Paula Aboud: An Optimistic Voice of Reason

paula aboudI live in a very conservative state. It’s a fact. Despite living in a state full of households who hang Tea Party flags on their porch, I have hope. One of the reasons that I feel like Arizona isn’t a lost cause is because we have political representatives who defy the odds by speaking out in favor of women’s reproductive justice and equality for the queer community. Former State Senator Paula Aboud is a prime example of a rainbow-flag-flying feminist role model in the middle of a sea of red.

Paula Aboud was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. She attended Tucson High School and earned a BA in English from the University of Arizona. After graduating from UA, Aboud taught English and coached volleyball and tennis coach at Rincon High School. Paula’s devotion to education and sports eventually motivated her to get involved in local politics, and she served in the Arizona Senate for six years.

Senator Aboud explains that her involvement in politics was not a conscious choice. She left teaching at Rincon High School and moved to Maine. Soon after relocating, a high school student was beaten up by his peers and thrown over a bridge. He died just because he was gay. This ignited Paula’s motivation to get involved with the gay community in Maine. The gay community decided to form a community organization that was dedicated to passing laws to protect the civil rights of lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Although she wasn’t teaching anymore, Paula was still coaching sports. She realized that coaching and teaching provided an opportunity to make a difference for young people, but that she could make an even bigger difference by getting involved in local politics. [Read more…]

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Hard Hats are Women’s Wear

MelindaTraynor056-214x300Melinda Traynor is the President and CEO of Ayuda, LLC. Her company provides hands-on, personalized operator qualification training for people in the oil and gas industry. AYUDA’s crew goes directly to construction and pipeline sites to ensure that contractors are following safety and environmental regulations. Melinda’s name hit the industry headlines when she secured a contract to train pipeline operators for Pemex, Mexico’s state-run oil company. Since then, Melinda has expanded her business around the US and has also started training government workers in Peru on pipeline safety standards for oil and gas extraction.

I have the privilege of working with Ms. Traynor. I’ve maintained her website and social media accounts since 2008. I have learned so much from her about the oil and gas industry; leadership; how to be a woman business owner; and how to mentor others. Melinda marked some time out from her very busy schedule to chat with me about what it “women’s work” means to her. [Read more…]

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Esperanza: Choreographing Body Love

beth-braunBeth Braun is a woman who knows how to move. Beth is the Director of Dance at Rincon and University High Schools in Tucson, as well as the Artistic Director for the Esperanza Dance Project. The Esperanza Dance Project seeks to eradicate the stigma, secrecy and shame associated with childhood sexual violence. They also work to raise awareness about childhood sexual violence and deliver a message of hope, strength, and empowerment. I caught up with Ms. Braun to talk to her about the inspiration for her activism and what dance means to her.

Beth grew up in Long Island, New York. She started dancing when she was five years old. Beth started out learning ballet, tap, and jazz-style dancing. Her first dance teacher wanted to share his love of dance. Beth says that the dance studio had a very positive environment. She knew that she wanted to grow up and be a professional dancer because she felt like she had a sense of weightlessness and freedom when she was dancing.

Beth auditioned when she was ten years old to attend a ballet school that had a very competitive atmosphere. It didn’t have the same supportive environment that her first dance school did, but she still wanted to be a ballerina. The instructors told her that she couldn’t be a professional dancer because she didn’t have the right body type. Beth started dieting when she was just ten years old because of the pressure she felt from her dance instructors.

Braun eventually gave up dancing because she didn’t love it anymore. Beth explains that she realized it was more important to be alive than it was to dance, so she started to focus on other creative outlets. Beth took up visual arts in high school. After graduation, Beth moved from the East Coast to California because she could be “anonymous” and just do things for herself. She started taking dance classes again. Beth says that the classes were fun and that she started to feel like herself again. [Read more…]

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Family is About Love

Toni Nielson and Bronwyn Grant NielsonJune 1st was National LGBTQ Families Day. Last week I talked about my own definitions of the word “family.” Family can be genetic, but family is also about choice. Two people who have helped me form my own definition of the word “family” are members of my chosen family, Bronwyn and Toni. I have been lucky enough to know them for sixteen years. Despite our NFL rivalry (I like the Niners, they like the Cowboys), we’ve leaned on each other for support. I love having Toni and Bronwyn in my life. I caught up with them to ask them what family, marriage, and parenthood mean to them.

How did you meet?

Bronwyn: Dixie College debate team in St. George, Utah (1997). I was the debate team president. Toni was by far our best debater, but she didn’t come to class much. Lol. Spring semester we finally recognized each other. She was so funny, sincere, genuine.

Toni: We met on the debate team. Bronwyn was the team president and I was the team’s “bad child” (assuming they even thought I was on the team). I had a habit of showing up on my own schedule, but always the week of the tournament so I could go. In the spring semester, we went to a tournament together and I got a chance to watch Bronwyn in one of her events. It was a theater piece on modeling. At the end there was a section where each person spoke about their perspective on beauty. Bronwyn said she had a complicated relationship with beauty. What she said was deep and powerful. I needed to know if it was scripted, or is these were her real thoughts. I marched up to her and asked. Once she said the thoughts were her own, I felt like I had to know her. She wasn’t the Mormon preppy president I thought she was; there was more to her. After that night, we spent a ton of time together and have ever since.

When did you get married?

B: October 8, 2000; later legally recognized July 26, 2013; legal partnership happened shortly after the wedding.

T: To add to Bronwyn’s account, we had a domestic partnership in grad school, probably around 2003. We don’t know the date because it wasn’t emotionally significant to either of us. We registered with the government because Bronwyn worked for the county and they decided to offer health insurance benefits to domestic partners. I was in grad school and needed insurance. We have been through every phase of gay marriage together. Honestly, I’m not sure what the date of the legal wedding was. The legal wedding felt like a triumph and we treated it as a celebration, but our wedding was on October 8, 2000. [Read more…]

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What Does Family Mean?

It’s National LGBTQ Families Day, and I thought I would share my own experience as an intro to the interviews I’ve gathered for this celebration. I am a dyke. I came out in the Fall of 1998. I had questioned my gender and sexuality throughout adolescence. The murder of Matthew Sheppard was the final nudge out of the closet. I transferred from Brigham Young University to Arizona State University in 1999, shaved my head and started wearing khakis. I registered for my first Women’s Studies class, stopped shaving my legs, discovered Ani DiFranco, and tried to define my identity as a lesbian. I became very estranged from my birth family and started to forge strong relationships with my friends. I met my soul mate and helped him navigate the pathways out of the closet. One of my professors and her partner became my chosen moms. People from the college debate community were like cousins/siblings. We helped each other deal with emotional and financial challenges. We served as role models and confidants to each other. I realized that biology doesn’t dictate who we are or can become in this life, that everything is open for interpretation(s). I learned that love is not limited to a single definition. I learned that even damaged relationships can be repaired. After nearly two decades of deconstruction and reconstruction, I still embrace the militant dyke label. I’ve also come to realize that it’s OK to embrace traditional ideas of what family means as long as we remain open to alternative definitions.

To me, family is about love and support. It is about embracing our flaws and celebrating out strengths. It’s about finding joy in the little things, like listening to a two-year-old nephew sing cartoon theme songs, or brushing a four-year-old niece’s hair. It’s watching your partner’s eyes light up when he’s around his fairy godchild, or hearing him roar like a lion with his nephew. It’s watching football with your chosen moms, and playing Magic with your lezbros. It’s about taking someone to chemo, or scrubbing a friend’s toilet when they’re unable. Family can be genetic, but family is also about choice. I choose the people I want to share my love with, and I focus my intentions on building positive relationships. Love manifests itself in many ways, and I am grateful for all of the love in my life.

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Is Fracking a Feminist Issue?

still-gaslandThere has been a lot of debate over the past decade about whether or not it is safe to drill for oil and natural gas. One of the most controversial methods of oil and gas extraction is called “fraction drilling” (more popularly referred to as “fracking”).

Fraction drilling doesn’t just dig a straight hole into the ground so that a pipeline can be inserted to export gas to the surface. Fracking involves hydraulically fracturing the ground that surrounds shale deposits of natural gas so that gas can be released and captured from a variety of angles. There are environmental issues to be considered, as well as health care issues for the communities that are near drilling sites. That being said, President Obama gave fracking a thumbs up in 2013 when he gave a speech about climate change at Georgetown University, emphasizing the economic and security benefits of natural gas.

“For the first time in 18 years, America is poised to produce more of our own oil than we buy from other nations. And today, we produce more natural gas than anybody else. So we’re producing energy. And these advances have grown our economy, they’ve created new jobs, they can’t be shipped overseas — and, by the way, they’ve also helped drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly 20 years. Since 2006, no country on Earth has reduced its total carbon pollution by as much as the United States of America.” –President Obama (emphasis mine)

Fracking foes have used a laundry list of arguments to oppose shale extraction. One notable anti-fracker is Sandra Steingraber, who compares fracking to rape. (I will address the rape analogy in a future article. For now, let’s focus on dollars and cents.) Steingraber argues that fracking is a feminist issue because women are underrepresented in the energy industry. She also states that:

“The jobs for women are ‘hotel maid’ and ‘prostitute’ . . . So when fracking comes into a community, what we see is that women take a big hit, especially single women who have children who depend on rental housing.” (via The Washington Times, 4/6/2015)

That same statement has been mimicked by community members in other states in a very demeaning manner. This is an extremely disrespectful statement that comes from someone who clearly has the luxury of disposable income.  [Read more…]

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Women as Healers: An Interview with Michele Smith

Michele Smith incorporates her fun sense of humor to the acupuncture table.

Michele brings her fun sense of humor to the acupuncture table.

Michele Smith is a licensed acupuncture therapist who practices in Tucson, Arizona. Michele’s clinic is called The Gathering Point Community Acupuncture. Her bright personality and interest in her patients helps set a peaceful tone for a healing environment at the clinic. Many people are afraid to get poked, but Michele’s positive energy helps ease that worry.

Michele has been my acupuncturist since 2011. In addition to seeing Michele for acupuncture myself, I volunteer at The Gathering Point Community Acupuncture one day a week. I enjoy working with her, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about her work.

1. What motivated you to become an acupuncture therapist?

I was motivated to become an acupuncturist because my previous career in the music industry was becoming obsolete and I wanted my next career to be in something that would help people, both physically and mentally. While music is also healing, the corporate world that the music industry had become was not, and is not, healing. My last job in the music industry was at a music venue which was at a great locally owned venue owned and operated by a really nice man, but not the kind of work I could see myself doing ten or so years down the line as I got older. My first thought was to study homeopathy, but it is illegal in the state of Georgia, where I am from, so I decided to study acupuncture with the thought that down the line I could always add homeopathy if I still desired.

[Read more…]

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I’m Ready for Hillary

hillary-clinton-2016I launched this blog last week and announced my intention of spotlighting women’s work. Neither word has a stable definition. I have spent my entire life trying to figure out what my definition of “woman” means. I look to women I know on a personal level, as well as well-known public figures and I realize that gender is a performance and we all interpret our gender roles differently. Some of the strongest women I know are stay-at-home mothers. I admire them just as much as I admire women who work in predominantly “masculine” fields. Take politics for instance.

When I was in elementary school, I used to tell people that I was going either going to be a quarterback for the 49’ers or president of the United States when I grew up. I saw female astronauts on TV. Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Mary (my namesake) was the Mother of Jesus . . . It never even dawned on me that women couldn’t aspire to be anything they wanted to be.

I endorse Hillary Clinton for President of the United States. I want to tie my endorsement of Hillary to the discussion of “women’s work.” In Spring of 2007, I heard Gloria Steinem give a speech about why feminism is still relevant. An audience member asked Ms. Steinem if she supported Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Steinem didn’t even hesitate with her response. She asked the audience members to think about the shoes of the women who supported Hillary Clinton. “These are working women’s shoes. Women who work as nurses, teachers, waitresses, customer service providers . . .” Steinem said that Hillary Clinton was interested in women having financial independence so that they could take care of themselves and their families. I agreed with Gloria Steinem’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton, and I still do. [Read more…]

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Feminist Conversations: An Interview With Lesbian Icon Ann Bannon

Ann Bannon, in my opinion, is the queen of lesbian pulp fiction. Her books in the Beebo Brinker series served as a roadmap for many lesbians in the 1950s and 1960s. I was introduced to Bannon’s work in a Women’s Studies class at ASU. Bannon’s novels helped me navigate my own coming out process. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I was given the opportunity to interview her.

1. What was your initial inspiration for writing the Beebo Brinker novels?
I began by falling in “fascination” with the first original lesbian pulp novel, Spring Fire, by Vin Packer. It’s a story of two young women who meet in their college sorority house and fall in love—not a terribly original premise these days, but a dangerous and thrilling one then. The consequences of being outed in the 1950s were appalling, and I had been close enough to a similar disaster in my own sorority to empathize with the girls in Packer’s novel. I knew I wanted to write, and it turned out that this little pulp paperback I had found on a newsstand shelf was the creative trigger. [Read more…]

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Stone Butches and Lipstick Lesbians: Gender Role Construction in the Works of Ann Bannon

Before the days of Facebook and Twitter, lesbians were largely confined to meeting in bars or in secret, and they had few sources to link them to a broader community. Logging onto the Internet these days, one can literally find thousands of websites and social media groups dedicated to helping lesbians from across the country and around the globe forge a sense of virtual community.

Although we live in an age of hashtags and electronic tablets, many of us still read bound stacks of paper called books. Lesbian pulp fiction still has meaning for both young queers who are just coming out of the closet, as well as with lesbians from an older generation. What is it about these dated stories that both younger lesbians and those who made the journey to Stonewall find compelling?

One explanation is that younger lesbians are turning to these artifacts of the 1940s and 1950s to gain a sense of a separate lesbian history. In particular, what these books teach us about the construction of gender roles within lesbian relationships is a key component in that history. One of the most pervasive questions that helps one to identify her place within the lesbian community is “are you butch or femme?” Although these gender roles are hotly contested (some say they don’t even exist), it is my contention that they still serve an important function for lesbians of all walks of life. Lesbian pulp, then, is a means of tracing the development of butch/femme roles that is difficult to find outside of oral histories. [Read more…]

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