of a hilly town surrounded by mountains and trees which mostly obscure the small white houses and the streets that they line. The top half of the book is made up of the sky and says "dopesick" in large white capitalized letters. Below it says "dealers, doctors, and the drug company that addicted america" in small, red, capitalized letters. One the lower half of the book near the top is the author's name in larger white capitalized letters. There are a few white lettered lines of text that are unreadable.

Dopesick by Beth Macy was a mixed bag of a read for me. I understand all of the hype and stellar reviews after reading it and I appreciate that Macy brought a kind and human face of addiction to a wide audience. However, many of the ways that she chose to go about it may do more harm than good. This review is long because there were so many things to explain and dissect.

I will start with the things that Macy did right. I believe she portrayed addicts as struggling human beings to the reader, rather than immoral and heartless. She covered what it's like to be dopesick pretty well and created empathy for how inescapable the cycle of trying to get well is. She grasps how heroin grips you and doesn't let go. She did a good job highlighting the despair caused by all of the barriers to recovery and re-entering society, especially for those imprisoned by the war on drugs. She did well highlighting how Purdue Pharma deliberately ruined lives and lied in order to make money with devastating consequences. Though, I do wish more time would have been spent discussing drug costs and insurance companies. For instance, you can get opioids cheap so insurance will pay for them, but things like lidocaine patches which are risk free and effective are rarely covered.

Macy also taught me a lot about medication assisted therapy (MAT) such a suboxone. I was previously unaware that studies showed it worked far better than abstinence only programs. My experience with 12 step programs (which I have been learning to combat by becoming educated in harm reduction) led me to believe that all MAT was the same as using or was using-lite. She highlighted well how 12 step programs, rehabs, halfway houses, and other institutions malign and exclude recovering addicts on MAT. She taught me about how MAT is exploited by some doctors and professionals requiring hundreds of dollars out of pocket per month and how insurance companies often will not pay for it despite it being proven more successful than abstinence only programs. I now understand and support it as a life-saving, while imperfect, treatment that more places need to embrace.

It seems necessary that I admit while writing that I am a former heroin (and other drugs) addict, who used heavily from age 14-22, who has over 14 years "clean" under my belt. I am also now disabled with multiple chronic health conditions from cancer to severe never-ending costochondritis that have required pain management involving opioids. In the past few years, I have had 4 major surgeries, one severely necrotic tooth requiring an ER visit and opioids, and 3 other procedures under anesthesia that included fentanyl. Due to my experiences in 12 step programs, I was terrified when I had to start dealing with these now commonplace things in my life because I thought as soon as an opioid touched my system, I would lose all control and relapse. I delayed procedures and was bedridden with pain and fatigue due to my fear of trying something that would manage my pain enough to help me take care of myself when other methods failed, made things even worse, or were marginally effective. The reality is that with everything I told you, not once have I become addicted again. I have not finished a bottle of pain killers after a procedure yet, but I take them as long as I need to. I have laid in bed crying and unable to function when my pain after surgery was unmanaged and recovered more quickly from surgeries where it was managed well. I am sure my years of experience with sobriety and ability to be honest with myself and what I need is a huge reason why I've been able to navigate this. But, there are other people who have been or were never addicts who also manage it just fine. I tell this perhaps tl;dr story because it leads into two of my biggest gripes about Macy's approach to this subject.

Macy talks about opioids as if most people who use them become addicted and pretends that exposure to the drug itself alone magically turns you into an addict. This was lazy at best. There are a great many factors that lead to addiction including genetics, isolation, mental illness, untreated illness and chronic pain, insurance companies' refusal to pay for non-narcotic drugs and interventions, employment, afterschool activities, the lies of drug companies, socioeconomic status, and many other things including those science has not discovered yet. It is incredibly dangerous- especially for disabled people with chronic pain- to scare-monger like this. Macy did a really good job covering the problems with 12 step and other abstinence only treatment options, but then ends up parroting what many people in meetings say about drugs.

The second issue causing me to reference my personal story was her lack of handling of how opioid restrictions negatively affect chronic pain patients. She offers one story about a colleague explaining to her that responsible use of opioids allows her to work and remain part of society and how restrictions could remove necessary treatments she needs to be a part of the world. Outside this very small section, she dismisses the lack of pain management as a valid problem- especially for women and people of color who are notoriously disbelieved by doctors which has even lead to their deaths. She chalks it up to a lie and a "big pharma" talking point. While predatory pharma salespeople definitely latched onto the technique as something they could use to sell drugs, that does not mean it was not a serious problem. To offer another anecdote, a friend of mine had to have a hip replaced multiple times due to likely malpractice. The pain of course increased each surgery and on DAY ONE a nurse yelled at her for asking for her pain meds, "YOU'RE GOING TO GET ADDICTED TO THESE!" Her bone had been sawed in half and replaced with metal for the third time and all this nurse could do was label her drug seeking for trying to manage her pain. Pain management is also critical for surgery and anesthesia recovery as unmanaged pain causes excess stress on the system and prevents patients doing important things like getting up and moving around as soon as possible after many surgeries. Do some doctors over-prescribe? Absolutely, and that needs to be better handled. Yet, the fear mongering that pain on the whole is over-managed is a blatant falsehood. This leads to my next point. Inclusion of more science would have helped her greatly with these points.

Macy's handling of race in this book is not very good. She does mention multiple times how white suburban people becoming addicts is what people give attention to, unlike the crack epidemics that were treated with criminalization alone. Then she refers to white, suburban people as "unlikely" addicts, creating a racist and classist dichotomy that is also false as addiction has always been present in all communities for the most part. All of her human interest stories are white people and the only Black person heavily focused on is a dealer. She, again, tries to highlight the injustices in our system that force people back into dealing in order to survive, but then later falls short when she seems to suggest that dealers are solely responsible for addiction in the suburbs. The most egregious mishandling of race in the book, though, is when she discusses the doctors being less likely to believe and to treat Black people's pain. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, it is well documented that Black people, women, and especially Black women are disbelieved in medical situations. Black people especially are often seen to have a higher pain tolerance even though studies show it is actually lower on average likely due to stress and going untreated. This is residual from slavery times when surgeons experimented on enslaved Black women with no anesthesia claiming they feel no pain. She had the audacity to suggest that this had protected Black people from opioid addiction, turning it into a one-dimensional issue with a great outcome, rather than something that literally kills Black people in hospitals. The aforementioned scare mongering that opioids automatically turn everyone into an addict mixed with other kinds of oppression is a injurious and sometimes deadly combination.

As a result of these issues, I have mixed feelings about this book being so popular. I am not sure if I want people to read this book so they will care about addicts and take things more seriously, or if I want them to avoid it due to it's lack of nuance on several issues and misinformation on others. I hope people who do read it will see Macy as one voice of many on the issue who don't all agree.

This review was also posted to my goodreads.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Book Review: This Chair Rocks - A Manifesto Against Ageism

 Image: the cover of the book is a black background with yellow and red lines shaped like very elongated teardrops jut out from the center. In the center, in capital white letters is "This Chair Rocks" followed by a white line under which "a manifesto of ageism" is in yellow capital letters. At the bootom of the book is the author's name, Ashton Applewhite, in smaller white letters.

I had extremely high hopes for Ashton Applewhite's This Chair Rocks. I try to remain up to speed on how to fight oppression in general, but ageism is definitely something I could stand to learn more about. As a 36 year old, I am able to escape (for now) a lot of the ageism that older and younger people face. Thus, I want to know what part I can play in combating ageism. The book did not completely fail in giving me some ideas and teaching me to think differently here or there, but overall an extremely important topic ended up completely drowning in the author's unchecked white-centrism and lack of understanding and experience of oppressions other than ageism and (white) womanhood. I am white, so I am sure there are even more things I will miss in this review. This is normally a book I would have considered putting down, but I wanted to make sure I experienced the whole thing to give a much needed comprehensive review since it a new edition is due out. This is especially important given Applewhite's reach and appeal to wider (I would guess predominantly white) audiences.

There are some things Applewhite does well with this book, so I will begin with those. I felt the writing style itself was fairly accessible. She does attempt to mention how other oppressions are connected to ableism (albeit failing much of the time, which I discuss more later.) I found her discussion of alzheimer's and other forms of dementia to be important and challenged the way I thought about these disorders and the ways people live with them. The sections on sex and dating were ok, dispelling myths that older people somehow shut down in these areas after a certain age. Applewhite is very passionate about the subject and is charting territory in ways that are not as well charted as some other struggles, so props to her for that. Unfortunately, the good things I have to say about this book end there.

One glaringly problematic detail about this book is how she tackles ageism as something only affecting older people. This was a missed opportunity to get deeply into the ways that ageism affects youth and as a result, leads to some faulty conclusions on her part. One example was her stating that people care less or attend less to older people when they have health problems, stemming from the "they're going to die anyways," sentence forced upon people. This is true, but she juxtaposed it with suggestions that younger people are taken more seriously and cared about more when they become sick which I can assure you is not true in many cases. As a person who had to go through the whole social security disability process in their 30s, the belief that I am too young to be sick and whatnot has tainted my experiences. These kinds of ageism stem from the same root and could have made such a better argument if analyzed together. There are many other examples where Applewhite missed an opportunity to discuss the spectrum of ageism and limited herself and her argument to "olders." There are ways to discuss the parts of youth that are valued in US American culture without ignoring that youth, especially those under 18, also face ageism. It is not that she never mentions younger people, but I can probably count on both hands the number of sentences in the entire book that included them.

The next thing that needs to be discussed is the thing that bothered me most about reading this book. Applewhite regularly mentions other oppressions and "intersectionality" throughout her book. But, her lack of understanding of them and of how intersectionality actually works caused her efforts to to be tokenizing at best. She does occasionally mention that marginalized older people do struggle more, but it is rare and in passing, overall making the image of the person suffering ageism to be a white older person. This was especially evident in the common white, liberal, single-issue activism mistake of repeating something to the tune of "we no longer tolerate racism, sexism, or homophobia but we still tolerate ageism." It left me wondering just how sheltered Applewhite is if she is so comfortable suggesting these oppressions are somehow over. This gets even worse when she starts making insulting comparisons that not only create a binary of white older person or Black/gay/disabled/etc other person, but are downright bothersome I am sure even to people who aren't as immersed in leftist lingo as I am. Granted, some of these things are quotes from others, but quotes she celebrates and cosigns.

Some examples of tokenism and ignorance are her celebration of the phrase "when you become old you become black," her comparison of US American slavery to modern day ageist discrimination in the workplace, her honoring of her husband confronting a bouncer for calling him grandpa for saying in response something like "that would be similar to me calling you the n-word," claiming she wants (cisgender heterosexual) older people to consider adopting the term "age queer," comparisons between disability justice and the fight against ageism while littering the book with casual ableism (more on this in the next paragraph,) the use of the words "women and blacks" and a possibly unintentional suggestion that the "women's movement" could not be both, and other examples. Basically, Applewhite seems to care more about tokenizing oppressions she does not suffer for her thesis than she does actually understanding and fighting these oppressions. This is something I do think she cares about though and could definitely grow on, but the book has been out for years and I am reviewing the newest edition that came out in March. Thus, it still mirrors many of the issues found when white liberal cis women lead a conversation. This means someone looking at the current state of the USA with neo-nazis marching the streets, mass deportations, the executions of Black, Brown and Indigenous people in the street by police, the banning of trans people from various things, a vice president who supports gay conversion therapy, and so on and claim that racism and homophobia are no longer acceptable, but ageism is. It was infuriating that it happened over and over.

Next I want to focus specifically on disability because of how intertwined it is with ageing. This book is full of casual and some not-so-casual ableism. The most frequent kind is the need to focus on the "productive" older people and to dispel myths that older people are a drain on society rather than fighting against the idea that one must be capitalistically productive or active for one to have worth at all. There are times she almost goes there but then draws back. I think it is perfectly acceptable to highlight the diversity of peoples needs and abilities throughout ageing. I think this was executed badly in this book. With how much Applewhite brings up ableism, I was hoping she would have had a better hold on the core tenets of ableist oppression. Many other oppressions are in some way rooted in ableism, especially ageism. I wish she would have done a better job attacking the idea that for us to matter we must be productive, active, fit, etc. There was also a section about chronic pain that was one of the worst in the book. Strangely enough, it followed a section about how important it is for older people not to be isolated. She celebrates a woman who claims that she will walk out of the room if her friends mention any health problems they are having, because she wants to hear "about their life" instead. Applewhite goes on to say no one, except maybe your mom, wants to hear about your ailments. This is once again placing abled older people in the worthier position and requires that unhealthy disabled/chronically ill people in general lie when asked the age old question, "How are you?" in order to avoid making abled people feel uncomfortable. One can make a point that ageing doesn't always involve suffering without stomping on those who are suffering. I can't think of anything more isolating than knowing a friend would walk out of the room if you confided to her that you had just been diagnosed with metastatic cancer or that you need a knee replacement. Applewhite further goes on to talk about how physical therapy "fixed" her and her daughter's pain and made other statements consistent with someone who does not understand what it is like to deal with severe chronic pain that can't be fixed- something common in many of the most isolated disabled and/or older people.

These and other examples made me often ask myself, "Did Applewhite read her own book before sending it to be published?" She contradicts herself so often that I sometimes struggle to know what she believes. The conclusion of the book does offer some decent suggestions for combating ageism, both internalized and externalized. The book isn't 100% bad. But, it is so clouded with problems and limitations that I cannot recommend it as a worthwhile read. I wish I had something I could suggest in it's place instead.

This was also posted to my goodreads.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Book Review: All Our Trials - Prisons, Policing, and the Feminist Fight to End Violence

IMAGE: The cover of the book has a light gray background getting slightly darker around the edges. In the center of the book in large, capitalized, black letters is "ALL OUR TRIALS." Below that in smaller, brown, capitalized letters is "Prisons, policing, and the feminist fight to end violence. Below that in the same letters only black is the author's name- Emily L Thuma. Across the bottom of the cover are four raised fists shown from the elbows or mid forearms up. The fists are of different skin colors ranging from light to dark. Some of the arms have visible sleeves while one does not.

All Our Trials: Prisons, Policing, and the Feminist Fight to End Violence by Emily L. Thuma is a widely researched and meticulously organized catalogue of an important history. Many people who write about feminist movements of the 1970's and 80's focus on the big names in white, second wave feminist discourse. This book was a breath of fresh air in that it focused on and described in beautiful detail the feminist movements against violence that centered Black, Brown, and other POC women, working class and poor women, lesbian, trans, and queer women, Jewish women, and women abused in psychiatric settings (whether or not they dealt with mental illness.) 

It is obvious that Thuma put extensive time into researching material for the book. It is full of amazing fliers, photos, newsletter covers, and other graphics from various grassroots movements in defense of women. There were definitely some more well known names highlighted like those of the Combahee River Collective, but there was a ton I learned from this book. I read a lot of feminist literature and activist history and it was really exciting to learn in detail about so many people and organizations I had not previously heard of. Thuma packed a ton of information into a relatively small space making the book an efficient read.

Thuma's focus was on movements surrounding the oppression and anguish caused by the prison industrial complex. These included the criminalization of women defending themselves from male violence in many forms including intimate partner abuse, stranger assaults, women abused by the psychiatric system in prisons and other institutions, pathologizing and abuse of masculine and gender nonconforming women, abuse and discrimination of transgender women both in prisons and some feminist circles, the struggles between white dominant feminist groups and Black and other people of color feminist movements, the struggles with some lesbian separatist movements' expressions of white supremacy, and much more. The focus is on the is mainly on movements in and around the 70's and 80's give or take, but she uses some sections as well as the epilogue to tie in these struggles to more recent events (such as CeCe's McDonald's imprisonment for self defense against homophobic and transmisogynistic violence.) I could not help thinking of the saying (that I have heard worded many ways and am not sure who it should be attributed to) that, "Oppression doesn't go away, it just changes shape." Many of the things these movements were fighting back then, we are still fighting against today. That is not to say there was not progress. The immensely difficult and involved work these women did was life changing for countless prisoners and marginalized people.

Thuma takes the reader into the intimate details and individual struggles that went on inside these movements. We learn about what people did pre-internet to disseminate materials to prisoners that prisons did not want them to have. We learn how women on the outside gave support and an external voice to women on the inside. We learn about the discussions of race and racism and the need for educating white women about race and intersectional approaches to women's liberation. We learn that trans women have been struggling with the hatred from TERFs since at least the 70's despite being a regular fixture in feminist movements from the start. We learn about the dangers of all white juries judging Black and Brown women who are fighting for their lives. We learn about "Daddy tanks" where butch women and other gender nonconforming AFAB people were abused and isolated. We learn about how a mere hug or supportive touch on the shoulder between women in prison can be criminalized as homosexual activity. (This is something I can attest is still true in today's prisons as I had a penpal who told me about the same restriction in her prison. Even worse, they put women on sex offender registries for homosexual activity.) We learn that presenting oneself to a parole board using or imitating white cis femininity is the only way to be seen as exhibiting "good behavior." We learn how intersectional feminist movements navigated the inclusion of men oppressed by the racist prison system while also fighting against heinous male violence against women. We learn about the many differences between "carceral feminism" (which seeks to fight oppression with increased imprisonment and policing) and intersectional feminism which sought community alternatives to ineffective and abusive prison systems. We learn about the criminalization of survival itself and the endless fights that women endured to keep their sisters alive and safe in the cruelest of institutions.

 What I truly appreciated about this book is that its approach was intersectional from start to finish. Thuma truly centered the voices that are often the least heard but most affected by these oppressive systems. She shows how lesbian, Black, Brown, Queer, Trans, Disabled, and other marginalized women have been leading the fight against policing of women's survival and of imprisonment of Black and Brown bodies in general. The book is well organized, well edited, and a fast and very informative read. I recommend this not only to people interested in activist histories, but to anyone who considers themself a feminist or who is fighting for any kind of liberation today. We can learn so much from these women who paved the way ahead for all of us.

This review was also posted to goodreads.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Book Review: Meet Me in the Future - Stories

Image: The cover of the book has a background of thin lines stretching out from the center which each end in a white dot and have different lengths, resembling an illustration of travel through space. Behind the lines is a light blue background. In the upper center of the book, a large section is covered by a yellow shape with unequal sides spanning the width of the book. Across the center is a large red beetle shown from the head and front legs forward, facing to the right. Across their head it says "MEET ME IN THE" in small capital black letters. Between the large pinchers of the beetle, it says "future" in large black capital letters. Under that is a red circle with the word "stories" in yellow. Across the bottom of the book is the author's name in large black letters with "Kameron" slightly smaller than "Hurley." Below that is a review quote in very small red letters that is too small to read.

Kameron Hurley has quickly become on of my favorite fiction authors. I have been immersing myself in her collection of works and adding more to my shelf to read next. I was excited to get the chance to read her forthcoming short story collection, Meet Me in the Future, for the aforementioned reasons but also because I had not read any of her short stories yet.

Short story collections are this odd measure of diversity in talent in which a favored author can perform unexpectedly badly or a mediocre author can rock your world. They can often be a collection of amazing stories mixed with ones that are so bad it is difficult to understand how they were allowed to be published at all. In Hurley's case, an excellent author of novels performs excellently in the short story realm as well, despite her claims in the introduction that she is not a short fiction writer. I started bookmarking my favorite stories to list in this review. But, by the end of the book, I had bookmarked most of the stories which basically made the practice unnecessary. It is rare not only that someone performs superbly across mediums but also that a collection of shorts is excellent the whole way through. It is obvious that these stories were written and chosen with care and intent to produce something great.

I want to focus a bit on the introduction, because it was enlightening to me why it is that Hurley draws me in so well even when she is covering themes that don't often attract me. I often think I am not really into themes of war, grotesque and gory body horror, or which lean more fantasy than science fiction at times. Yet, I feel completely immersed in Hurley's works that often completely center these things. I have come to realize that it is how someone presents them to me that matters. The reality is that not enough authors' writing involving these themes has the insight Hurley's has. She discusses in the introduction that she lives with serious chronic illness and disability and had grandparents who lived through the Nazi occupation, one of whom was captured on suspicion of being part of the French resistance movements. I also knew that she is a feminist who is formally educated in South African resistance movements (available in the author biography at the end of the book.) These all inform her writing in ways that captures a reality of struggle and suffering that is not just written for the sake of shock or disturbance.

The ways disability and illness inform several stories is in intimate and real portrayals of disabled life. There is one character with leg braces who describes formerly being told she is "lucky' by doctors who only focus on her ability to eventually walk again and not her permanent catheter, her (implied) ostomy bag, her sex life, or that trauma is never "lucky." This is an experience countless sick and disabled people have dealt with with doctors, self included. This character is not portrayed as a victim nor is she portrayed as inspirational, which are often the only fates for those with disabilities. She's a disabled person being human with advantages and struggles. Other stories often also include excretory functions and other fun stuff we often ignore in injury and violence because we are too squeamish or afraid. Yet, disruption of these functions is common in illness, injury, and/or disability and often requires outside help and support from both technologies and human beings. Basically, Hurley has a realistic take on what it likes to be sick and/or disabled that is likely formed by her own experiences.

Another theme in many stories is that of gender nonconformity, transgender experiences, and straight up cross-gender body swapping. Again, Hurley goes at these themes in a way that separates her from others who either make the story all about the person's gender or who tokenize trans and GNC characters for points with no understanding of gender dynamics. Hurley's portrayal of these characters and societies is unique and fantastical while still holding on to the here and now enough that we can recognize them. LGBTQ and polyamorous women of many kinds are a common theme in Hurley's books and stories. This was present across most of the stories in the book. But, the creative ways Hurley explored multiple genders via futuristic or parallel words and multiple stories about body swapping was more present in this book.

There are a couple of stories that may excite those who have read and enjoyed "The Stars are Legion" and "The Light Brigade." (Possibly others, but I have not read all of her books yet.) They include inspiration for the books or events that predated the narratives in the novels. There are familiar themes of technology combining with flesh in ways that are different from the usually human or android representations. There are themes of colonization and oppression that capture the horrific realities via the medium of fiction. There are repeated occurrences of nonhuman animals used as a vehicle for oppression via the description of their commonplace mistreatment as an excuse for mistreatment of marginalized humans. Hurley manages all of these things in ways I have not experienced in other science fiction and/or fantasy that I have read. There are times when Hurley's messages are heavy handed, which can bother me, but for some reason does not when she does it. There are many other times where the themes and messages are woven intricately in complicated ways throughout the stories, creating the experience of the story as reality, even if it's in space, a parallel  world, or a million years in the future.

If you like Hurley's work, you will likely enjoy this book. If you are unfamiliar with her work, I think this book could be good to dip your toes into it. Overall, it is a good representation of her styles and talent. "Meet Me in the Future: Stories" is due out in August of 2019 and is definitely a recommended read.

This review was also posted to my goodreads.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Book Review: The Light Brigade

Image: The cover of the book shows a full-body profile of a slim and armored soldier.  There is a bright white light behind them taking up the center of the background which then fades to blues and greens and black at the edges. There is a sea foam green light blurring the figure's legs and fading as it reaches her waist. The top half of the foreground of the cover says the author's name in large, white, capitalized letters. Below that, the title of the book is in the same letters only green. Between the words "light" and "brigade" a quote from Jeff Vandermeer in small white letters reads, "A brave, unflinching, original writer" and below that is a line of text too small for me to make out.

I recently became enamored with Kameron Hurley after reading her bizarre and original "The Stars Are Legion." I had never read anything like it and immediately sought out other books by her. I discovered the recently published "The Light Brigade" and I am very glad that I did.

The Light Brigade is a science fiction story that is quite heavy handed in its leftist sociopolitical messaging. This is something that could be bothersome when not paired with excellent writing and story line, but Hurley executes both quite well. The story centers a queer woman whose military participation in a mega-corporation's war involves some interesting outcomes via her light-speed travel. Hurley gets around the science suggesting the impossibility of light-speed travel by introducing a creative methodology in which soldiers are broken down into light itself. For some soldiers including the protagonist, this does not go as expected, outside of the already extreme danger the process puts them all in. The main character's heroine's journey is excitingly conveyed via fantastic story telling peppered with interrogation recordings/transcripts.

Hurley uses the story to send a message of anti-capitalism, anti-authoritarianism, and anti-militarism in ways that are abundantly clear. I assume it was intentional to create the book as the author's far-left political manifesto told through the vehicle of a cyberpunk tale in space. The story is fast-paced enough to satisfy those into thrillers and has a glimmer of hard scifi sprinkled throughout for those who are into the science part of science fiction. Though it is fantastical enough to probably still be put in the space opera category.

In order to avoid major spoilers, I am not going to discuss the story further. But, I will say that it is exciting throughout with a satisfying ending. It probably helps that I can completely get behind the messaging in this manifesto. Would a far right wing reader enjoy the book as much as I did? Frankly, I don't care.

This review was also posted to goodreads.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Book Review: Turn This World Inside Out - The Emergence of Nurturance Culture

Image: The cover of the book depicts the outline of two people hand in hand viewed from the shoulder down to the wrist and into the centers of their bodies. They are depicted using a light skinned tone. Behind them and weaving through their arms is a watercolor style depiction of blue-green ivy over a background of light earth tones. The top half of the book has "Turn This World Inside Out" in orange, painted cursive letters. Below that in a slightly darker red orange is "The emergence of nurturance culture." Across the bottom in orange is the author's name in painted, capitalized letters.
Turn This World Inside Out by Nora Samaran is a quick read that expands upon Samaran's widely read essay: The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture. The book's expansion on the topic is carried largely by Samaran's interviews with others. I am guessing, though I did not count the pages, that more of this book is interviews that Samaran did with various people than it is her own personal writing. I believe this was a smart move by Samaran. It is always a smart move to consult a wide range of people for a topic, but with this book in particular, I found Samaran's personal writings to be limited quite heavily by her personal experience. I assume she is a white, cisgender, heterosexual woman. If I am incorrect in assuming that identity, it is because her personal writings center this kind of experience.

That is not to say that there is nothing to be gained from the chapters written only by Samaran. There is great information about attachment theory, the importance in addressing conflict in nuanced ways, the seriousness of gaslighting as an abusive behavior, how to make a good apology and accept responsibility, and others. Samaran is also very good at holding onto others' humanity in her analyses. She expresses information in a gentle and accessible way often lacking in discussions of topics within this book. The book is well written, efficiently organized, and contains a ton of important information in a very small space.

Where Samaran falls short is in including a more intersectional approach in terms of her writing. The way she discusses attachment styles is as if all (cis) men without a secure attachment are avoidant and all (cis) women without one are anxious. This is not true as studies show that expressions of attachment styles are similar across genders (though they affect genders differently.) All interactions and relationships seem to center a heterosexual framework as well. She does throw in a "masculine people" in place of the word "men" and "women and femmes" in place of "women" here and there in what I assume is an attempt to be more inclusive. However, she lacks understanding of how masculinities function outside cis heterosexual white men and seems to misunderstand the definitions of and the problems with the phrase "women and femmes." It shows in some of her writing.

The inclusion of interviews by trans women and/or women of color such as Serena Bhandar, Ruby Smith Diaz, Aravinda Anada, and others do well to combat this lack of insight. This is what separates Samaran's book from other white hetero cis women's literature that is lacking in these areas. Those books also often have something important to offer in terms of the author's personal experiences and so on. The problem with this book lies in the fact that the interviews seem to have been done after the rest of the book was written and thus, the learning gained from the interviews is not implemented in her own essays. The ordering of things is often, essay-interview-essay-interview, but when we get to the essays, the information within reverts back to the same singular perspective.

Another issue I had with Samaran's personal essays was how she tackled the topic of gaslighting using her own experiences. The beginning of the chapter, which discusses how severe the effects of gaslighting can be, is a great start. The end of the chapter, which exemplifies the harmful and extreme ways gaslighting exists in community and abuse dynamics is an excellent end. But, in the center, Samaran waters down the definition of gaslighting, basically using it to mean, "this person disagreed with me and said it in a mean way." This is specifically evident in her second example in which a male friend disagreed with her about seeing rent signs in her neighborhood and she labeled this gaslighting because he said it "like she was an idiot." It is misuses like these of the term that make its existence taken less seriously and hides the fact that we all experience the world in different ways. There is a reason that eye-witness testimonies are extremely flawed. Later in the book, Samaran details some of the abuse her family endured with her father and I am not sure why she didn't draw on that for her examples of gaslighting. Every misunderstanding, expression of false information- especially out of ignorance- or irritated response is not abuse. It can be problematic behavior or a stressful conflict that absolutely needs to be addressed without being treated as abuse.

Because of these limitations, analyses that should have been included such as conflicts within same gender romantic and other relationships, white woman tears that are used to silence people of color, the complex nature of trans peoples experiences with gender vs how they are read in the world, the complexities of different masculinities when they co-occur with other marginalized identities, the existence of masculine women and feminine men, the experiences of sick and/or disabled people with, and so on. Luckily, the interviews do address many of these things beautifully which is why I still consider this to be a worthwhile read. In conclusion, my recommendation is to approach this book as a great collection of interviews interspersed with the author talking about her own experiences.

This was also posted to my goodreads.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Book Review: Care Work - Dreaming Disability Justice

Image: The cover of the book is a white background. Across the top in blue-violent, capital letters is the author's name Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Below that in large mustard green capital letters is "care work" one word on top of the other. Between the two words, in the same letters as the authors name, it says "dreaming disability justice." Behind the title is an illustration taking up the lower half of the cover. It appears to be a brown-skinned woman with her left arm and left leg around a mass of white branches and perhaps mushrooms. I am sorry that I cannot tell exactly what she is hugging. Only her arm and her leg are visible behind the bramble of plants.

I wanted to put my only negative critique at the beginning of my review for people who skim because it involves one small section of the book that contains dangerous advice. There is a section in which the author shares her tips for touring, many of which are safe and helpful. While she does remark that these things will not work for every body, she does not explain further in ways that are critical for disabled and/or sick people reading. 

One thing she recommends is, for chronic pain, to take 800mg of ibuprofen every 4 hours. She doesn't say for how long or when to stop. One day of doing this puts an adult well over the maximum safer prescription dose. I say 'safer" not safe because long term NSAID use can still be dangerous at "safe" levels. Overdosing ibuprofen (and other NSAIDs) can commonly cause deadly and debilitating illnesses such as stomach bleeding and kidney disease. I learned the hard way by developing both likely from too many NSAIDs in my youth because of chronic pain. My stomach has since mostly healed but I have to be regularly monitored by my nephrologist forever. Now, if that's your chosen risk level, that's totally ok for you. But, if you are going to recommend the practice to others, they need to also be informed of the risk. 

Another thing she recommends is activated charcoal. It is true that activated charcoal can help with digestive issues and other things. It is also true that they give activated charcoal for overdoses and poisonings because it absorbs drugs and poison. If you are on meds, activated charcoal will absorb your meds, reducing or eliminating their concentration in your system and thus their effectiveness. As a person on 20 medications, I looked into activated charcoal at one point and luckily was reminded of being given it in the hospital in the past. This part is not explained in the recommendation, so if a person on medication- particularly the kind of medication you die without- follows this advice without more research, they could be injured or die. 

So, please be careful with and research things before trying them. If you are not able to do the research, perhaps ask someone you trust to do it or your doctors if you have a good relationship with them. 

Now that that is out of the way, let me move on to saying what a beautiful and important book Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha's "Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice" is. I am not a big poetry person. I might say I don't often feel like I "get" poetry. Maybe I lack creativity or education. That said, I knew about Piepzna-Samarasinha from "The Revolution Starts at Home" and her general disability justice work. Every time a poem of hers came across my feed, I found myself enchanted. I promised myself that one day I would read a book of her poetry- a promise I have yet to fulfill. But, when I saw "Care Work" come out, it seemed like an excellent place to start. I went ahead and picked up her memoir "Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home" as well which I hope to read soon.

This book challenged me in ways I expected and those I did not. I don't want to make this review all about me, but I struggle to express the immense affect this book had on me without getting personal. I have had multiple chronic illnesses and disabilities since I was very young, but only recently began identifying with disability when they progressed badly enough that I had to stop working, most activism, and lose most of my social life through losing the ability to do many things I loved. I initially felt sad and lonely reading this book. I felt sad about all of the times I failed to implement or educate myself about disability justice in my activist days. I felt and feel sad that the kind of care networks Piepzna-Samarasinha discusses in this book seem so out of reach. I felt sad that I am not quite there yet as far as feeling worthy and empowered around my health and disability. I really want to be there.

The challenges came in realizing how much internalized ableism I have. They came in realizing how many times I failed to provide proper access and care, how many times I don't realize I failed, and how many times I have felt embarrassed, ashamed, and unworthy of accessing care. It challenged me to think about my masculinity (which I try hard to manifest as a caring and sensitive kind) with how my masculinity and that of others has manifested in failing to provide care and access. I initially tightened up a little with discussions around masculinity as the way I move through the world and especially medical settings has been a struggle (to keep it short, I've been asked to undress far too often in front of people and I was once getting a painful EMG of a nerve in my neck while two doctors stood over me calling me he and she competitively in front of a room full of med students- a common occurrence.) I have also often found myself a caretaker in my partnerships. Piepzna-Samarasinha did nothing to inflame this. In fact, she went out of her way to say she knows about many masculine people providing care and caring. She discussed ways in which feminine abled people have messed up. They were 100% my feelings to work through.

I am grateful for the look into myself and into my life. Real talk, it was my dad who abruptly and carelessly changed the subject without asking if I was ok when I told him I had cancer, it is my male roommate who I have to passively ask 10x over a period of weeks to carry something heavy upstairs for me, it was a male doctor who once told me in the hospital, "You need to suffer," it was a male psychiatrist who yelled at and insulted me as a teenager in an assessment "to see how long it would take me to break," it was multiple male doctors who told my mom I was malingering before I ended up hospitalized for multiple days with a 105+ degree fever followed by a botched spinal tap and missing months of school, it has been masculine people including trans ones and myself who have not been there, it was my single mom who sat with me in hospital beds as a child and youth, it was she and my femme and feminine friends who opened me up to accepting help when I was the sickest in adulthood, it was trans guys who identified as fem/feminine/not masculine who provided support, and so on and so on. The discussions around gender and masculinity in this are real and on point. So, if you're like me, sit with that discomfort and you will learn many things. The discussions of masculinity, femme-phobia, and care work in this are wonderfully nuanced and informative. If your knee jerks, that's on you.

I had no resistance to her discussions of race and whiteness in the book. One of the first things I noticed when I began delving into disability literature was how overwhelmingly white it all was. I am not saying this for ally cookies or whatever so please don't offer. I am trying to say that it was apparent even as a white person how limited the discourse and activism ends up being when you only have a minority of the world population having the most highlighted contributions. It was excellent reading Piepzna-Samarasinha's words and point of view as well as racking up new sources to check out via her impeccably well done citations and resources. I adore what many white disabled people contribute as well (hello, Eli Clare, you changed my life.) They are just one small piece of a very large puzzle.

Another thing that Piepzna-Samarasinha does well is catalogue Queer and/or POC disabled history in really informative ways. She discusses the lack of "elders" in movements who can tell these and other stories. Often the exclusion is due to lack of disability accessibility. All of us who do not die abruptly will become disabled eventually. She discusses the importance of having movements larger than a rotating door of 20-something middle class abled people. I wish this was something I had educated myself on better when I was younger and more able. Perhaps I would have created different networks and would have more to draw on now.

As you can see, this book made me think about myself and my life a lot. I don't know if approaching this review this way was me taking up too much space. But, I will say that though this book brought up a lot of feelings, it was not all bad. Piepzna-Samarasinha gave me hope that there is more out there. She describes beautifully care networks, friendships, other relationships, event set ups, activism, etc that can include sick and disabled people of all kinds. She describes them as real, possible, and already happening. She describes things I have longed for and things I never even thought of.

This book brings something huge to the table in terms of disability justice and discourse around disability in general. Reading this book opened up a whole other dimension for me. I can't recommend it enough to both newbies to the struggle and veterans. I think everyone can gain something from this book.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Book Review: A Terrible Thing to Waste

Image: The cover of the book is bright yellow with black and grey letters. The right side of the book has a silhouette of a person's profile in black with a cutout of a smokestack and biohazard symbol excreting smoke into the shape of a gray brain. The top half of the cover is "a terrible thing to waste" in capitalized stenciled letters, below that under 4 dashes is "environmental racism and its assault on the american mind." Below that is the author's name- Harriet E. Washington as well as "author of medical apartheid."

Harriet Washington is known by many as the author of the harrowing and important "Medical Apartheid" in which she details a long history of medical and scientific abuse of Black individuals and communities. I consider this mandatory reading for any US American. "A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and its Assault on the American Mind," brings a whole new dimension of horror of what it is like to be Black, Brown, and/or poor in the USA. She tackles everything from exposure to dangerous pollutants to lack of access to healthy options and astutely describes how they all fit together in the realm of environmental racism.

The book starts off fairly quickly in discussing IQ disparities among poor people and/or people of color and this remains a theme throughout the book. I did find this part to contradict itself a bit, though. Washington makes excellent arguments about and gives a detailed history of how flawed IQ testing is. Yet, she still uses IQ points as a measure of environmental racism. Her book actually stands well on it's own without inclusion of this metric, or at least without centering it as much as she did. She also repeatedly uses the r-word and seems to lack the necessary analysis of disability justice that would be appropriate for this work. I have a review copy, so this could be something that has been or will change in the future printing. But, someone should have picked up on or sought out the fact that "Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities," is the correct way to discuss what she was speaking about. There was also a slight air of "disabled people are a drain on their families and society" which contributes to the ableist notion that people with intellectual disability do not offer anything to society or have a purpose. I am not saying people should seek out or want their children to be born with I&DD, nor should they lack upset for the higher rate of preventable illness and/or disability in their communities. I just think Washington could have been a bit more careful with her words here and that she or an editor should have picked up on the reality that using r*****ed- a term known as a common insult that many I&DD and Deaf people connect with extreme trauma- was not appropriate. Her description of the flaws, pseudoscience, and racial bias involved with IQ testing was excellent and it becomes clouded by the flaws in delivery.

Washington's book is organized in such a way that someone can skip around if they need to. This does mean that sometimes there is repetition, but it also is valuable for people unfamiliar with the topic to be reminded or for people only interested in reading one section out of order. Topics covered in different sections include lead and other pollutant poisoning, the extreme differences between fetal, childhood, and adult reactions to exposure, food deserts with copious access to only convenience and liquor stores' attachment to environmental racism, lack of access to appropriate medical care, and what is possibly the most horrifying as far as the squick factor goes- "Bugs in the System."

The details of lead poisoning from the unethical and abusive lead exposure experiments on Black and/or poor children and families in Baltimore to the water crisis in Flint are written in an incredibly engaging way. Toxic exposure is not simply that the exposure exists, but also all of the corruption and predatory practices of governments, scientists, and corporations that not only allow things to continue, but often actively support the atrocities. Early lead exposure is also linked to future criminal behavior- behaviors that, in white supremacist society, are always blamed on a Black person's character rather than their circumstances.

The elements of misogyny/misogynoir and it's link to environmental racism are clear in the sections discussing fetal exposure. Poor women, mostly of color, have been penalized via everything from fines to forced sterilization and/or imprisonment by the criminal injustice system for "feticide" or "abuse" due to exposures during pregnancy- including ones that occurred before they knew they were pregnant. At times, it is used by anti-choice lobbies to further their fight against reproductive autonomy for women and others who can get pregnant. At others, it is a way for governments or corporations to cover their tracks.

If I wasn't already vegan, the "Bugs in the System" chapter might have turned me. The chapter details countless bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections that are dangerous for everyone, but end up especially concentrated in Black, poor, and/or other marginalized populations. The reason I mention veganism is that I learned how many parasites are in animal flesh and how easily one can contract them. I was already pretty terrified of parasites. Now, I'm ever more aware and disgusted.

Finally, Washington offers a large section with a wide variety of solutions and actions that people can take to fight against environmental racism's effects on their lives. The advice includes healthcare, food consumption, housing access, familial care, legal options, and organizing/activist advice. There are very good suggestions in this section. I'm white but have poverty line income, so I am a person who shops at Dollar Tree tree and cheap stores. I threw out a couple of dishes and won't be buying some foods again, after reading her section on how many dollar stores use imported food and pottery that may contain lead. We in Pittsburgh are already dealing with our own lead water crisis, I don't need even more in my system. 

I also really appreciate how carefully Washington approached this section. She made sure not to give in to pseudoscience hype like that of anti-vaxxers, anti-any-fluoride, anti-all preservative movements. Yet, she still leaves room for new research and for people to make the decisions about these things that work for them. She acknowledges and validates the reasons why Black people especially may distrust the medical system. She is also firm that vaccines do not cause autism and that mercury that is linked to disease is no longer in most vaccines. She is clear that fluoride's benefit for dental health- especially for those without dental care access- may outweigh any costs or risks involved. She offers a long list of preservatives generally recognized as safe (GRAS) and stresses that these preservatives are healthier than it would be to contract diseases they prevent, but acknowledges that some preservatives are unhealthy and thus avoiding processed foods is always a good idea. Her tips for organizing and activism offer a brief catalogue of the lack of Black and other people of color representation in environmental organizations, despite them being the biggest human targets of many of the problems tackled. This has changed somewhat, but not enough.

Overall, A Terrible Thing to Waste is a well written, well researched, and very necessary look at environmental racism. Despite its flaws in disability analysis and representation, it still offers an great amount of important information in a relatively small package (300 pages for all of this info is not very much.) The book hits shelves in July 2019 and is definitely worth picking up. 

This review is also posted on my goodreads