Monday, November 25, 2013

Tiny Ecologies & the World Wide Web (Part 6)

"Can't stop the signal"

The Tiny Ecology project is focused on intense ecological attentiveness of a particular place. Frequent visits to the site will be made between late August and early December. Critical attention will be paid to human influence and neglect, nonhuman forces (weather, sunlight, microclimates, pollution, decay, gentrification), and the surfacings of particular histories. This project arises from an engagement with the Ecologies of Conquest / Contact Ecologies seminar being taught by Prof. Jeffrey J Cohen at the G.W.U.


Stepping out of my apartment in Silver Spring, I bundled myself up against the cold. On my way to GWU for our Tiny Ecology day, I stopped by the Strip once again to see how it was experiencing the cold.

Observing the dry, cracked earth, seemingly devoid of insect, I remembered my first visit to the space. In a way the dry frost of November has a striking resemblance to the dry heat of August. Yet this time, instead of an academic outsider to this space, I felt like an insider, hanging out with a friend, perhaps annoyed at the weather together.

We shared that moment, all of us there, as I didn't exactly "thank" the Tiny Ecology for being a collaborator with me on this project, but being affected more with a sense of "appreciation." Over our time this semester, it had changed, I had changed, and through our networks and "the world-wide-web" we had somehow changed things outside ourselves.

Breaking off towards the Metro, anticipating the presentations of my fellow class-mates, other collaborators in this Tiny Ecology project and in the seminar, the feeling of appreciation stayed with me. Opening up the talk provided below, instead of concluding, we embraced the unexpected. Wherever we go now, we go together.



Since September, I have been blogging and engaging weekly with a tiny ecology I called “the strip.” The strip is a 147 inch by 121 inch environment of rocky, clover-filled soil in Silver Spring Maryland, walled in by my 16 floor concrete apartment building, a 3 floor brick house, a concrete side-walk and an iron fence. 

The first time I made conscious contact with the space, I was drawn to its hard arid soil, wondering how it could support such delicate green clover. 

Over the weeks, I engaged with the ecology in new ways, informed by conversations about contact, cohabitation, catastrophe and enmeshment from our Contact Ecology / Ecologies of Conquest Seminar, and understood the seminar material better by engaging with my tiny ecology. In turn, the blog’s 5 entries serve as a site for reflecting on our place and enmeshment together on a world-wide-web.


Thinking through my contact with the soil, pushed me to explore deeper David Macauley’s Elemental Philosophy, particularly his work on earth systems. I was struck by Macauley’s statement that “a place-based ethic” starts with certain particular contacts, such as “the earth underneath” and brings us to relate with the numerous other things it contacts on their own “systematic” terms rather than a “universal,” “instrumental,” or “inherent” value.

In other words, to ethically engage with the earth or blog on the clover, is to stay in contact with their relations the various insects, rocks, bottle-caps, cigarette butts, shoes, shovel, camera, computer, blog, and me. 

Looking wider and digging deeper I found that these rocks, hard earth & other objects knitted together with the clover’s root system to form a seal above and below a layer of moist soil sandwiched in between. Together they held onto a source of moisture that could feed clover roots and more. 

No sooner had I gone from observer of the earth to digger in it, than I found that I did not dig alone.


Cohabiting in this environment and collaborating in the process of excavating the earth were population of ants. For another week I continued my digging, testing moisture and nutrient levels, simply trying to stay out of the ants way. 

I took these contacts with me however as we began to discuss Susan Crane’s essay on Cohabitation in “Pangur Ban,” an old Irish lyric, also called “the Scholar and His Cat.” Crane pushes beyond the historical happenstance of men and cats sharing life, as well as the propensity to allegorize the cat’s life as signifying human labor, looking for moments of their love and sympathy. 

I asked myself, how have I begun to feel with these ants? Within that first week I began to feel and enjoy their presence, touch, even travel with me. I’d find them falling off my pants with clumps of dirt and clover when I got back to my apartment. I sort of liked that they were colonizing where I slept, since I disturbed where they slept.


Then catastrophe struck. Suddenly after several dry weeks, the strip got hit with rain. Strangely my first reaction was not detached intellectual interest that finally the soil would now be soft and damp. Instead, I feared for these ants. For a while, the rain didn’t disturb them. Later, the concrete and brick walls around the strip began to function as a basin, the water rising an inch above the earth. 

It was helpful that we read Steve Mentz’s “Making the Green One Red” at this time, as it challenged the illusion of that the dry was stable with a call to embrace where we are as a “watery, salty, unstable, dangerous place”. We are ever “inter-catastrophe” or between transformative events. 

I watched as the anthills, the bottle-caps, and topsoil wash away and fought the urge to blog that this was the end for tiny world. This is not the first or last time it rains here. Somehow they continue to exist between and within it.


Without knowing absolutely how the ants continued to live in the strip after the rain, my research suggests that various ants have the ability to run to higher ground or hibernate with their eggs through winter and flood. 

When I found smaller, paler ants back working the ruins of their colony, I surmised that a new generation of ants had hatched from those eggs. The ants I had known had likely built upon the ruins of other generations. 

Contacting this mix of past and present together helped me better grasp our discussion of Timothy Morton’s “mesh;” what he describes in Queer Ecologies as a “nontotalizable, open-ended…interrelations that blur and confound boundaries at practically any level.” This and that, the new and the old are not totally separate things. 

This mix of dry and wet earth, young and old ant, me and my blog are all enmeshed in ways that make each look back, each return feel a bit like the past never left. As with medieval texts and their authors, the blog may outlive us all on the world-wide-web but we will still exist together in story. 

Yet with each catastrophe, generation, presentation, or blog-hit our enmeshed story grows. Things don’t stay the same. Things don’t stop. Things transform.

Thank You

All those who contacted this blog
are invited to affirm their enmeshed place
in this Tiny Ecology and "the-World-Wide-Web"
by commenting & allowing our story
to grow, live & feel with unexpected others.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Forgetting the Transgender Day of Remembrance

Everyone said the names of the dead aloud and rang bells to reflect the dimming of their lights in an all-too-early sunset. We hugged. There were tears. It was over.
"Lessons From My First Transgender Day of Remembrance"
Shane'a Thomas

the Transgender Day of Remembrance
took place on 20 November 2013
to a troubled outpouring of support



Perhaps because I'm used to getting weird looks from passers-by, and that special category of passers-by known as casual acquaintances, but the extra somber looks today would have not registered at all if I hadn't been informed by my "Twitt-Face" feed that it was the Transgender Day of Remembrance. I had forgotten!

The playful irony that I had forgotten to remember brought to light how Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr,list-servers for the HRC, and newsie sources like the Huffington Post are sort of acting like a Queer Remembral. Today it turned purple (Seriously? Trans* gets to be the color Purple? Nice! Also, when did we start assigning specific colors within the queer rainbow?). But like the remembral from JK Rowling's Harry Potter series, it simply tells you that you "forgot" something but leaves you blank on what exactly it is you forgot. I feel like that today.

Looking at a few of the head-lines, I am even less certain what it is I was supposed to remember:

After reading through many of these, I still don't know exactly why "you, yes you, need to care"(emphasis mine). This is not a flippancy, but a frustration. Why are we being so vague and/or setting the bar so low? What exactly are we saying when we claim/demand remembrance? 

Not in other words, but in their own words, they are literally saying this:
  • Care.
  • Value.
  • Matter.
  • Paint.
  • Watch.

This boils down to: look at us, frown a little, and say "what a shame." There is a value to looking at us for a change, but it becomes reduced to that: looking at us for (i.e. to enact, to cause, to be the source of emergence of) change. This day asks nothing of the public. If it does, it is nothing specific, nothing more than can be accomplished by reading a head-line and maybe "sharing" or "liking" or "pinning" or "retweeting." At least before the Twitternet, people would go through the effort of physically pinning something to their coat. I'd rather be an intrusion to your wardrobe or an annoyance when you take it off at night than just a line on your news-feed.

Trans people, especially those victims of violence (homelessness, poverty, prison, racism, sexism, homophobia, bar-fights, being shot in the head by a DC cop, rape, being fired, being made an example, being forced to speak on behalf of someone, dumping us because you are tired of having to explain your relationship to people, legally or illegally keeping us from using bathrooms, invading our bodies and property in airport security check-points, barring us from sports, avoiding us on the street, turning us into your queer confessors on the train, taking our picture with your iPhone and forgetting you had the flash on, giving us a character on Glee but refusing to give her any storylines or even to use the word "Trans," telling us our wardrobe makes you uncomfortable, insisting on inappropriate names or pronouns, bullying teenagers, bullying kids, bulling adults, suicide) are reduced to head-lines without stories and without re/action every day. If you want to find us, your best bet on any given day is in the obituaries. They may or may not get our names and pronouns right. Today is nothing new.

Not a few of these articles on the TDoR sound exactly like an obituary section, particularly the Huffington Post's "Transgender Day of Remembrance 2013: A Reporter's List"

And tomorrow it will be worse. The Facebook newsfeed never stops. Soon we will become buried (and forgotten) again. 



I'd feel a quantum of solace in a Day of Remembrance if we forgot the word "Day." The preposition "of" I feel ambivalent about, you can keep or leave it. Make it the "Taco of Remembrance" because that would at least be tasty, especially if I got one. Give me a "Coat of Remembrance" because it is starting to get nippy out there. How about "Student Debt Relief of Remembrance" to help me work out my past or a "Job of Remembrance" to help ensure my future? What about "Health-Insurance of Remembrance" that actually covers Trans medicine? What about "Homes," "Meals," "Schools," "Churches" that Remember?

Or we could insist on Remembrance. A perpetual state of not simply awareness, but of bringing together. We are bodies that are literally dis-membered:

“Transgender people are believed to be victims of violence more often than others. One study showed that 27% of participants were victims of violence. Murders of transgender people have been reported in 20 states and 89 cities across the United States.

Suicidal ideation is increased in transgender people, and may be up to 64%.
(Emphasis mine. Source: American Medical Student Association,

Re-membrance should aim at replenishing our membership, by improving access to livable lives, re-enfranchising us from our displacement to the streets or prisons, giving us back our own bodies (inconstant & trans-formative they may be).

Re-membering may be all the more significant for those trans-women and intersex people who have undergone compulsory bottom surgery as the only "correct" and "legal" way to live out their gender. There may need to be reparations made to counter-act this violence. 

Remembering Transgender will and should cost you something.

Care, matter, value are all emotions that involve motion. Post-Christian secular societies still function as though abstractions were immaterial (spiritual in the negative sense). These are in fact embodied practices that do more than signify when they manifest. Care is given so that wounds may be healed. Matter forms structures of support. Value is given to provide for action.

There is real power and activity in ideas. Talk and education has its value and using the Transgender Day of Remembrance as a teaching moment is to already do more than not Forgetting but to actively Re-Member the bodies of the displaced by giving them a place in the conversation. We just need to keep on guard that this becomes more than a nominal or naturalized place. Discourse, argument, teaching, and converting people to a position remain a doing; or else the conversation is dead. 

The words, the care, the matter, and the value become as absent as the Trans bodies they are meant to mark. They become grave-stones, and we have had enough of those. We need more than a Day, we demand lives.