Relational, transactional and instrumental

In the movie Tår, the lead character’s wife says to her in a critical moment, ‘all your relationships have always been transactional, except for one, and it’s sleeping in the next room’ – referring to their young daughter. It seems clear that this causes pain and alienation and yet as a woman seeking and achieving success in what remains a man’s world of public achievement and renown, part of that comes with the territory.

I am wondering about the relationship between relational, transactional and instrumental ways of doing things. I’ve been connecting with some deeper ways of accessing peace in myself and relating to others from that space, projecting peace and peacefulness into the world. That allows me to get by potential hostility, to recognize and assert the boundaries that are there, to act directly and forthrightly when I have something to defend, without adding any hostility or aggression of my own.

On a recent trip this proved to have amazing potential in connecting with strangers in brief moments in ways that were relational, despite the formally transactional character – being a passenger on a plane, a client in a restaurant or hotel, and other such passing interactions. It reminded me of the chapters on Juchitán in Heide Göttner-Abendroth’s book Matriarchal Societies and her edited volume Societies of Peace. In that culture, women go to market and they engage in complex relational transactions, where cost of an item in any interaction depends on relational factors rather than setting an externalized value of the item as commodity.

I think that a relational approach to transactions can also help those of us who aren’t farmers, don’t have many or any practical skills to share or aren’t confident enough in the ones we do have to offer them in a general way to the community (as exchange or as generally available gift to those who need), to move towards a subsistence-based economy and culture. Relating to a server as the overworked, highly skilled person she is, this is not about engaging in chitchat but the tone of the transaction (a person is overworked, and another person who is tired from a long day, probably don’t want to have chitchat). Respect and seeing the human being, looking for what you need and being open to what they can offer, and vice versa. Rather than ideas of expectation and entitlement and holding people to account (call the manager!) if you don’t get what you are expecting. (There might be times when it’s relationally appropriate to call the manager, but it’s an attitude that I’m talking about, to come in peace. Though it doesn’t directly relate, the stories of the Peacemaker and origins of the condolence ceremony in the Haudenosaunee Great Law of Peace have been in the background of my thinking these past years.)

There are gendered dimensions to all this for sure. In my law school contracts class, the misogynist professor (who could not and would not refrain from using heterosexual coupling as the metaphor for contract, which I argued unsuccessfully created a hostile environment for myself as a lesbian) had some interesting ideas about relationality in contract law. The case law example in the textbook he taught from, was about large corporations that had complex business dealings with each other, and the judge valued the preservation of their business relationship above the formal application of the terms for violating the contract. Guess who was the poster child for strict application of the formal ‘expectation interest’ in an earlier chapter? Shirley MacLaine, when she sued I think for a movie that the producers finally didn’t make. That was the only, *only* case of a female protagonist anywhere in the textbook except for cases on ‘reliance interest’ where a woman sued a man who reneged on his promises either of marriage or of financial support as a relative, when she had changed her position extensively in reliance on his promise (giving up her home, moving to his town etc.).

Was Shirley MacLaine wrong, greedy, for asking for the contract to be upheld? Sure she was wealthy and didn’t need it. But who is asking whether anybody else who is not female in contract law cases needs the money they’re suing for? Were the corporations greedy, were they exploiting their workers and making shoddy products? No one asks, we are only urged to admire the ultimate preservation of relationship – and even to valorize it as a lifting up of the feminine, even as we trash actual women.

So I want to urge us to take a really, deeply nuanced approach if we talk about subsistence values – to not make this any kind of moralistic or essentializing judgment about ourselves, about individual women. We all come from the class, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, disability or non-disability that we come from. We don’t need to punish ourselves or take a mathematical approach to fairness – adding up the pluses and minuses of advantage and disadvantage. We need to relate from our actual sense of relationship, seeing the human beings we are and asking ourselves, what do we really need here? What do we see, coming in peace?

I think that the work some of us are doing to theorize justice and think about community-based alternatives to the justice system and whether/how the state’s justice systems themselves can be transformed, needs to take all this into account. I don’t have answers to whether the state can be made more relational and less transactional in value. I don’t know what this would mean. I don’t think that making laws requiring a prioritizing of relationality would do anything, the law itself and its meaning and purpose and function have to change, how law operates and who owns it have to change.

Instrumentality is similar to transactional but/and I think it has some value in thinking about purposeful action. In sitting down to write, I was thinking about another blog post I want to write to address what I think are persistent misunderstandings in the disability human rights field about psychosocial disability. I thought, ok, it makes me weary but I’ll overcome it to write because it has a purpose. Yet I came to this website rather than my other blog space and wrote the more relational piece I’d been also thinking of. I’m not sure if I will write the instrumental one. It may be that I’ll continue to set that aside and leave it to a context where it comes up more organically (relationally).

The instrumentality of my to-do list won’t go away. As my teacher said in Shamanic Reiki, quoting a book by someone else, ‘after ecstasy, the laundry’. That’s another nuance, and deciding what’s on the to-do list, what has to be there and what comes first, all that, what matters is that we put it there and we are going to do what needs doing, but can choose how.

On Community

1. grief

the stars look down on me as i suffer with grief heavy-bodied and 
grave or gravid i can’t tell which
it would be a blessing for the clouds to break and send down
a birth of something new, blessed rain to the seeds that break
my water with child
2. fact and censorship

exile in place as silencing
i can’t say that or else they will stop listening
they will all pile on with condemnations, shaming
finger pointing they will call gentle,
‘exposing their vulnerability’ to challenge what they perceive as my greater power
and it makes me want to lift my skirt,
to have them behold the sacred vulva that is the fact they are so afraid to witness
3. on fire

our house is on fire
and outsiders fan the flames pour gasoline light more matches delight
in our inability to get out,
we’re done
and what they will have left is something sterile, maddening and generations-long to unpick and defuse
4. eye of needle

leave one side or leave the other and be unwhole
straddle and be silenced in one place, silence myself to not feel directly the scorn and wrath that keeps witches under the structures
breaking loose from under the floorboards we dance and then they shut us up again
in the other place talk about the other way i’ve been shut up
which is the same really 
and meet the glances of popcorn eating shame as curiosity deference sidelong glances
it doesn’t work
and my exile is a narrow place mitzrayim
that is an eye of a needle i have to thread yet not do it alone

Jewish Mother Goddess

she’s the one you want, and the one who remembers
she’s heimishe, she’s got this
light and she’s cuddly
she wants to hold you
she’s got curly black hair and brown-tinged skin, her lips are soft almost purple
she’s sweet
she might sing
she likes to laugh and tell jokes
nice jokes, kind ones
she remembers
she shifts, her lap is gold and rubies and
she remembers
she heaves up
and she remembers
she heaves,
grieving what she lost which was
her own little girl self,
she holds something for you
and remembers to say
don’t be afraid,
this is my trauma not yours
she sets it down gently
lets her jaw unclench
she tells a story
that makes herself almost laugh, she’s
distracted and goes dancing off the pier
thin and ghostly girl now,
she will come back though
the ancient other is holding her deep
calling her
within the depths
remembering her

Reimagining Crisis Support: Matrix, Roadmap and Policy (a book)… for readers of this blog

For readers of this blog, I’d like to share a link to a book I’ve written that takes abolition of forced psychiatry as a starting point and reimagines crisis support within a social model, outside of mental health jargon that has taken away our power to define ourselves.

(Having written that last, I’m reminded of my thoughts on identities – what I mean here, is not that our self-definition should have power to dominate others, but that we evolve our own lives from our own center of consciousness and conscience.)

If you have been a victim of the mental health system yourself, if you have gone mad, if you struggle with isolation in lesbian/feminist community not just about madness but about the deep trauma of forced psychiatry; if you want to think about how we connect in lesbian community and repair the harms among us rather than using psychiatry against women who are struggling – read the book, and let me know what you think.

The book was, among other things, a way to concretize some of the intersectional work I’ve been doing on this blog, moving it into human rights theory and practice. I could not talk about crisis support without bringing in my life experience of community and healing and self-healing, or my views related to wider themes beyond the strict outlines of human rights norms that impact the creation of community and our capability to move with each other in difficult times. If the society around us is structurally violent – economically, sexually, environmentally, bureaucratically – if it is organized to be violent against us, we can’t ignore that context and appeal to the same violent institutions to implement crisis support.

Ultimately, this refers not only to the mental health system as a social institution but also to problematizing the state, capitalist economy, male domination and colonialism as considerations in looking at the kind of communities we want to build and strengthen. So, where do we personally and collectively choose to build and strengthen community?

I’ve been on a journey (am still winding my way towards home) visiting some lesbian lands and exploring my personal ‘inner pilgrimage’ along with this outer one – following a trip with the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete this past October. A goddess consciousness – an awareness experientially of this female source of life, return and connection and renewal, with and among other women and in my relationship with the sun, sea, sky, earth, rivers, mountains, moon and stars – feels like the grounding point and center for me to be able to give out and share what I know and believe. It doesn’t mean you, readers, or any of my colleagues in the human rights world, have to agree with me – but it is my own source and has to be acknowledged in my life and given space.

That might not be news to you readers…. I suppose what I’m saying now is that I’m affirming this consciousness in the world directly and not pushing it to the margins.

Demeter – a solstice poem

sadness and turning away
Demeter losing
all she loves
does she know what it is?
who will come and love her when she’s grieving
not giving
ugly tears
the sisters will come and dance but they also are

the underworld is pushing up,
claiming something
and she fights desperately to hold on
to not let the lights go out
should she give in?
when she does for a moment, when she yields to the song it
takes her over completely
for a while
until her mind remembers
and still
picks over the bones

only her love restored, only the proper place of all its in place,
child at home
at her knee, will restore
she wonders if she is too possessive
too unimaginative to love otherwise
she broods
then leaves
up in a rush of feathers
she gets up flies off the nest
goes somewhere
like Lilith to the hoopoe tree
she flies over the world like Inanna checking on her lands
she can’t stop being a mother

she is wondering,
do they miss me?
the crown of winter is upon the earth
and it’s fitful,
not a peaceful blanketing of time
really it is a disruption, the arctic freezes wildly rocking
poles shifting under her, her own
magnetism unsettled
heya hey, she’s becoming
a wisewoman planet*

where are we now
sisters of the sacred, are we holding space for this?
are our drums and dancing feet
enough to keep this going?

are we laughing sacred laughter and dreaming
sacred dreams
through this, is the ancient
wolf cry
the howl of all the suffering alone and in company,
do we believe in evil?

in ourselves the horror to be faced
needs to be remedied,

this time
is sacred to find
every day
the thread to the next or the one before or
my heart

a lake to contemplate
is this peace?
so much sadness and absence and rejection, refusal,
to leave home
to leave my bed and my fire

what made me do it was
a need like Inanna’s maybe?
an itch,
something not right, need to be dissolved
and reborn

and if I fail?
can’t think that but every time
there’s a sense of resolution,
peace or acceptance, the two sides of myself meeting or just all of myself
meeting myself and saying yes

and then a goddess peace and love answer coming to me through sisters
overwhelming me and calling into question
my self-sufficiency

frustration then not knowing where this takes me, if it is coming to me
what does it mean?
how do i move with it in my life, pursue it
or just let it be or
let it go and regret

that is what set me in motion to begin with

and i’m no closer to an answer
though Diana** has gotten free time to do stuff at home which she wanted
that makes me glum my absence a gift to her

and wondering
am I ever going to find love and peace in the world, or
accept the world without it,
absence and pain no different here but anesthetized
with difference, motion

not helping
only giving me time and space alone

and I did want the movement towards warmth
but i don’t really find it, not summer in the northern hemisphere as far south as i might go
it’s still cold and dark

the light starts to return today,
am i ready?

I can only hope no matter what,
my impurities,
my low vibrations,
something will lift me
the energy of the goddess regenerating herself
will find itself in me

will know how to move when I don’t
will energize my mind and spirit and body and heart, emotions and gut and sex

and eventually I will accept, I will understand and live
peacefully with my sisters
my rebellious nature somehow moved or shifted

put aside
let be and let grieve

let alone

if Demeter is a lioness she takes her courage
and moves
her life through the world
accepting her cycle with the rage as sea and storm
eruptions of fire-earth and
these are her cycles
she does not apologize and her sisters if afraid take their own courage and join
her in the dance,
singing heya hey

she moves in her own sacred way
keeping strength with
what she knows to be real

no matter who moves against her
she is rock and magma,
waterfall and lakes, springs and salt and marsh
the world does not end, the stars revolve

*referring to Paula Gunn Allen’s essay ‘The Woman I Love is a Planet, the Planet I Love is a Tree’.
**referring to the poet’s wife Diana Signe Kline. the poem interweaves personal life with archetypal and cosmic concerns.


my sense of self is
so far from
these Brooklyn kitchens with their smell
of grease and fighting
low rumble in the air
what are we being saved from?

Prospect Park outside my school
the pines
I went and sat under among the needles
my first stillness
walk and walk to hear the hum
of my own thoughts

now I don't need to walk
the stillness within and without
but I do
to take up the invitation to beauty
to be in the world
and to not be caught staying still
vulnerable to being taken over by time

Reparations – a deeper look

I have written several blog posts, articles and advocacy statements about reparations for psychiatric violence. This has a personal meaning to me that describes my journey as a survivor – first bearing witness, then seeking healing and justice, which are intertwined. The personal and political (or simply collective and interpersonal) dimensions of these are intertwined as well – for me, bearing witness, healing and justice are for the purpose of stopping the atrocities for me and everyone, repairing what has been torn in the social fabric by people choosing to ask the state to incarcerate their loved ones or by workers in a healing profession to become part of a machine that harms and kills. My own healing becomes this justice in the world, and gives back to me possibilities of a new world that is also one with more ancient values stemming from wholeness that is originally female and that sings in the stars, stones, water and trees, in me and in my connections with belly laughing women and women with whom I can share soul-meaning in my life.

Reparations has meaning in my professional work as a human rights lawyer that both carries forward this vision – is its primary instrument – and is irrevocably at odds with it. Reparations in international law is a holistic call to repair harms attributable to a state, focusing on state responsibility to right wrongs towards individuals, groups of individuals, and communities. Yet what is the state in our lives, but a source of alienation from our original meanings and knowledge, our capacity for mutual responsibility? If the state is a means of coordinating large-scale projects (as it can be, at its best, subject to democratic processes and human rights norms which are mutually recursive), it is also the organization of power to control, suppress, punish and kill. For women especially the state can never be ours.

Reparative justice is a concept some of us have used to invoke a ‘whole society process’ that goes beyond what states can do. In reality this already is part of what any social justice movement that seeks reparation is pursuing. Think of the movement for reparations for slavery, which has seen some institutions and descendants of individuals who profited from enslavement make concrete economic and social reparations to those they harmed (descendants of enslaved Africans who still suffer from the long-term consequences to themselves and to American society). Think of the #landback movement and the rematriation of cultural objects, human remains and burial grounds to their indigenous communities.

In contributing to the Guidelines on Deinstitutionalization of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, I was able to advocate successfully, together with other survivors and allies, for inclusion of a substantive section on reparations for institutionalization in the draft issued earlier this year (it is expected the Guidelines will be finalized by October). Institutionalization is a broad concept that takes many forms, including psychiatric violence. (I argue that it encompasses forced psychiatric drugging outside institutions as well as any instance of psychiatric incarceration and the forced drugging and other violence that takes place there – as even forced drugging outside institutions is backed by threat of institutionalization for noncompliance and is part of a ‘logic of institutionalization’ that substitutes coercion and control for support and medicalizes and suppresses human diversity.) I expect to write more about the Guidelines when the final draft is issued.

For survivors of psychiatric institutionalization, the actors who harmed us are not only the psychiatrists, nurses, and institutional staff who turned themselves into machines to abuse us with their exercise of dominance, not only the shock manufacturers and drug companies who turned instruments of torture into a huge profit-making industry. Our family members – mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, spouses and partners, grown children, and others – and our friends, lovers, neighbors, bosses, co-workers, teachers; our therapists and our family members’ therapists – those we trusted and those we didn’t trust but were in complicated relationships with that were not of our own choosing – any of these may have collaborated with the state’s repressive machinery to take away our freedom, our sense of safety, our last remaining ground of refuge. When they weren’t safe ever, but we thought we had figured out our work-arounds, they one-upped us with lies, deceptions, and the willingness of the state and the evil industries of medicalized repression to believe anything that feeds their machinery, their egos and their pockets.

We need reparative justice to work on this level and to have an interfacing relationship with the work of reparations mechanisms that states create in collaboration with survivors. This should, as CHRUSP advocated in our submission to the second phase of consultation on the Guidelines, be fully acknowledged in the Guidelines so that both deinstitutionalization and the reparations mechanisms of states will actually be reparative in nature. Justice requires true and full confrontation with the harms, and those who have caused harms cannot control the process or require carve-outs that exempt them. They do have a right to have their say on justice needs of their own – reparative justice has to be complete in all directions and dimensions.


Please see also the webinar that CHRUSP convened on Remedy and Reparation for Institutionalization as a side event to the 2022 CRPD Conference of States Parties, where I bring together survivors and allies with whom I have been thinking about the significance of reparations for psychiatric institutionalization.

About abortion, and more

In my CR group last time we talked about archetypes (not the scheduled topic, but came up in discussion). I said that I didn’t relate to the maiden/mother/crone as a way of naming the sacred female, because it was tied to women’s reproductive life cycle. While I can know menstruation and menarche and menopause in my own body I can’t know gestation and birth in the same way as it has not been my experience and never will be now. There was some intense feeling around this that I wanted to explore though, to understand my own vehemence and the reactions of other women.

Separately from that discussion, I picked up a book lying around in one of my rooms, Tantric Sex for Women by Christa Schulte. Christa is apparently a lesbian and writes from that perspective but the book is for ‘lesbian, bi, hetero, and solo lovers’. Over the weekend I had been playing some lesbian music, and was mulling over ‘Her Precious Logic’ sung by Barb Ester, which repeats the motif of ‘the blessings of precious woman’s love’ through figures of a ‘virgin’ (‘her seed on the wind blows, it seeks and carries the blessings of precious woman’s love’), a (mother? – unnamed) (‘glory to her for the joys of living, and praise be her power, her tender care’), and a (crone? – unnamed) (‘it’s her justice in motion, it’s your heart in devotion’). In much of Goddess spirituality, mother is sensual pleasure and desire, the gift of life as earthly paradise. The tantric approach to sexuality in Christa’s book, framed in a purely female sense without any need to accommodate males or their orgasms or functionality or dysfunction, is as simple as breathing once you are able to feel and welcome what gives you pleasure. It is of the utmost necessity to be able to set your boundaries for safety, to close doors, to refuse to be or to see yourself as as object for others’ pleasure or to deny yourself pleasure until or unless it serves someone else’s needs.

Women’s free sexuality is united with our intelligence and morality and our power in all respects – as Audre Lorde wrote in ‘The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power‘. We need to read and re-read that wonderful essay many times in our lives, but here is a part that speaks to me particularly now:

That self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling. And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of our capacity for joy comes to demand from all of my life that it b lived within the knowledge that such satisfaction is possible and does not have to be called marriage, nor god, nor an afterlife.

This is one reason why the erotic is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone, when it is recognized at all. Fo once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that the1 feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.

Audre Lorde, The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power

Hearing Judy Grahn read from her book Eruptions of Inanna some months ago, and in reading Heide Goettner-Abendroth’s book Matriarchal Societies, I was drawn to the connections between sacred sexuality and female power. It is exactly the opposite of patriarchal bioessentialism which treats us as a resource to be exploited ‘good for one thing only’ (and we all know what that is, and ‘good’ to whom: not ourselves). The power is a power of creative intelligence (as Paula Gunn Allen also emphasizes from a Laguna Pueblo perspective). Inanna is a lawgiver who sends her sacred raven out to look over the land and see what is wrong and needs fixing. How can she also be a goddess associated with sacred sexuality? The answer is, how can she not? as Audre Lorde’s essay explains beautifully, and as Christa Schulte’s book offers a way into, to know in our bodies if we aren’t already aware of this power within ourselves.

So, abortion. Right to absolutely, unaccountably to anyone else, decide to terminate a pregnancy while it is still a pregnancy, is fundamental to respect for women as human beings. Motherhood, and capacity for motherhood, are sacred powers of women and not a resource for men, or society, or children, or other women, to exploit or control. Our bodies are ourselves as the book of second wave feminism by that name said. Those who claim to valorize mothers or motherhood while pushing us back into male cages will find themselves deprived of the nurturance they claim to be seeking, and facing the wrath of awakened women.


Heide Goettner-Abendroth uses the term ‘patriarchalization’ to refer to the process by which a society becomes patriarchal. If we accept that all of us can trace our roots back to some ancestral society that was matriarchal – which does seem to be the origin of humanity and human culture, and which some indigenous societies retain to this day – and that matriarchal societies promote well-being and peace, let us think about how we can re-matriarchalize and what this means.

What are the values and practices of matriarchy that we want to draw on? Which matriarchal threads do we retain in our modern cultures, persisting underneath patriarchy and in long-term, traditional resistance to it? How have lesbian feminists, anarchists, poor people’s movements, anti-colonial movements (and others) built matriarchal cultures of resistance, or cultures of resistance with matriarchal elements?

Heide Goettner-Abendroth’s book Matriarchal Societies: Studies on Indigenous Cultures Across the Globe, which is an English translation and distillation of a four-volume study in German, is an eye-opening resource to consider the features of diverse modern-day and documented recent-historical matriarchies from all parts of the world with the exception of Europe. The variety of matriarchal forms and the method of inquiry that draws out features cumulatively makes a powerful case for the feasibility or actuality (if we needed it) and the specificity of matriarchal societies. From this reading, I would describe matriarchies as societies in which women hold central authority in spiritual, economic and political affairs through kinship-based social structures determined through matrilineages.

One sister in my lesbian consciousness-raising group emphasized in a discussion about matriarchy, that women are in control of their own sexuality and that their brothers, rather than male sexual partners, play a role in raising children (and in the affairs of the clan generally).

Women’s economic control of land, resources, distribution of goods is emphasized by Barbara Mann in Iroquois Women: The Gantowisas.

For me, what stood out in reading Matriarchal Societies, not so much as definitive or important, but as a way forward that I want to pursue, is matriarchy as mother-law, with women, especially elder women and ancestral women, but also all women in their sphere of authority (as clan mother, head of household etc), as law-makers. The creativity of law-making as an exercise of wisdom with precise communication, taking into account the views and interests of all members of society, is a deep structure of law that I connect with in my work and want to promote. I am not sure what it means to do this in the context of a patriarchal society, state and legal system (and global society of such states) but want to explore the connection with mother-source and origin, in the sense of both structure (where law in this sense originates ancestrally, so that it is our birthright as humans and women) and content, in terms of serving interests of a social structure that centers women in our creative intelligence linked to the unique capacity for motherhood.

The other feature that emerged for me as resonant was sacred sexuality. In thinking about possible connections between that and mother-law, I remembered that Inanna is goddess of sacred sexuality and is also a law-giver. Judy Grahn in Eruptions of Inanna tells a story of Inanna taking the form of a raven to go and look out over the land and see what is wrong so it can be remedied. This image is similar to one that I had for myself at an earlier stage of my justice and healing work, of using ‘crows’ eyes’ to seek out what was dead and had to be cleaned away. (This had been inspired by hearing Luisah Teish say that the vulture was an aspect of Oshun that cleared away what was no longer needed.)

When women know our own sexuality and exercise it without constraint to put it at anyone else’s service – whether a man’s, or men’s in general, or another woman’s – we can exercise our own authority knowing that it is right and good. Sexuality and knowledge of our reproductive capacities, also to exercise in our own wisdom and not in service of anyone else, is central to what it means to create social arrangements that do not entail disadvantage for or subjugation of women. Our bodies can gestate new life, men’s cannot – as other writers have said, only women can know what it is to be two-in-one, to be carrying a new life that is and is not ourselves. Law needs to start from that premise of what a human being is, what it is to be human, and not from the other premise that makes a male body, incapable of creating new life in itself, the paradigm.

Mothering is the beginning because it is, and not because we want to artificially valorize or venerate it – this is not ‘motherhood and apple pie,’ rather the opposite.

It makes sense to start with women and our self-knowledge, our authority over bringing new life into the world, caring for that new life and then by extension all the descendants. It is our creative intelligence, our self-authorship (in Gerda Lerner’s words) that is primary rather than our bodies’ maternal capacity. It is our sacred sexuality, the sacralization of our self-knowledge and sexuality unto-itself, that pre-exists any decision about whether or not to bear children. Without bearing children we keep our sacred self-authorship and our creative intelligence, we may become social mothers or contribute our creative intelligence and law-giving in other ways (as mothers also do). The only thing we cannot do is found a new matrilineage – and one thing we may be particularly suited to do is to heal and repair the matrilineage we are born into.

Another sister in the CR group was struck by a mention of restorative justice in a question posed, and said she wanted restorative justice for women.

I love this idea, because restorative justice, similar to reparation, allows us to take a look at what needs to be changed – what needs to be restored as balance or wholeness or serenity, a sense that something is settled and we can move on. What are the wrongs patriarchal society has committed against women, where are the hurts located and what are their roots? – look with the eyes of a raven as Inanna to see what is wrong and need to be repaired in our world. This led me to think about ‘re-matriarchalization’ to think about how our societies need to be changed.

We cannot start from scratch, it is never possible. Yes, there might be a sudden apocalypse of the planet through the accumulation of catastrophic climatic events or patriarchal war, such that the ways many of us live dependent on technology that harms and depletes our sources of life – earth, water, air – entirely break down and all we have is what we can do locally with subsistence knowledge. Subsistence knowledge is needed and has to be cultivated and preserved. But to rely on that scenario is to both put off needed work that can still dismantle parts of the oppressive and damaging systems we are enmeshed in, and avoid owning the places we ourselves start from.

We do not have to love the patriarchal cultures we are born into, or capitalism, or nation-states, or our existing local, state, federal governments. But we have to engage with those cultures in the practical everyday and in the bigger questions of policy as they play out in our lives. For example, take issues like land ownership, marriage and family. Some women decide to make a land trust because they don’t want to individually own property, but this is a decision to be weighed by any woman with pros and cons, leaving her vulnerable to the nation-state’s property laws and her personal situation under capitalism if she doesn’t get along with her land-mates. Women owning land individually under capitalism and property laws can still be treated as stewardship; neither collective ownership by women who come together based on mutual affinity as a land trust nor individual ownership by a woman reproduces a functioning matriarchy, though both potentially support re-matriarchalization by placing control of land in the hands of women. Both use the legal formalities of property ownership in the existing patriarchal capitalistic nation-state; the only difference is that a land trust creates the added layer of legal formality among the women who decide to own land together. The creation of that legal formality using tools of the nation-state may or may not be conducive to re-matriarchalization.

Women’s use of law or involvement in law-making is not itself mother-law, which requires in my view deep and thorough reconsideration of the structural elements of a legal rule and how it may operate, taking into account the needs, well being and freedoms of all members of the relevant community. If anything undesirable is accepted as the price of doing business with the legal system, it needs to be a clear decision weighing pros and cons, acknowledging the price and mitigating harm. (Of course we can and do all make decisions like this by our own instincts and inclinations and work it out as we go along. We use the forms that make sense to us at any time, and can reconsider and revisit them though there is a price for doing so – e.g. divorce or disengaging from one’s home in a land trust is not easy; neither is selling a home one owns outright.)

A woman who doesn’t have the money to own land or a home, especially if she and her family have been city-dwellers for generations, who depends on jobs in the urban economy and doesn’t have skills of rural living, won’t have these kinds of choices or will have to pay other kinds of prices for them. She may come into a land trust feeling like a beggar who doesn’t belong and has nothing to contribute, or what she can contribute from her work in urban economy may be hateful to her. It’s simply over-idealistic to imagine that all women can or should find their place in a rural sisterhood land trust under such circumstances – and the problems are magnified where cultural differences, added vulnerabilities of racism and anti-semitism (not only in a land group but in many rural surroundings that are mostly white and reactionary) and ableism are taken into account.

We think to think bigger about re-matriarchalization, whether we choose to live on lesbian land (lesbians living on land we can count on as our home by legal right – it’s unavoidable that we need the legal right because a woman saying ‘treat this as your home’ might break her word at any time or impose unacceptable conditions) or in cities. Wherever we are we are not isolated. Patriarchy and capitalism can still come and get us. We have to interact with our neighbors, to do otherwise creates its own vulnerability. The planetary environment affects us all and what those politicians do and don’t do matters. Racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic and misogynistic violence, political violence of any kind, can come after us – including the tools of patriarchy and the nation-state that enact repression and control. We can face down the fear of violent repression and speak out, stand up, sit in our power, locking arms not only for ourselves but for our sisters and brothers, our children (everyone’s children) and the planet.

It does make sense to start with where we are, what each of us is doing in our lives to re-matriarchalize – to act with responsibility to and for all beings, to accept and affirm and value our self-authority and self-love as sacred. Some of us are lesbian clowns, others are healers, matriarchs caring for our multigenerational lineage, teachers and engineers and scientists. Some of us are gardeners, farmers and foragers, land-mates in lesbian collectives, organizers of female-only networks and forums. All these activities can be done with a matriarchal consciousness, looking beyond the everyday to where we are going. Among other things, we need to ensure that girls and young women, and older women who are new to a particular community, can be welcomed not only as recipients of our wisdom but as participants holding inherently their own self-authority and self-love.

A matriarchalizing political agenda in the US would include zero tolerance for white supremacist militias; comprehensive voting rights for the widest and easiest participation; free child care, full reproductive freedom and maternal health equity; feminist women’s health agenda for the practice of medicine as an art that cares for each person’s best health and not population-wide outcomes and that respects women’s intelligence and dignity as adults in charge of our own bodies – not just our sexual and reproductive choices but our total body-knowledge and health decisions. It would include the strengthening of national workers rights with with guaranteed livable wages and right to collective bargaining and unionization in every occupation and industry including part-time work; occupational safety and health regulations and environmental regulations with teeth; managed and funded committed goals to end dependence on fossil fuels and other extractive industries. It would include de-escalation and diminishment of military capabilities and other violence-practicing institutions including police and prisons – wisely, thoughtfully, justly and with an end to the mentality of siege which is racist, imperialist, colonialist, based on fear and on the valorizing of male violence which always is based on their subjugation of women and reinforces that subjugation. It would include dismantling of forced psychiatry and guardianship without making mothers, sisters and wives responsible for taking up extra care they don’t have available to give or for absorbing the violence of anyone – usually male – who takes out their rage at powerlessness by unleashing it against those closest to them. This means communities looking out for each other beyond our current bubbles if we are in them, whether families or land trusts or walls we build that separate ourselves from what we fear.

The same sister in CR who wants restorative justice for women, talked about energy work as how we create protection for ourselves against male violence. This is not new age fantasy but how we stand in our authority and meet an aggressor with a rock-bottom recognition of their humanity, that we are firm in deterring them from harming us but they don’t have to fear our vengeance either. In thinking about what this would mean, I can see it requires seeing them, opening myself to who this person is, in a way that I am not inclined to do but I can see making a difference. (Sarah Knutson described this also in her blog post on a publicized instance of such engagement by a Black woman in a workplace incident all too common now – ‘Tuff’ Love – a Public Safety Alternative.) It is also reminiscent of Aikido, which teaches us to open ourselves fully to the energy directed against us by an opponent, to appreciate the totality of this energy (which means becoming aware of all its facets, e.g. if there is a hidden punch coming – or a sexual as well as ordinary aggression), step into it and redirect it harmlessly.

Thinking about spaces where men abstract themselves and their violence into machines – drone warfare as the ultimate example, and forced psychiatry as a routinized, ritualized functioning of violence that screens perpetrators from their victims and allows them to disregard their victims’ screams as incompetent ingratitude – what can we do to resist and not only to stoically withstand the machine’s violence? We can’t love the machine, but we can reach beyond the machine when that is possible to the men or women operating it. They are still human. I can imagine this kind of resistance being meaningful as it is one form of resistance practiced against large-scale violence throughout history (war itself is such a machine that demands obedience and self-sacrifice in a collective bond against others defined as an enemy – especially in aggressive war and genocide where victims are systematically degraded). Our individual resistance is not enough, it is not foolproof – the machines are collective forms of organizations that have to be met with our collective organization to resist, dismantle, defund, however we can.

Restorative justice ‘for’ women also requires restorative justice ‘by’ women as we step into our agency to set things right. It is not only what others – men and women in political leadership for instance – need to do in response. We cannot be only victims, and we never have been, the moment we identify victimization we begin to name and to own our anger and learn how to work with it. We begin to own our self-love and become aware of who we are in our authority as well as our woundedness. That authority of repair, what steps out of the first outrage and need for comfort, what steps beyond fear to renewal and responsibility, is self-authorship that lives in the same place as our sacred sexual self-knowledge, as who we are and our connection to earth and cosmic energy, to our ancestors and the ancestral being within ourselves, the ‘ancestor-in-training‘ that we are.

Re-matriarchalization finds self-authority and the values we live by, that support us, in the everyday and the world around us, both what we create and nurture lovingly and what others create that we find joyfully resonating. It pieces together what is now fragmented, working where we create beauty and justice to set one more thing right, to join our energy with others moving in the same direction.

Women’s stepping outside of patriarchal authority, spaces, organizations and collectives to create our own female-only spaces as women together is essential. That is the great gift of second-wave lesbian feminism and lesbian separatism including the land collectives. I participate in this reclamation which is a necessary grounding and creative source in my life, to which I come as a woman who has faces challenges of outsidership in some of these spaces that I continue to work at breaking down and setting right as my own exploratory reparation. It depends on the receptivity of other women in particular spaces, which we cannot take for granted but work at building the sometimes-fragile care and mutual respect and collective strength that keeps us coming back to continue when it gets hard.

earth climacteric

and money
and strength
capitalizing on itself to mow down whatever
can be made grass
i needed something to rise
as whole and shining moving through the dark
it’s a time of flouishing within a hard
vigil that hurts as it goes
bumping and ripping our fingernails on the walls we try
to keep ourselves safe from knowing
the lives we share
in this world between we are midwifing
we’re weaving a dream we can’t see
on these screens and these waves and wires
in the skies the energy we draw and circulate back to earth in our bodies
and souls
we are keepers of what can’t be known,
what is a birthing to be made whole like a woman screaming herself
into being
for the first time
*This poem came after a gathering with about 25 lesbian radical feminists, sharing intensity for a short time that felt cataclysmic and transformational.  Part of what is always on our minds now (all of us) is the Earth's changes and our grief over human (euro-cultures, patriarchy, capitalist) destructiveness towards her and life.  Paula Gunn Allen, in her 1991 essay 'The Woman I Love is a Planet, The Planet I Love is a Tree,' used the terms 'menopause' and 'climacteric' for these changes, and said:

'Our planet, my beloved, is in crisis; this, of course, we all know. We, many of us, think that her crisis is caused by men, or White people, or capitalism, or industrialism, or loss of spiritual vision, or social turmoil, or war, or psychic disease. For the most part, we do not recognize that the reason for her state is that she is entering upon a great initiation-she is becoming someone else. Our planet, my darling, is gone coyote, heyoka, and it is our great honor to attend her passage rites. She is giving birth to her new consciousness of herself and her relationship to the other vast intelligences, other holy beings in her universe. Her travail is not easy, and it occasions her intensity, her conflict, her turmoil-the turmoil, conflict, and intensity that human and other creaturely life mirror. And as she moves, growing and learning ever closer to the sacred moment of her realization, her turmoil, intensity, agony, and conflict increase.

At a time such as this, what indeed can we do? We can sing Heya- hey in honoring all that has come to pass, all that is passing. Sing, honoring, Heya-hey to all the beings gathering on all the planes to witness this great event. From every quadrant of the universe they are coming. They are standing gathered around, waiting for the emergence, the piercing moment when she is counted among those who are counted among the wise. We can sing Heya-hey to the familiar and the estranged, to the recognized and the disowned, to each shrub and tree, to each flower and vine, to each pebble and stone, to each mountain and hill. We can sing Heya-hey honoring the stars and the clouds, the winds and the rains, the seasons and the temperature. We can think with our hearts, as the old ones do, and put our brains and muscles in the service of the heart, our Mother and Grandmother Earth, who is coming into being in another way. We can sing Heya-hey, honoring.

What can we do, rejoicing and honoring, to show our respect? We can heal. We can cherish our bodies and honor them, sing Heya-hey to our flesh. We can cherish our being-our petulances and rages, our anguishes and griefs, our disabilities and strengths, our desires and passions, our pleasures and delights. We can, willingly and recognizing the fullness of her abundance, which includes scarcity and muchness, enter inside ourselves to seek and find her, who is our own dear body, our own dear flesh. For the body is not the dwelling place of
the spirit-it is the spirit. It is not a tomb, it is life itself. And even as it withers and dies, it is born; even as it is renewed and reborn, it dies.'
The above image, of many swirling and vibrating colors with different energies, including two focal points of red and many downward-moving energy spirals, was drawn by me in a workshop my wife Diana Signe Kline gave at our gathering.  It feels to me like a a good fit with the poem and with Paula Gunn Allen's theme of listening to our hearts and bodies in all their disturbances which are more than our own individually, and acting from that space.