spreading our fear of the dark

A few nights ago, I took a ride on my bike. Alone. In the dark. Through a wooded path.

In case this fact doesn’t upset or scare you, I will remind you: I am not a man.

 And guess what? Nothing happened.

Well, something happened.

Before that, every woman I work with offered me a ride home on my way out the door from work. They were all afraid for me to ride my bike home. I don’t mean to suggest that this was not nice (it definitely was), but primarily it was discouraging.

As I walked out and got on my bike, I did feel trepidation. Sometimes I think it is hard to make sure that modes of caring for each other do not to turn in to echo chambers that amplify our fears and hurts from the wider world. After everyone tells you to be scared, it is hard not to be scared.

Picture of a bicycle with a light showing a wooded area, leaves on the ground, and darkness beyond.
Picture taken by my male friend Dan Winchester of his night biking. No one responded to his picture with any concerns.

Once on my bike, the path was empty, and after a certain distance, I entered a wooded area that was dark and it was hard to see. My light was not working and I had to practically stop. I started to breathe too hard. I started to feel afraid in the dark. I started to feel afraid of the dark itself. I worried about what was in the bushes. But then I started to control my fear and I knew that it was only small animals in the bushes being disturbed by my bike in the bushes. I knew that without a light my eyes would adjust to the dark place and I would see different things. Moving at a snail’s pace, I could smell the leaves and hear the trees, in addition to the nearby traffic. I could hear the river. I could focus on feeling my cold breath. If I could control my fear, I could have a wonderful bike ride on a wooded path, no more likely to be attacked by the “crazies” (or just men)–my coworkers’ fear–than anywhere else in this beautiful and terrible world. If I could control my fear, I would be free to enjoy the world as it is.

Because the reality is, I am vulnerable to harassment by men in daylight or in darkness, in the woods or in my workplace, whether strangers or men I know. I am not denying this reality, yet I do not want to overstate it either. And if I refuse to overstate and let it control me, I can be free to enjoy a quiet solo winter bike ride home in the evening. And wow, that freedom felt as good! and as complicated as any other.

Even as I began to really enjoy my ride, I knew that almost no one in my life would approve of this ride. They would want me to turn back, they would want me to make “safer” choices; they would want to come rescue me from the woods. But what do we sacrifice when we continually choose safety over wildness? What do we lose when we share our fear with each other but never our courage? How will we teach each other to be free?

Just Call Me They

The work of being trans is constant. It is tiring. It is exhausting. And it doesn’t really have to be that way. Is it too much to ask people to pay attention to me as a human being when they interact? To use my pronouns, use my name, and to do both correctly a majority of the time? It is not too much to ask, because how can I keep going in a world where that is too much to ask of the fellow human beings with whom I interact?

Taking people seriously as human beings starts with recognizing and learning how we are referred to in speech. This is not a preference. This is not a special request. This is a normal request for being treated with dignity like a human being and let me tell you, it is hurtful and embarrassing and offensive and infuriating and disempowering all rolled into one when it almost never happens. It is dehumanizing.

Let’s start with the name. I am a white person born in the US; unlike a great many people who must never even hear their names said correctly let alone spelled accurately, I belong to the dominant culture. Even so, my very white Irish German name, Meghan Krausch, is apparently not white bread enough and so I have spent my entire life checking every program, table of contents, and website in which it has ever appeared to see if they got it right. It has not gone well. For this and other reasons, I tried dropping the second half of my first name. But no, people cannot just call me Meg either. They want to try to call me Meghan anyway, usually failing.

Why am I going on about my name? Because I think this is related to people’s issues respecting each others’ pronouns. We insist in imposing our own cognitive schemas on other peoples’ selves. We do not take the time to copy down someone’s name as it is given to us, or to listen when they say it, or look at how they sign their own name. Instead, we are in a rush to fit people into a pre-existing box (in my example: ‘oh! I know that name: Megan’).

So as my name is violated in print, as others’ names are violated even more often and viciously, I am misgendered constantly. In situations where I might expect it, in situations where it was an honest mistake, and in situations where there is no excuse.

I get that there is a social transition. I get that this requires resocialization. And I do in fact understand how deep that socialization goes. I really, really do. In fact, I understand more than most people how early we are socialized to believe in the gender binary; I would argue that we are introduced to the binary before we even leave the womb. I am not sure I even believe that anyone can be perfect at using nonbinary pronouns in a society which is still cissexist.

But it is devastatingly apparent to me that most of y’all don’t even try.

In researching this post, I found this story about nonbinary or genderqueer K-12 teachers who use the honorific Mx. There was a lot that resonated, but thing I identified with most was the teacher who said this:

“I had moments where I thought: I’m too much work, I’m asking too much of my colleagues and students, and that as a teacher I’m there to serve, and part of serving others is not always putting yourself first.”

I fight this impulse every day. Of course “they/them/theirs” is a political choice, just like not eating meat or riding my bike instead of driving. But it also feels like home. It feels comfortable. It feels like not faking being a girl and being worried that I would be caught as a fake. And it’s no more of a political choice than using “he” or “she” or eating meat or driving a car, which are also all political choices.

The work of being trans is constant and exhausting only because other people make it that way. It doesn’t have to be anything other than just being.

Here are some resources for those who have questions about trans pronouns, being good accomplices, and what to do when you screw up:

transsaurus-rex

Worrying about Others Is Nothing to Fear


Every day I think about my friends in Honduras and I worry about them. I wonder what they’re doing and if they’re OK, and I wonder if they’re worried about today or tomorrow. Then I worry and wonder about my friends in Argentina who I haven’t seen in a little longer. I feel bad that I owe them a visit and I am concerned that I have lost touch with some of them. But most of all I worry about how much they’re being affected by the deepening crash of the economy, increasing social repression, and overall sense of crisis reaching infamous 2001 levels. I also think about how I owe my good friend in prison a letter, and I wonder how he’s getting along too, and I hope that he knows that my longer than usual stretch without communication doesn’t mean that I’m not thinking of him often.

I feel connected to these folks, and my worries are personal rather than abstract. The problems they face—in the form, often, of risk to their lives—are elements of large social problems of the kind many of us read and hear about in the news. The visibility of these problems happening to people who are faraway makes both the people and the problems seem invisible. But they are not abstract social problems. They are everyday problems faced by real humans. They are the concrete problems faced by my living breathing friends, even if these concrete problems are overwhelming oppressive social structures.

It seems to me that I also know many people who have refused to face or even acknowledge these problems. Their reaction, it seems to me, is one of fear. They fear, perhaps, becoming sucked in to the sense of worry that I described above. They fear, perhaps, becoming overwhelmed by the extent of the world’s problems. They fear, perhaps, their sense of helplessness. It is true that “you can’t help everyone.”

But I wouldn’t trade my constant sense of worry and obligation for the disregard or the protective ignorance or the fear or whatever it is that stops people from engaging. Despite the fact that injustice will never be solved, I know that I am connected horizontally in relationships with others that are mutual, loving, and creating alternatives everyday to the systems which tear us down. I am engaged in nurturing myself and others. I know that I am not hiding from reality.

Every week I try to do what I can. It is overwhelming, and so I try to work first on the corner of the giant puzzle of injustice closest to me, while keeping the whole picture in front of me and making sure that my piece will still be able to connect. I work on always increasing my network of solidarity and especially its diversity. And I try to hand puzzle pieces to passersby, who happen to know me but no one else, and get them involved too, and I guess this for me is also part of how solidarity works.

Sometimes I fail, but every day I worry and I make all the room in my life I can to change the world. I reflect, I criticize, and I work at it. I know that I am obligated to others because my humanity is bound up in theirs. Without them, I am not fully human.

a spell for writing

Some days I have so much to say that I can’t find a way to say anything.

Other days I run so dry of words that I have to read a book.

Learning to tell the difference feels like magical self-awareness, but it is a simple spell.

  1. Breathe deeply and know that both will pass quickly.
  2. Spend a few minutes letting it all out on the page.
  3. If nothing comes out, spend a longer time letting the ideas flow in.

When They Come For You (Guest Post)

The Rebel Prof is honored to present a guest post written by anthropologist and professor Jelena Radović Fanta.

The words that were made by this country’s president on birthright citizenship was a punch in the gut. When I first heard it, it didn’t feel that way. I rolled my eyes, thought “here we go again,” took it with some humor, and then thought, well, many groups of people have been targeted by this government and his rhetoric and his executive orders over the last two years. Surely, I can’t compare this with what my fellow compañerxs have been going through. Because I have privilege and I’ve benefited from it. I’ve flown in and out of this country with my U.S. passport, I don’t need to worry about having a visa, or having a school pick-up or speeding ticket turn into a deportation. Who am I to complain.

But as I went through the day earlier this week, I had a pit feeling in my stomach. I brushed it off thinking is was due to little sleep, the list of things I need to tackle, the shorter days and darker mornings. Until a student asked me “and how are you doing?” And I realize that I had been punched in the stomach. I had a chill on my skin, my walk was slower, and my heart was heavy.

I know the (im)possibilities of this happening. And under the very improbably circumstances that this happens, I have other options. I am married to a U.S. citizen (you know, the more legit kind of citizen) and I am a citizen of another country I can go back to (a country also with birthright citizenship, DJT do your f*** research). If anything, there’s always the employment sponsored visa which I can hope to attain.

But the weeding out of everyone who does not look like or think like Trump continues. We were talking in my classes about the irreversible damage that is being done, where now 45-supporters will turn to people who seem gringo but might have that slight accent, look a little different, speak more than one language, travel back and forth, or simply have a different political viewpoint and say “You! Where are your parents from? Go back to where your parents came from!”

deport-trump

Art by Nicholas Lampert

I owe this country nothing. I am not going to list what I consider “accomplishments” that I’ve had in my life. I should not have to. But if we are going to talk about it, well than yes, I have given a lot to this country. And this country has given me a lot. There are many reasons why I am here. And if we are going to talk about immigration, let’s talk about it. If we’re going to talk about crime, let’s talk about crime and how immigrant crime rates are not higher than US born people. If we’re going to talk about social welfare, let’s do so and talk about how undocumented people are not eligible for federal public aid programs. You do not get to throw out half-ass “arguments” and logic that all they do is draw on emotion, on white fragility, on anxiety about the “browning” of this country, and other baseless bullshit “arguments.” All it does is reveal your xenophobia and fear of “other,” who, by the way has never, ever really been an other, but a “right here.” Right here next door neighbor, right here at the food truck, right here landscaping your yards, cleaning your bathrooms. Right here opening doors, driving taxis, caring for your children, educating students, doing your nails, creating art, and start up shops. There has never been an “over there.” The “over there” has only been there because you placed it there. And don’t get me started with the legality of how your grandparents came here. There was no legal way” back then. People arrived on ships and if they were healthy and part of a support system, in they came.

I had always heard that things don’t really hit you until they become personal. Attacks on Muslims, Undocumented Immigrants, African Americans, the Queer community, and Women are for me offensive, unacceptable, and must be fought. Always. Yet there’s this extra blow when I realized “Hey, he’s talking about me. And my family.” The sting is extra sharp. And it hurts a little more. And I hope that the bitterness and anger I feel will never stop pushing me to do something about it.

a spell to breathe through it collectively

I feel a familiar pit of anxiety rise up in my stomach. Nausea threatens to overwhelm me. I try to remember to breathe deeply. I remind myself that I can do this. I can do this, because I have already survived worse. I can do this, because so many have already survived so much worse than I can even imagine, and some of those people are my friends. If my friends can face threats of their own deaths and continue on every day, without losing their senses of humor, without giving up, then I can do this.

I let the feelings come, I let the fear in, but I try not to let it control me. I try instead to control it with my breath. And with my memories and thoughts of everyone I know who is braver than me. I’m afraid of the unknown, of the future, of what will hurt, but usually, it’s just about going through and then it will be over. I can do this. Breathe. I want to be able to do this, I can’t control it, but I can decide to do it. I can do this.

And with each repetition, it gets easier. And with each story we tell ourselves and each other, we get stronger. We get more resilient. We can do this. We don’t have to pretend not to be anxious, not to be scared. We just have to remember to breathe. And to do it anyway.

Dandelion growing out of concrete with words that say "Cultivate Resistance"

Graphic by Luke Thomas available at https://justseeds.org/graphic/cultivate-resistance/

sadness and struggle

I’ve been trying and failing to finish a lot of writing over the last few weeks. I have felt overwhelmed, with a lot to say, but at the same time not quite able to edit and polish and publish what I’ve got.

Today, after once again writing about 1,500 words without finishing a post, I finally picked up Cindy Milstein’s Rebellious Mourning and read the first essay, Benji Hart’s “Feeling Is Not Weakness.” In it, Hart talks about how sad and depressing it is to connect the dots on the systemic violent oppression of black and brown people. Hart says they feel guilty for being sad, because Hart knows one of the functions of the system is to create demoralization. Sadness makes it feel like this campaign of demoralization is working. In Hart’s words:

“I feel guilty for being demoralized. I should be angry. I should be fiery with unquenchable passion. I should be as relentless as the state. If I am sad, the state has won. If I am sad, the fight is over”(p. 20).

I too feel sad. And I had not realized until just at this moment that I have had writer’s block because I didn’t want to write anything out of my sadness. I didn’t want to let Husky, or city council, or Walker, or Trump, or whoever control my life and my successes and make me sad. I didn’t want the state or capital to win. But feeling sadness when confronted with tragic realities is what makes me human. It is what makes me strong. Hart puts it like this:

“Experiencing hurt around the realities my people and I face is more than understandable; it shows that I have not given in, not accepted the current, violent reality as inevitable, not forfeited belief in my own right to life.”(p. 21)

A compañera of mine put it another way:

“We’re in the heart of the Empire,” I said.
“You’re wrong,” she said, “the Empire has no heart.”

My sadness does not mean the battle is lost. It means I’ve refused to lose what’s at the core of struggle and what we struggle for: my dignity and humanity. My belief that better worlds are possible. My compassion for others. My willingness to see and face systemic injustice. My meaningful connections to people living precarious lives of all kinds. My hope that people can be better people, and that they can find the will and courage to stop enacting their power over others. It’s only when I become so cynical that I lose these things that the fight is over. Sadness is not the sign the battle is lost but the sign that it is still raging, and the sign that I am still willing to fight it.

a blue arm and a white arm hold hands across a paper background with foundation and charity names. the paper is torn to reveal the words "True Compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." - Martin Luther King, Jr

Art by Kevin Caplicki for the Poor People’s Campaign, available at Just Seeds Collective.

between words

I started this blog in part because the air around me was too thick with gaslighting. Because I needed to tell the story of what was happening at UWS and in the UW system not just to the world outside, but to myself. Because I needed to write down and tell so many stories. Writing makes things clearer and makes them make sense. When I don’t have the time to write I start to feel the walls close in and everything feels too quiet here. Up starts to feel like down. I hope I can be back to writing the world into sense again soon.

drawing of an anatomical heart with the text "This Machine Kills Fascists"

Graphic by Jonathan Byxbe of Flight 64 Studio in Portland, OR, via Justseeds Collective

Saturday Rec: Pink Ribbons, Inc.

Pink Ribbons, Inc.

Pairs well with: organic foods, soil-testing kit, and solitary activities once you become unpopular for wanting to make space for the truth and criticizing “Pinktober”

This is another documentary based on a book, an academic text by Samantha King who also appears in the documentary. The film covers the problems with reducing fighting breast cancer to buying stuff with pink ribbons on it and includes many of the problems people have with the Komen foundation. More interesting, however, the film is a powerful discussion of the ways that relentlessly positive thinking is really harmful to people. It shows persuasively that when we focus on positive thinking, we center quick and easy solutions and end up missing real solutions, which are harder and take more time. We do not think about what causes cancer (e.g., living near oil refineries), and how more people are getting it. Instead we focus on finding it early on as if it were an inevitable fact.

Most strikingly the film includes interviews with women dying of breast cancer who discuss how there is no room for them or their experiences in a “movement” which only wants to hear happy stories and see pink objects. Where can one process the experience of dying from a horrible disease if people only want to hear about happy things? How can this be a “good” way of dealing with a disease if there is no room for the people actually experiencing its effects in an authentic way?

A great film for understanding how focusing only on the positive can literally harm the people around you.

Eulogy for UWS

I did not plan to be a college professor when I entered my PhD program in sociology. I was interested in more directly community engaged work and writing. I fell in love with teaching during my fieldwork at a movement run high school for adults in Buenos Aires, where I co-taught social sciences in a classroom populated primarily by young women who lived in the neighboring shantytown. But even so, I was highly suspicious that this experience could be replicated inside of a bureaucratic institution of higher education in any meaningful way.

It was only toward the end of my tenure as a graduate student when I saw one particular job listing that I decided to look for jobs teaching at the university level. The job was at the University of Michigan-Flint, a regional comprehensive university where my mom had graduated when I was a kid.

Looking at the posting brought back a flood of memories of attending classes the few times she didn’t have childcare, and had to take me to classes with her. These days are burned into my memory, because the visual inspection, behavior talk, and overall prep was intense! I must have been in about second grade, and I can remember my mom talking me into wearing my best clothes by telling me this is what all the “college girls” would be wearing. I know I was much more dressed up than I usually got just to go to my own school. Now I can see that my mom was worried about being embarrassed by having me or us look too poor, since having to bring your kid to class is already a bad way to stick out at college. Once I can remember getting a new toy doll just in order to go to class to be sure that I wouldn’t become restless during the lecture. Although I was generally a pretty good kid, I still remember the very serious talk I got before going to those classes about how essential it was that I be absolutely good.

I have told this story to more than one student at UWS, because I wanted these students to feel welcome in my classes and on our campus. And I always tell them their kids are welcome in my classes, because I know they will behave. After all, I know exactly the serious talk they got before coming to the class. I have wanted to be part of expanding these students’ access to education, their access to big ideas, and part of expanding their world. My mom’s life circumstance forced her to leave high school but her child is a college professor, in no small part because of my exposure to the importance of College, capital C, through her and her persistence in completing it.

I didn’t get the job at U of M-Flint, but after I saw that listing I knew that I wanted to teach students like my mom. Not just students with kids, but nontraditional students; students who never thought they’d find themselves in a university for a variety of reasons including race and social class; students who are afraid that if something goes wrong, someone will figure this out, and they won’t be let back in. UW-Superior has provided a tremendous environment for doing this, because it is open enrollment, has small class sizes, has a public liberal arts college mission, and my department is very supportive of deeper methods of teaching and learning. All of this is unsustainable with the loss of any faculty voice in the running of the campus, the partnership with for-profit companies who will put pressure on the campus to develop easier curricula for faster degrees regardless of what is being learned (if they haven’t already started), and the elimination of nearly all the liberal arts disciplines on campus. There is no longer any institutional support for these experiences.

I have been able to be a part of amazing transformations in my few short years at UWS that are considered impossible in most educational environments, and I will be grateful for that experience. But I will mourn the tremendous loss for all of us in the region at the abandonment of that mission, and I will not participate in the charade that it has not been abandoned. This is no longer the UWS where I hoped to spend the next twenty five years teaching.

picture is of 25 handmade headstones with the names of academic programs set out in a univeristy building. in the background is a cardboard casket flanked by paper flowers.

Headstones for each cut major and minor program and a casket for the University of Wisconsin-Superior we knew and loved. The funeral was held Saturday, April 14, 2018. Photo Credit: Trudy Fredericks.