There are a lot of things I see framed as choice, when they’re really about maintaining the illusions of free will, of not giving a fuck, or of resisting the dominant paradigm. I want to see my actions as autonomous, as a source of strength. But I’m coming up against the constraints of one so-called choice, and it’s a huge and tiny internal war, one that also shows quite plainly on my face.

When I discovered femme identity, I found a gender and aesthetic that felt like home. There was strength and softness there, and the recognition of beauty rituals for self-care.

Queer femininity taught me to uproot hidden strains of misogyny that lurked and lingered in myself and others, craftily masking themselves as authenticity, self-acceptance, or concerns for health. I could be pretty and tough and feminine, and none of these elements contradicted each other.

I never felt like I had to wear makeup. I enjoyed it. I’d go out without it sometimes, but more often than not I felt better with it. It was my femme armour and I wore it with pride.

Then this weird thing started happening on my face. It was a kind of acne or infection or I don’t-know-what. It hurt and itched, and it was always red and spotty. I’d never had perfectly clear skin, but I’d never been as blighted as this before in my life.

I tried maintenance and treatment: A different face wash, aloe vera, tea tree oil, and then concealer and some powder.

I soon realized that the spotty thing got a bit better when I was home all day, makeup free. The decision seemed simple, and an obvious tradeoff: take a break from wearing makeup, and let the spotty thing clear up. But I pouted. I insisted that I wanted to wear the makeup, it was my choice, and by my politics, my right.

Eventually discomfort won over. I committed to taking a break, just until the spotty thing went down, then I’d re-introduce bits of the makeup routine.

But the spotty thing would not go down. Just when I thought the last spot was healing, poof, another one appeared and brought its friends. And every morning I woke up to the same awful conclusion: My self-acceptance was bullshit. I hate my face.

It didn’t matter if I was in a good mood, if life or relationships are going well, if I was otherwise healthy, or felt secure in my strengths and successes. Every day, when I saw my reflection in the mirror, it was the same Face Hate voice. This sucks. There is no way you or anyone else could see this as pretty.

If I stay on that train, it hits all of the obvious points of self-deprecation, true or not. No one will love me like this. Anyone who says I’m pretty or even beautiful are clearly lying (and maybe they’re not, but they still say what’s going on with your face? No one loves the spotty thing.) The Face Hate voice is highly unoriginal, repetitive, and cruel.

I tried to embrace the face. I’d take a selfie and stare at my own mug, willing myself to find something to appreciate. That used to work in other periods of self-deprecation, but it was more like a pat on the head than a shift in vision. I stared and stared and saw nothing.

I tried to reason with the hate I have for my face, but it won’t budge.

Dear Face Hate: Don’t you know that aesthetics aren’t the most important thing about this human being? Why don’t you back off and consider all her other good qualities. Nope, it says. You’re cool and all but your face still sucks.

Dear Face Hate: Didn’t the gods of the spotty thing get that no-makeup sacrifice I made? I thought we had a deal here. Nope, it says. Spotty thing is gonna stick around, and so am I.

Dear Face Hate: You’re boring. Why are we doing this everyday? I don’t NEED to be pretty. And it laughs and laughs and laughs. It doesn’t need to say anything, because it knows that if I truly believed that, it wouldn’t be here. I have a choice, right? I can always pick up the brush, and apply pretty if I want it that bad. Do I?

I know that I have the privilege of choosing to wear makeup or not – none of my jobs require me to (overtly or not), so I can stick with this stubborn, uncomfortable experiment. But as much as it sucks, I’m learning that despite my femme politics, I’m so much more affected by heteronormative patriarchal standards of beauty than I’d ever want to admit.

The voice of the face hate sounds like mine, but it’s not. I didn’t put it there, but I also thought myself immune to it, and never noticed its insidious entrance until now.

I’ve come to treat it kind of like running the gauntlet. Get up, shower, brush teeth, then there’s the mirror and the tired refrain. Yeah ok, what’s new? Still hate the face. What’s next? Then I move on to breakfast.

Breakfast used to get quickly passed over in the morning chaos. But an unexpected benefit of skipping makeup is extra time for a tasty meal, and a little bit more room for groceries too.

I wish I could close with redemption, with some positive message about self-compassion, about accepting yourself, even about breakfast. I could post a token photo, bare all and invite reassurances, stand face-naked in all of my vulnerability and hope for absolution. But I know it’s not that simple. There’s no quick fix.

If there’s anything I can accept, it’s that love – for self and others – is turbulent and not always kind, it’s the imperfect state of progress and the slow nature of change. Something will shift, eventually, but for now it’s still spotty.



Five Star


The Luxury of a Long Table

None of the other blog posts I planned to write today can possibly come to the fore, not after another announcement of a flawed justice system failing, not after watching waves of heartbreak ripple through my friends, both American and Canadian.

As the Ferguson Grand Jury verdict news came in, I was sitting in a room full of feminists. It was a long table conversation, with many voices at the table. Women – feminists, activists, women of colour, queer women, trans women, and more – spoke of their experiences living under patriarchy. They spoke of sexism, but more than anything they spoke of racism. They spoke of the ongoing legacy of colonization, here in Treaty One Territory, of institutionalized racism, of the subtle “polite” racism. They spoke of violence, their missing and murdered kin. They spoke of violence in threats and violence in words. They spoke of so much that I couldn’t possibly capture here, and that is not the point.

The point is that we are not so far away, and we are all connected to this. Maybe there are other white women sitting in Canada, like me, and other white men, and they can’t see the connection. The heartbreak, how crushing this verdict is. This is more than theory and a discussion, even if, as an ally, sitting and listening and maybe helping out a bit is the role to play at the moment.

We cannot forget that racism, entrenched institutionalized racism, does not exist in the vacuum. The system is upheld by individual people. People who exist in the world with each other and who uphold racist, white supremacist systems with their words and actions. Silence is an action. Using words without considering their meaning, without seeing the harm that can be done on the spectrum of violence, that’s an action too.

Standing up and saying something is also an action. That happened too, here at the long table. When tonight’s conversation wound down, I felt hopeful, optimistic. I felt that people had listened, and people held each other through the difficult parts. I thought that hey, there are some pretty fantastic people in this city working to make it better, and I want to be a part of that. Maybe we can change the world, albeit slowly.

Then I pulled out my phone, checked the news, saw #blacklivesmatter all over facebook again, still. This theory, and the violence of language is part of it. But the actual visceral acts, of racialized physical violence, of murder, of protesting because there’s no other way to say that this is wrong, that’s the real consequence.

Tonight, in Ferguson, and elsewhere across the US, many folks will not have the luxury of coming to a long and open table to do the first step, to simply talk, to find kinship and build connections through dialogue, like we did in Winnipeg tonight. I only hope that those of us who are out here can support them in some way, whatever that is. Hold on to the hope when you find it, and reach out to those who are running low. Make space for the outrage. There is every reason to be angry.

If we’re talking about this, talk louder, talk more, talk to those who don’t quite get it yet.  And for some of us, those who have a disproportionate share of air space, talk less, and listen more.

The first man I met who called himself a feminist

The first man I met who called himself a feminist didn’t know what it meant. Or perhaps his definition was slightly at odds with mine. My definition, at 17, meant that I got to do whatever the fuck I wanted regardless of the opinions of men and his definition, well, I’m not entirely sure.

His definition was kind of like the cut-out pictures of Ani DiFranco on his bedroom wall. They fit with the scene, but were somewhat static, lacking movement, lacking action.

Action is what he believed in, and he wore it in patches, proudly displaying his politics on tattered shorts and flight jackets. Vegan. Anti-racist. Anarchist. Feminist. It was all so perfectly late 90s political punk. It was exciting. I wanted to believe in this too.

But I soon found holes in his ideology that grew too big for screen-printed patches and statements of solidarity. I sang along with the whoa-oh-ohs and picked at all the down-strokes on my cheap Vantage bass while he screamed out slogans and choruses to the crowds of kids in community centres. He was my boyfriend and my band mate, and that dynamic suited me fine onstage. Except for the dress code.

Every scene has their own subtle dress code and snipey style detectives watching out for infractions (“why are you wearing a white belt? You’re not even emo” was a favourite of mine). But this wasn’t subtle, this was overt. This was the no-skirts-on-stage rule and it was implemented for me, and me alone, because I was female and because I was a girlfriend.

The logic was, according to the man who called himself a feminist and who was my boyfriend and band mate, that people would assume that I was only in the band because I was his girlfriend, not because I could play or was a musician. That was a fair enough interpretation of our world. Even at 17 I knew enough about music to know I be discounted due to my gender at every turn and would need to prove myself by being harder and faster and stronger and better than the boys.

But the next level of this logic was that if I chose to wore a skirt onstage, I would be even less than a girlfriend – I would be a prop, being used by him for sex appeal. And that would hurt the political image of the band and reflect badly on him.

Now, this was back in the time when irony was still somewhat cool, yet even he didn’t fully grasp the irony of the situation. He had to control what I wore onstage so it wouldn’t look like he was controlling what I wore onstage. I had to be pop-punk appealing so it wouldn’t look like I was only there for sex appeal. It was bizarre PR, even for a punk.

I tried to reason with him.

What if, I suggested, I show up in whatever I want as my own badass self and just kick so much ass that it would be super clear that no one is telling me what to do? What if I just play the pop punk as my own person?

Nope, that didn’t fly. It would look bad on him. No matter what I did, it wasn’t about me. Or the band. The members were interchangeable. My decisions reflected on him, and his political reputation.

His argument was that he didn’t want it to look like I was a pawn. But I was a pawn, dressed in baggy army pants in order to conceal my pawn-ness.

Perhaps the feminism he believed in was one that said that women shouldn’t have to look a certain way in order to please men. And what he took from that was that looking a certain way was wrong. It was the old “femininity is complicity in patriarchy” ruse. And yet the alternative was just as much of a cage, though it was decorated with flour-paste posters and slogans about freedom, about The Man.

As much as he made a show of counter-culture, he was just as much The Man as the men he was railing against.

To me, the point of feminism is to disrupt patriarchy on multiple levels, in multiple ways. But it always starts with the personal, and with personal dynamics. In many of our political movements, feminism has been put aside, or the failings of individual men to respect their female and non-binary peers have been brushed over for the sake of a greater cause. It’s not the fight for right now.

Or no one sees the fight, the struggle for power and autonomy that’s happening right in front of their eyes, on the stage, between a veteran of the political pop-punk scene and a young teenage punk who likes to be pretty and sexy and loud at the same time, but can only be one at once, for you, so it looks right.

When I left the first man I met who called himself a feminist, the one who did his best to control my appearance and behaviour on and off-stage, he was a pillar of the scene. He was a friend to many good people who are still friends to me now, and a lot who are still friends to him.

He kicked me out of the band, and I showed up for the final gig in the shortest skirt I could find. I don’t remember anyone commenting about how I was being played for wearing it that night. And for the first time, I felt at home onstage. I felt like myself.

But I lost the band, the scene, my friends, music. That part of my life went dormant for a while. I found my own politics and jettisoned his. And since then, I’ve met many other men who call themselves feminists.

Many of the men who were around then called themselves feminists. And many of the men who call themselves feminists are also around men like this one, they’re around men whose actual behaviour is antithetical to feminism. Sometimes they speak out against the other men who call themselves feminist but are actually just hypocrites or harassers or abusive. Oftentimes they don’t.

Nowadays, when I meet a man who calls himself a feminist, I nod. And I wait, alternately hopeful and resigned to a repetitive disappointment. I wonder, “this one, will he act?”