That was one of many questions that came up while working on the design of this experience and imagining into it: How will it go? Who’ll show up? And what will we talk about?
There was a lot to talk about.
I have to say I’d have been fine with silences. I mean, if that’s what happened, that’s what happened. There’s just no way to know and scripting it, going for a topics-list outcome, that wasn’t the point here. I just wanted to listen. To have the space to talk, to think out loud together. I don’t think we have enough of that. Not in group settings. Not with an expectation of respect. Not at work. At work is where so much of the day goes, too.
I think I’ve trained myself out of believing I have the space to talk things over, only saying raw things, still-thinking things when I couldn’t help it, and pulling back soon after. Not being ok with the silence that followed. Or the not getting it, not interested, not willing, not now because other things just have to get done. We already know what we need to know.
Besides, I’ve always been uncomfortable in a group. Easily overwhelmed by just there being many heartbeats working, and eyes, when they turn toward me. Performance anxiety, I guess. Definitely about getting it right. Even though I don’t believe in that.
Anyway, here, in this space, that was the point. To make room, free up space to say things aloud among us, and just see what was there. Intentionally hold space the space for each other. And ourselves.
At one point, we got into an inquiry into unsolicited dick picks. What are they thinking? What was the point of that? And demanding a pussy pick back. Having strategies, even if it sucks that we should need to, to address what gets thrown at us, or the internalized habits of apologizing for having a different view of things, of hiding what comes with having a female body, making ourselves smaller to fit someone else’s idea. I totally need that help. Strategies ready.
That moment after, when you realize that you caved vs stayed seated inside yourself, in your truth, sucks.
There was a lot of power in the room, compassion. We didn’t go around the room, telling each other about our backgrounds or anything, but you could tell that we weren’t coming from the same place. Or maybe I’ve sloughed off enough layers to just see how it always is. We just are different, we just are specific individuals, the subjects of non-interchangeable stories and even that is too containing to be descriptive.
I felt power, things I didn’t know or understand where there too, but I felt safe.
This group thing can be pretty cool. It can be like nothing I’ve experienced before.
This is just the beginning…
Lay down some intentions, lay out some vagina portraits, step into the circle, and… what will we talk about?
Later this week, we’re creating a space for the conversations we can have, and should get to have, with each other and with ourselves when engaging with art, with those in the room, with those not in the room, and with the truth and history held in our bodies.
I’m partnering with Kim Thai, founder of Ganesh, to present this new program, inspired by the many conversations I’ve had with women, and by Kim’s kind and peaceful approach to community,
and fueled by an abiding need in me to undermine the way that so much of female bodylife experience is routinely hidden, smacked with stigma and shame, marginalized, outright disrespected, mis-informed, mis-represented, under-researched, sanity-undermining, dangerous and life-threatening. More so if you’re a woman of color, non-binary, or noticeably non-conforming.
When it comes to our bodies, not just how they look, but our bodylife experiences, there’s a lot more noise than information, conversation or care.
Let’s fix that
We all deserve to live our lives on our own terms, to talk freely about our experiences, and to be able to take care of ourselves, based on our individual experiences and points of view, not on someone’s idea of how we should be.
I believe accessible information and open conversation are the foundation of a world where living a female bodylife is intrinsic to the design of our everyday lives.
How we move through the world must be fundamental to public spaces, governance, privacy and opportunity. Not an add-on. Not something to be controlled.
On Saturday, Oct 5th, at Merge New York in Chinatown, we’re creating a zone of safety and freedom, where women can talk, on our own terms. By women, I mean to include everyone who’s biologically female and/or identifies as a woman. Our intention is for you to leave with a deeper connection to the truth inside your body and the story that you bring into the world.
vagina vérité, this experience, is an opportunity to be the Subjects of our bodylife stories, respected and empowered by sharing them, honored for how we live them. Not as Objects, defined by men, or by anyone, but as self-sovereign actors with complete authority over the course, meaning and value of our life experiences.
With Objectification as the norm and tool for knowledge and truth, and its weaponization effectively othering more than half the world’s population, Subjectification, I hope, will be the complement and the antidote, respectively.
What would the world look like, what would it feel like, if the stories we heard about our female bodylives in so many public and private experiences, were based in our own voices as we speak for ourselves?
What would you do differently, if it was a normal thing for the world around you to reflect, support and respect what is true for you?
The birth of a social enterprise
This is the first live event in an ongoing project, where we share our bodylife experiences, and reframe reality.
Through live, remote and digital programs, I intend to build the Bodylife Library, so that the space for conversation, and for the truth held in our bodies, is everywhere.
Stickers! The normal is diverse sticker is here! Two shown here on a hassock. A word not said often enough for how fun it is to say: hassock!
Almost a year ago, I exhibited vagina vérité in the Normal Is Diverse exhibition. That there is no right way to be has always been a core, underlying theme of the project, but it wasn’t THIS clear to me until I blurted it out, so nicely packaged, and with such force and settled sureness, when I was pressed to just say it already: Clearly and simply, why do I make vagina portraits?
Because we need to see ourselves for ourselves.
We need to KNOW it for ourselves: that normal is diverse.
That how you are is how you’re supposed to be. There is no other way.
Say it with me: Normal is diverse.
Clearly, I was working on this in some deep part of myself for years. In my conscious life, I rarely have any sureness. I mean, other than about how much space you’re taking up in just inside the subway door, your cologne, your use of Fabuloso, and the volume of a voice on your phone in a shared space. In these areas, I am totally sure that if I am aware of any of these even IN THE SLIGHTEST, then you have crossed a serious line, and should dial it back A LOT.
Anyway, we have stickers now.
The truth that lives in our bodies can now be found on our laptops and notebooks.
This is going to be the first vagina vérité exhibition event designed for conversation. That doesn’t sound right, I know. But—I have to say, that until now, conversation has been an add-on to the overall experience design of vagina vérité. This time: it’s the heart of it.
That has always been the point, I think—of making any art, but the gallery-museum m.o. of installing on a wall or in a cordoned-off space, set-aside-for-viewing three-dimensional work (which has been lodged in my thinking for as long as I can remember) separates the viewer from the art in a way that does more than protect the piece or give it room to be seen in the first place. At least that’s how it works on me, and I’ve been carrying it forward in my exhibition designs…as if there’s a right way—to view art. Going into the first in a series of conversation spaces, I’m thinking about viewing (probably for the first time): what does it mean to view?
Using the reference in the image above, I can see that I’ve been stopped at the first, most surface meaning. To see, watch: to view a movie.
Most times, when I view art, there is this undercurrent nudging me along. It feels like I’m supposed to check off my view, piece by piece, and keep going to the next piece, to the next room. And, while I have bitterly hated it when other people talking interfered with my art-viewing experience, so call me out on that for sure because I give the meanest looks when I can’t hear my thoughts because you are talking, it’s all changing out from under me. I’m giving up my quest for quiet in the crowded of my city so-I-can-hear-myself, and replacing it with an abiding interest in conversation spaces. It’s just not enough to take it in. Like a movie. There needs to be exchange among us. Especially when viewing vagina portraits.
We need to talk
We need to talk. Not just compare and critique. Conversation—The kind where we get involved with the work, and with the others in the room and the others not in the room (and the individuality of people in the room and not in the room) and with the history held in your body. And see what emerges. Stay in the room for it.
As I write this, I wonder if this is sounding challenging. I don’t mean for it to be a hurdle to get over. There is no requirement to reveal anything that isn’t comfortable for you, or of interest to you. Though I would like to get some of the stuff we carry around in our bodies and memories out, where there’s room and heart enough for them to be seen and heard. And for us to talk about whatever comes up. It’s an opportunity to share your views and bodylife experiences, to listen to and witness others.
Sharing space and stories can be inspiring, healing and a relief, in short: empowering and counteracting to the often-gaslighting idea that there is a right way to be.
If you come, you will have a unique and personal response. Some of that will take place out loud—maybe you’ll ask a question, tell a story, or offer someone insight, some of it may happen through writing, that may or may not be read by others in the room—if you feel like adding to the wall or privately leaving a note for the next event’s attendees, and some of it will be internal and yours alone.
There are many ways to be in conversation in this space.
Listening to another woman can be transformational for the listener
As I’ve mentioned to some of you, I’ve started holding listening sessions, unstructured interviews. There is no list of questions or topics to make sure we cover. Just an introduction to vagina vérité and the Bodylife Library project, how each got started, and what they’re aiming toward. The conversation kind of flows on its own from there. Listening to another woman like this is life-changing. We are each of us so interesting and living lives of so much. So much. You cannot tell by looking what we have and have not shared. Here’s a wordcloud of what’s come up in the first few listening sessions—
They were one-to-one private conversations, an hour or less each, and most of them were with women I only recently met, or only met once. It’s a word cloud based on frequency. The most common word, by a lot, was “know”. I think that’s because there is so much that we each do know that we don’t get to share. Much of this is just below the surface, affecting our quality of life whether we get the support, community or conversation we need, and maybe don’t even know we that we need it, until the opportunity presents itself.
So, we’ll see.
An invitation to women
You’re invited to join us in this zone of safety and freedom where women can
View a photography exhibition of over 100 vagina portraits. No stylists, no details about the model, just the elusive faces of the vagina in plain view;
Participate in conversations women don’t usually get to have—across the immeasurably wide landscape of what it is to live a female bodylife.
This gathering is for women, and by that I mean to say that everyone who is biologically female and/or identifies as a woman is welcome and included.
It will be the first in a year-long series of vagina vérité conversation spaces. They will vary. Each will inform the next, and together, we’ll grow the space available to us, public and private space, for open exchange.
vagina vérité, An Art & Conversation Experience takes place on Saturday, 10/05/2019 from 2-4pm at Merge New York in Chinatown. It’s brought to you by Ganesh, a community of people who are fueled by kindness. Kim Thai, Ganesh founder, is co-hosting with me. Through the many conversations Kim and I have had since we met earlier this year, about what matters most to us, as well as during the several Ganesh events I’ve attended, I have known the kindness, and the peaceful inquiry, that Kim brings to the room. You should come. Here’s where you can RSVP.
This is an opportunity to step off the inertial way of things, and build the world we actually want to live in.
For me that is a society whose systems, governance and norms support the widest range of bodylives, not just one take on the life of a male-born-and-self-identifying-as-male. This isn’t about men vs women. What I want is a world that is based on the reality of being human, varied, complex —because we all are— and in it together, regardless. Regardless of what you thought or were taught is how it should be. I wish it was easier too. But mostly, I wish it was reality-based, honest, sincerely respectful and kind.
More than half the world lives a different bodylife than the standard-male bodylife on which we base our norms. One in four women have had, and will have, an abortion. This statistic has been around for a while. Abortion is normal. For bodies that can get pregnant, managing the number of pregnancies, the timing and the circumstances of pregnancy are a normal part of their life. If it’s not your body, it’s not your place to decide what, how or when. Ever.
Mid-year status report on freedom
State legislatures across the South, Midwest and the Plains enacted 58 abortion restrictions, 26 of which would ban all, most or some abortions. This surge in abortion bans is a distinct departure from the strategy deployed by abortion opponents for decades, which was to adopt incremental abortion restrictions with the cumulative impact of denying care to patients and forcing clinics to close. This approach had led to passage of laws that were less likely to be challenged in the courts than outright bans.
The much more radical strategy of enacting abortion bans hinges on the hope that these bans will be the subject of court cases that will give the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to undermine or overturn long-standing constitutional protections for abortion. However, both strategies have the same goal—making abortion impossible to both provide and obtain.
Maybe you’re like me and you’re just beginning to understand the significance of these maneuvers, or your role here. We cannot let this happen. Safe and unrestricted access to abortion is a human right. It’s a matter of privacy, liberty and equality.
This is about you.
When it comes to personal freedom, we either all have it or we don’t. Everyone has control over their bodylife, or no one does—because it’s not freedom then, it’s the privileged space you were lucky enough to find yourself in within a larger, controlled space. Maybe you’re the controller—for now. Still, then you’re bound by the mandate to dominate and control the others. You just aren’t free. Not if everyone is not free.
To get there. Not to get it. It is the journey, the experiences, the relationships. Not just events and the score. It’s the story.
I was in a conversation with a friend the other day, who was thinking about someone in her life who had committed suicide. She didn’t know why. It didn’t seem like anyone who knew them knew why. All of the stories we take with us when we die—that don’t get heard. By anyone. Maybe not even by ourselves. There is so much to parse through to understand. What matters? Why?
I think about expectations more and more lately. As I get ready to start my big research project, I have a new kind of appreciation for expectations. I used to just think they got in the way. Underneath them though, is the point of the story we’re living now.