Thursday, May 26, 2011

NFABS All Up And Running at

I have reformatted all the entries imported from here into the new Notes From a Barking Shaman over at my website. While there may be a bit of occasional odd font sizing, entries are now easily accessible. For a number of reasons, mostly sentimental, I am leaving online. With new posts and the archives updated on the new site however, visitors should be reading and commenting there.

Thanks and see you on the new site.

-Wintersong Tashlin May 2011

Monday, May 02, 2011


We have killed Osama Bin Laden

We have killed Osama Bin Laden. My nation is united today with a sense of pride, accomplishment, and closure. There is a sense that somehow this victory belongs to us all.

I don't want it. This is not my victory, and if that makes me a bad American, than so be it.

Let me be abundantly clear, I will shed no tears over this death. My own spiritual beliefs and gods value just revenge. Given the chance I would have lost no sleep over taking this life. But with those who attacked this nation nearly a decade ago dead in that very attack, Bin Laden became the focus for the United States' thirst for vengeance.

There are many reasons, that I cannot share in the glory of my countrymen.

First and foremost, I didn't kill the mastermind behind the attacks of 9/11/01. If we are to revel in this death, honor is surely due above all to the ones who stormed his mansion, the one who pulled the fateful trigger, and those who designed the attack plan itself.

That said, the overwhelming reveling throughout my nation in this death shakes me. A man is dead, granted, a truly horrific one, and one that by all rights deserved his death. But to see America so united in celebration over their/our vengeance frightens me. We have become what Osama Bin Laden made us. He has shaped, and even corrupted our nation's soul in a way that disturbs me.

In our hunger for vengeance and fear of attack what have we forged ourselves into? We have bankrupted ourselves financially and morally. Becoming all too like our enemies in our quest to “ensure American safety,” a worthy goal, but at the cost of what has made our nation a beacon of freedom for a hundred years.

Let us not forget the detritus left on the road to this victory:

Over $1 Trillion Dollars spent on multi-front warfare.

Thousands of American lives lost

Untold numbers of soldiers wounded or suffering from mental health issues and TBI

Civilian death estimates ranging from the tens to hundreds of thousands

The United States engaging in state sanctioned torture

Suspension of Habeas Corpus

Domestic Surveillance

Progressively more dehumanizing, yet largely ineffectual security theater in public transportation


A wave of anti-Muslim sentiment that has included attempts to ban them from building sacred space, verbal and physical assault, sometimes on women and children, politicians calling for Islam to be reclassified not as a religion in order to disallow 1st Amendment protections for Muslims, boycotts of companies that make food that fits Muslim dietary restrictions (while many companies produce food that fit other religions' proscriptions on foodstuffs)

Looking over the above list, one could be forgiven for thinking that I am anti-war. The truth is that I am not. Spiritually and morally I value violence and warfare as a path to resolution of conflict and righting of evil. I pray regularly for other paths to take precedence, but sometimes war is the path that the Fates choose. Nor, while the death tolls are terrible, do I feel that they are particularly central to my lack of celebration in Osama Bin Laden's death. I study WWII as a hobby, a war where a single battle could easily cost more lives than all those listed above.

The truth is that it is today's celebrations that crystalize my fears about the path Osama bin Laden has set my country on. On 9/11/01 our people were unified in sorrow, but today we are unified in bloodlust. Nearly a decade ago, the world mourned with us, today we triumph alone.

As I sit on my bed typing this essay, I can turn my head and see my Kimber Ultra Carry II 45ACP sitting in my open nightstand drawer. Next to it is my ex-husband's Glock 19, the first gun I ever bought. My gun is rarely far from my side, and I have lived this way since my family was attacked nearly six years ago by a homophobe with a stolen Beretta.

The parallels to the changes in our country are inescapable. Which is perhaps why I am so concerned. People, good people, ask me all the time if I could use my sidearm. If the need arose, could I really pull the trigger and end a life. When I answer with an unqualified affirmative, the responses ranges from relief to disgust. I have looked deep into my soul and found the certain knowlege that I could kill. Many of my fellow citizens find that aspect of my being incredibly alien to their experience and identity, and I can respect that.

Yet caught in the tide of retribution, those same people revel in the glory of having sent Bin Laden into Death. Today their souls are washed in another man's blood and they embrace it in the name of justice.

We American's have watched as our nation has been twisted into a parody of itself in the pursuit of what the Bush administration branded “The Global War on Terror.” On 9/11/01 we were attacked by people directed by someone who wished to destroy our way of life and strike at the very soul of what it meant to be an American.

As our people glorify in bloodshed and death I can't help but imagine that somewhere beyond the last grey river, in whatever awaits one such as himself in the underworld, Osama Bin Laden is celebrating a victory of his own.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Change of Venue

I've decided that in the quest of greater integration, I am moving this blog over to my new website, There is now a Notes From A Barking Shaman tab on the menu, and the direct link for the blog is here.

I am remain unsure if this is the direction I want to take the blog, and the blogger site will remain available here. I am currently planning on only updating the new one, although that plan may change.

Aside from the logistics of working with a wordpress blog rather than a blogger one, I may find that Notes From A Barking Shaman distracts from the focus of, or vice versa. On the other hand, NFABS has at time struggled to catch peoples' eye, and being a part of my new website may be a boon.

Regardless of where it appears, Notes From A Barking Shaman won't be disappearing any time soon.

note: there is now a "subscribe" button in the footer of, those of you who have subscribed here should add your name to the email list for the new site

Thursday, April 07, 2011


There is a well know platitude that reads: When the gods close a door, they open a window.

Admittedly, I took a few pagan liberties there with my pluralization, but I am confident that the essential sentiment remains unchanged.

While undeniably clichéd, this sentiment has an element of truth (or perhaps truthiness) about it. However, there is a inverse truth that has failed to achieve quite the same level of Hallmark success.

When the gods open a door, they close a window.

Most people know me as “Wintersong Tashlin.” Granted it is not the name I was given at birth. Nor is it the name that adorns my state and federal ID. I was given this name in February of 1999, and in 2005 my legal name was amended so that “Tashlin” became my legal surname. For a number of sentimental and practical reasons I decided for the time being to leave my first name alone. However, the list of people who call me by my birth name is quite short. Nearly all of them are related to me by blood.

My life and Work as “Wintersong” has open many doors. Regardless of what community I am in, this is the identity I am known by. The freedom that has allowed me made it possible to establish a reputation working at the intersections of the communities that I hold dear: pagan spirituality/magic, kink/BDSM, queer/LGBT. With separate “scene” “circle” and “real” names, it would have been impossible to do much of the Work I am proudest of. Additionally, I have never made much effort to separate “Wintersong” from my legal identity. It seemed a loosing battle and one that I could never be happy while fighting.

The question of identity has always been one of interest in my life. The collection of poetry I wrote as an adolescent (some of which is surprisingly decent) asks the question “who am I” and “where am I going” with the frequency one might expect of a disabled queer kid that age. There are times I wonder, would ELL see his own future in WST? Would my childhood self understand the path our wyrd took? Or instead would he resent me for such gross deviations from the course he had envisioned for this turn of the Wheel?

In his wildest dreams, my younger self could not imagine the doors the gods have opened for me. Starting with those gods themselves, and continuing to spouses, lovers, friends, community, and a family of choice that, along with my family of birth, has made it possible to experience richer joys and weather greater pains in the last twelve years than some people experience in a lifetime. Of course there are moments I would love a do-over for, but never have I regretted the path itself.

Not regretting one's wyrd however, doesn't not prevent mourning what has been sacrificed to make it possible.

For instance, my life as a godatheow (god-slave) does not allow for children. I was raised to believe that as a parent, one's children have to come first, an idea incompatible with my oaths. Service to the Lady is my highest priority, before my partners or potential children. Germain to this essay moreover, my public identity as “Wintersong” effectively eliminates having children in our society. I am sterile, and someone on record as an openly unabashed polyamorous pervert has little chance of getting approved for the adoption process (note: I'm open about being poly AND a pervert, one does not automatically equal the other). A part of me longs for children, but even if an arrangement could be reached with my patron, there is no feasible way to become a parent with the openness my Work requires.

Career options have their own limits too. A friend and colleague of mine recently raised the prospect of some potential employment that would dovetail well with my current Work while fitting with my disability and schedule needs. However, the position requires being able to pass a level of hostile scrutiny that my legal identity cannot withstand. Googling my legal name ties it to “Wintersong” on the very first page of search results. Taking that into account it was obvious I was unsuitable for the position. Disappointing as that was, there was also relief. For most of my life I lived openly and doubt I possess the fortitude for a closet. My time at the car dealership would indicate that I do not. Hiding under the refuge of my legal name was an emotionally distressing experience (I should note that, to PCN's credit I was out as queer without issue).

At present there are a number of projects vying for my attention: The first is to achieve greater market penetration and financial success as a presenter in the kink/BDSM and spirituality communities, which includes writing two books that will ideally improve my name recognition. At the same time I am working to complete and find a market for an unrelated writing project that must not be tied to the first task due to its subject matter. If, in defiance of the odds, the second writing project finds an audience and publisher, I will not be able to publicly take ownership of a work I'd be rightfully proud of. Changing gears between them would be hard enough without the knowledge that in the best case scenario I will still be unable to claim credit for the second work. The added pressure of teaching private students and trying to grow a nascent magical clan has not improved matters.

If an opportunity presented itself, I would certainly not go back in time and prevent myself from going out stargazing that night in mid-September of 1998 with the first friend I'd made at college. The encounter we had that night opened an incomprehensible door for us both, and even then, a part of me recognized our wyrds would entwine as part of something bigger than either of us. Returning home that evening battered and drained, but also exhilarated, I could sense the barest glimmer of an unimagined possibilities.

Perhaps it is merely my knowledge of what the future would bring, but I fancy that in that moment we both also felt a hint of sadness, recognizing on some level that by embracing those unimagined possibilities we were forever forfeiting a great many imagined ones. The Fates had opened a door, but over the coming months and years would close a great many windows.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

New Website

My new website Barking is now up and running. For the moment I am going to continue to keep Notes From a Barking Shaman active here at blogger since I like the amount of graphic and layout control Blogger offers. For bios, class descriptions, selected writing (mostly from NFABS) and more, come check it out!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Waves of Fate

It has been a dizzying past several days. Across the world, humankind has trembled in awe as the extent of devastation wrought by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in the Pacific has been revealed in in piecemeal reports on our television and internet, as if each garish report by the 24hr news stations, always in glorious technicolor, were pellets being dispensed to waiting lab rats. With the addition of the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, each time I turn to CNN to get my pellet of news, the metallic tang of fear creeps up the back of my throat. With every loading of a webpage I wonder if this is the time the picture will display an innocuous white cloud blanketing northern Japan, carrying with it the brutal death so associated with sibling cities in the distant Southwest of that same nation.

For those of us aware of the flows of wyrd, it has been a particularly bewildering time. Rarely have such great shifts in the path of our whole planet's wyrd been so bound up in so many concentrated variables and so few puny humans battling such terrific and incomprehensible demons. As I write this evening, only fifty or so people remain on station at Fukushima Daiichi. Fifty champions of their nation pitted in battle against a demon who once wreaked such devastation on their land that it shaped their culture for more than half a century. One who even as I type is threatening to break the man-made bindings that have chained it to human ends for forty years.

Unit 01 breaking free of her armor, the Akira Explosion, Vash the Stampede's barren world, the Japanese have been preparing their culture and children for the possibility that they might fight and loose this battle for decades.

I am not Japanese. I am not in death's path if those bindings are broken. And yet, it may be that the wyrd of our entire world rests on the outcome of this struggle. With every new variable, fuel tank left unfilled for too long, or on the reverse, a cooling pump restored with moments to spare, the wyrd shifts and eddies. Unlike my sister, the wyrd does not come to me as a great branching tree. The flows of fate carry me along and from my place in the deep and swift river, I can feel the oncoming turns and forks of fate. But these last few days, as if to echo the catalyst of catastrophe (for surely it is already that, even if no further harm is done) the flows of wyrd have tossed and built, only to settle momentarily before resuming their chaotic dance.

As a wyrd worker, all I can do is struggle to keep my head above water and ride the waves that crash through time and space as the battle at Fukushima Daiichi wages into its seventh day.

Why though does this endeavor so bind the whole world's fate? Humankind has chained many demons throughout our history. The one engaged at Fukushima Daiichi is impatient, and when it slips the wards of steel, concrete, water, and technology that we have used to constrain it, it takes its revenge swiftly and brutally.

However, even as the eyes of the world are turned to Northern Japan, we have become aware of a far more patient sibling pressed into humanity's service long earlier, whose own retribution crept up on us slowly. In our quest for swift transportation, heat, and power, we allied ourselves with one who poisons the air we breath and the water we drink, not to mention ensnaring those that benefit from its bounty in deadly internecine conflict. This demon may be far more deadly in the long run than the one struggling to break free at Fukushima Daiichi.

Idealists who have been forced to view the world through pragmatic eyes, believe that until we can discover a whole new way to survive, perhaps a new demon bound in undreamt of bindings, our best hope for beating back the slow and patient poisoner may very well be to rely far more heavily on the bounty of the impatient and brutal demon that even now threatens to destroy its tamers.

Alas, we are mortal and given the choice, slow and uncertain poison is often given preferential treatment over a swift and deadly blow. If the beast at Fukushima Daiichi breaks free, it is unlikely that we will embrace it as an ally against the slow poisoner, even if no other strong allies can be found. Shortsighted though that may be, it is also very human, and the decades delay before those events fade into distant memory may bring far greater harm upon us as the poisoner gains ground.

And so, it may be that the wyrd of a species rests of the shoulders of fifty brave souls. Or, it may not. As I strive to sift understanding from the tumultuous currents of the wyrd, I can not be sure of where the river flows.

As in counterpoise I go again, rat-like, for the pellets of information passed out by the news, it occurs to me how very like the turbulent wyrd their meager scraps are. The truth is that we are all caught up in the waves of fate that waves of water have unleashed upon our world.

We hold our breath together and wait for sun.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Exploring Privacy Through a Torture(d) Metaphor

Fair Warning: This post will contain graphic descriptions of practices that may be disturbing to some people. Reader discretion is most definitely advised!

Why are some things “private” in our lives and not others? This is question of particular interest to me of late because of my work in the sexuality field. More than once I have found myself inadvertently making someone uncomfortable by sharing details of my life or work that, while not areas I considered private or taboo, in retrospect were not things this person wanted to know in that moment. While I find spiritual and personal value in pushing people's comfort zones when appropriate, I also take pride in not being a jerk. Hence my recent ruminations on the subject of “private areas” in our personal and public lives.

I actually consider myself to be a relatively private person. If you have been reading BarkingShaman or my other writings, or have attended my classes in the past, there is a good chance that you are chuckling a bit right about now. However, I am being completely serious. From where I sit, I don't share that much that I consider to be “private.” Sure I talk about sex, including my own sex life. My spiritual life is a pretty open book too, my gods like it that way. And despite my issues around my body, which I have written about on BarkingShaman in the past, I have demonstrated BDSM techniques on myself in many classes and was even been filmed naked for British prime time television.

However, there are whole chapters of my life I have spoken and written little about. As open as I am about my life as Wintersong, writing about who I was before I recieved that name is virtually nonexistent. Likewise, few people have heard me talk about what makes me cry, or what old dreams hold sway over me. Outside of my sexual explorations, few people know anything of my childhood. Details of my education and professional training, or my financial situation are likewise rarely shared beyond the broad strokes.

It is an interesting phenomena, this process by which certain topics or even body parts become designated in our society and our minds as “private.” I understand that by the nature of what I do as someone who talks publicly about sex and spirituality, that I transgress this taboo on a regular basis. Howver, I often feel like it is a taboo that even those who abide by it do not entirely understand.

Warning: if you have a delicate constitution, now might be a good time to stop reading this post!

Allow me to paint a picture for you. The picture is of a man's genital area. His flaccid penis is held to a shaved pubic mound with a piece of medical tape. Dangling between his legs, one testicle has been freed from his scrotum through an incision. He's holding it carefully between his forefinger and thumb, though it is still attached via the spermatic cords. The picture is in perfect focus and rather well framed at that. However, the glans of his penis has been digitally blurred, presumably for modesty reasons.

This isn't a scene from a medical training manual. The photo was part of a series on, a body modification community, and the man in question was engaging in “ball exposure play.” Over the course of the photo shoot he did eventually return the testicle to its regular location and stitch himself back up. It was not the first time he'd done such a scene.

If you were wondering, that was most assuredly not me.

So why describe this little tableau, and what could it possibly have to do with the topic of privacy?

What struck me when I first saw this shoot was what seemed to me the total absurdity of censoring out the head of his cock while showing us, the viewer at home, one of his testicles. When I mentioned this to a few friends however, several seemed to understand the desire to maintain some modesty by hiding his “private parts,” which in the end weren't relevant to the scene anyway. This was incomprehensible to me. What part of one's body could be more private than an internal organ? There really are few circumstances in which anyone would be seeing your testicle, which from my perspective, made it about as private a part as one could have. What thought process made it ok to show me, the viewer, that intimate a part of oneself, but still leaves one feeling it necessary to blur out a penis?

I realize this example raises the issues of modesty vs. privacy. The argument that could be made that rather than being private, this man was being modest. I can intellectually understand the accuracy there, in the context of modest as “Dressing or behaving so as to avoid impropriety or indecency, esp. to avoid attracting sexual attention” (Google word search March 2011). However, I still struggle to grok the rationale or value in the behavior.

Yet, in a way this man's actions are not all that different from my own. As I said before, I am very open about all manner of things that most people would generally classify as part of their “private” lives and I am quite comfortable with that. But there are areas of my life that I choose not discuss outside of a small and select group of people. Graphic stories of sexual experimentation gone awry not only come out among friends, they feature prominently as cautionary tales in my workshops. But other subjects are off the table, or at the least are heavily censored for public consumption, just like a certain gentleman's gentleman.

I had a conversation a while back with my friend Lee, a fabulous performer, educator and fellow traveler on the shamanic road, about the way our sense of what “normal” is shifts off of the societal baseline when we spend a lot of time in the kink/BDSM world, spiritual space, or any other specialized community. There are people in my life that I have seen naked, seen fucking, maybe played with personally, but could not tell you the first thing about. In my world that is not unusual, but I sometimes have to remind myself that it means that I am “off-normal” by society's standards.

I think that people in the kink/sexuality and other subculture communities compensate for this shift by re-prioritizing what we consider to be private. As humans, we seem to have a need to have some parts of our lives belong just to us and our intimates. If we yield one area, another takes its place. Perhaps what matters is that we have something to be private, what that is may not be all that relevant.

There is a delightful science fiction writer named Spider Robinson whose work I am fond of. Many years ago he wrote a series of books, which I enjoyed called the “Stardance Trillogy.” Despite my enjoyment however, the fundamental belief of the series was that the best outcome for the advancement of humanity would be for us all to enter into a hive-mind of shared consciousness. I reject this idea, as I think many people do. We define ourselves in part as we relate to other people. What we choose not to share or share only selectively, helps to give us that definition that we need to have a sense of self.

Sometimes people who take my classes or read my online writing comment that they admire how open I am. Truthfully, this is largely an illusion. I doubt that I am any more open than most people. Like the man showing us his balls but hiding his “regular” bits, I simply keep different things “private” than most people. Not better things and hopefully not worse, just different.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

In the Land of My Birth

The light and water that make up my soul reflect the image of this place...

I'm home tonight, in the land of my birth. As I step out of the odd round building I am staying in this evening and look a short distance away, I can just make out the lights of the place where I knelt and swore my life to my goddess. The place where I was given my Name. Just outside these poorly insulated walls, the winter wind from whence I got that name whistles through the first woods I called my own. This is not where I first encountered power and spirit, but it is where I learned control and took my first faltering steps towards becoming who I am today.

Echos and memories greet me everywhere I turn. There I drilled with wooden practice swords, overcoming a lifetime of ingrained belief that I was clumsy and uncoordinated. Down that path is the place where I first held a regular full-moon circle. This place is where I learned to shield, and that where I first heard of “pattern magic.” My whole apprenticeship and the first years of my journeyman period took place in these scant four hundred acres.

But I am not solely the sum of my magic and spirituality. In that building yonder I trained in the ways of design and seeing things not as they are, but as they could be. And in a building identical to the one I am in now, I experience the challenges and joys of living with friends and family and of having to cook your my meals and clean my own space. And back that way again is the place I feel in love, and learned the lessons of love and loss, of passion and dedication.

I am in the place of my birth and I feel the spirits of this land reaching for me, hear reports whispered in my ears by faithful spirits who've long waited for someone they can tell of the passage of time and the goings on of territory once claimed by my Clan. Power sings in my veins with the unbridled freedom of old familiarity as I feel myself connected to this place with an ease that boarders on the involuntary.

It is the nature of the Vreschtik that we leave a connection to everyplace we have held. Every land where we once built a vrescht will still answer to our call. But the way we do that is by leaving a bit of ourselves behind each and every time we move on. And we were young and new to our power when this land was ours. With the passion and temerity of youth, we poured ourselves into this place, which in return made us over into what the Land and the gods wanted us to be. I am a child of woman, god, and earth. My mother, my Lady, and this place each share stake in my being.

This place the still sings to my heart and tells me that I'm home. But alas I am not. This is not a place for men like me. Here I am old, even as land and memory sing sweet, seductive songs of my youth in my ear. This is a place for the young, for those whose path is to find themselves and their place in the world and while I can sojourn here for a brief time, I must always leave it to them. This place is as lost to me as my mother's womb.

It is after all, the land of my birth.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reflections From a Fixed Point

When I was a boy, probably about eight years old, I first heard the soundtrack to “A Chorus Line” on the tape deck of my mom's red GMC Jimmy as we drove from our home in central Massachusetts to New London Connecticut, where I would catch the Cross Sound Ferry to Orient Point New York to see my father. This is not the first time I have written about “A Chorus Line” on Barking Shaman, and it is tempting to see this introduction at such a young age as my mother's way of subtly supporting her already burgeoning gay son.

With the benefit of hindsight however, I suspect she was simply desperate to hear anything that wasn't another repeat of Billy Joel's Greatest Hits. “A Chorus Line” was probably the only other tape within easy reach. Remember that back then our music storage mediums only held about an hour of data each, and a child can happily listen to that hour repeatedly, long past the point where an adult might be tempted to steer her cutting-edge (for a woman at least) SUV into a bridge abutment.

I don't remember when exactly I fell in love with the music from the show, although it was not on that first listen. As a boy in the 80's I was a bit scandalized and titillated by the classic “Dance Ten, Looks Three,” better known to most people as the “Tits and Ass” song, and it was probably this taste of the forbidden, that brought me back to the cast recording initially.

Ten years old is rather young to be listening to a show about the perils and triumphs of being a struggling Broadway actor. “A Chorus Line” talks frankly about love, heartbreak, struggle, adolescence, failure and even puberty. As a boy, I looked up to the characters whose fictional lives were woven in the air of my room as I quite literally played the soundtrack tape to death and had to replace it for a new copy, a CD this time. As a creative and, although I didn't quite understand it yet, gay boy growing up in the late 80's and 90's, I looked up to them. These were people living their dreams and having a life more fabulous than I could ever dream of. Most of all, to me they were adults when it often felt like I'd be caught in the false dawn between childhood and adulthood forever.

That was more than two decades ago now, and the man I've grown into sometimes wonders why I ever wanted dawn to come. At fourteen the song “Adolescence” resonated strongly with me, particularly “To young to take over... To old to ignore. Gee, I'm almost ready... but what for?” At thirty I see the same position in life very differently, an adolescent is old enough to be a sexual being, but young enough to still get away with playing with Legos. Old enough that their opinions carried some weight, but still years away from worrying about car payments or divorce lawyers.

My friends in “A Chorus Line” still sing about their recent emergence from their own adolescence, still marvel that other guys got hard-ons in class, still lust over Robert Goulet and Steve McQueen. Like Capt. Jack Harkness, they are fixed points in time and space. AIDS, Cats, 9-11, all of it remains forever over the horizon for them.

However, I am not a fixed point in the universe. At some point, the characters of “A Chorus Line” went in my mind from being ineffable symbols of adulthood, to being young and naïve. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't make me love them any less, but I know actual dancers and actors now. I know what their lives and careers are like. From my vantage point beyond the horizon I can understand what sort of struggles aren't reflected in the show, and too easily imagine what good and bad in their lives may have waited for them beyond their last curtain call.

As a child, these were people who seemed to know everything. They were worldly, and lived in the grandest city on Earth. Now I see them as sisyphean figures hoping to beat the immense odds in the pursuit of a nearly impossible dream.

Good art acts as a mirror for ourselves, and as my life ebbs and changes over the course of its journey the meaning I find in “fixed points” like “A Chorus Line” will change to reflect the changes in my own heart. Just as the boy I was saw a distant vision of freedom and fabulousness, the man I've become sees the struggle to maintain my dreams against the odds.

I can't know what will be reflected back at me when I look into this mirror in another twenty years, but I find it comforting to know that no matter how much the world may shift and my life may change, these constant and unchanging companions from my youth will be there to help me look into my own heart and point me toward tomorrow when time comes.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Putting out (Financial Stability) Where Our Mouths Are

“Fish or cut bait.” It's a more polite version of “shit or get off the pot” but only really makes sense to people who fish, whereas everyone can relate to the second, less delicate wording.

The last few months have found Fireheart and I very much in a “fish or cut bait” situation. For over a decade we, and the rest of Tashrisketlin have been guided and driven by the will and hand of the gods and spirits, particularly our Lady. For the most part, we have served Their needs and They have done right by us. It has rarely been a typical life, for instance the last two years our company was in business we lived very comfortably doing deeply fulfilling work that was so unusual even I struggle to believe it really happened sometimes.

The trade off in being god slaves has always been that we are fixed into our and our Clan's wyrds, as well as the interests of our Patron, as inextricably as a train is tied to its tracks. Like a swimmer in a strong river, as long as we go along with the current, the track that They have laid out if you will, things move, if not with ease, than with some smoothness. Try to swim against the current however, and we risk being slammed over and over again into rocks that we fail to see approaching because we are facing the wrong way.

Fireheart and I have been swimming against the current.

It is never easy for someone who has built a reputation around their spirituality and faith to speak of questioning that faith. I have served my gods with all my heart since just after I came into adulthood, and I have been shaken before, but lately Fire and I both have suffered from the worst “faithquake” in our history.

Our lives have collapsed around our ears in the last two years. Our company has failed, our spouse left us having declared not just a loss of love, but an absence from the start, we have had hope for my improved health snatched from us more times than I care to count, and our young Clan languishes with its numbers diminished and only one part-time student where there should be many. On top of that, both Fire and I have struggled terribly to find reasonably paying work, with him working part time for just above minimum wage, and a promising contract job of mine not being renewed (company collapsed), leading me to accepting a poor paying, 75hr a week, morally questionable position as a car salesman, while still relying on my family's financial support to keep our electricity on.

The icing on the cake, so to speak, is that while we have tried to do what is asked of us over the many years and seemingly have seen the collapse of our fortunes, our former spouse defied Them at every turn and yet has gotten everything in life he dreamed of, right down to being laid off the week he intended to quit his job, allowing him nearly a year of stress free independent living in his new city.

I always tell my students that everyone has their own internal idea of what the “white picket fence” means to them. I will freely admit, I liked the idea of getting a new motorcycle, of not having debt collectors calling at all hours of the day, maybe replacing my dying Subaru before it strands me on the side of the road. Those ideas became my “white picket fence” and it felt... safe. These were concrete easy to grasp, and mundane goals. They were goals my mother could get behind (not the motorcycle part, she'd much rather I give that up). But they weren't what my other Mother, my Patron wanted me focused on, and they did not fit too well with what Fire and I have spent years working towards.

My shamanic work has always been somewhat nomadic. Frankly, the Northeast is well served by the shamans it has, and I've traditionally worked best with populations I traveled to, and then left. I suppose it is my equivalent of living in a hut on the edge of the village. Back in 2008 I got the clear instruction that I was to learn to be a shaman for the kink/BDSM community. Not that this population lacks spirit workers, shamans, and magicians, we're there, but I was to be another. I had to learn what that meant, not only for myself, but also in terms of what I had to offer. It is not the only shamanic work I do by any means, but perhaps the way to look at is that the kink/BDSM/LGBT communities are my shamanic pastoral congregations.

This has not been an easy journey, although it has been a rewarding and often fun one. It has taken years of hard work to build my reputation and learn to not only serve, but be a part of these communities. And I have had support from amazing people, too many to name, although they know who they are I hope.

When it came time to put aside that Work to bring home steady paycheck, things got a little ugly in our lives. I have regaled you enough with our recent trials that I will not go on further, but it has come to be clear to us that She is looking for more commitment, not less. Our Lady and the spirits want me to be doing my shamanic work full time, even if that means taking to the road, not an easy thing for a Vreschtik shaman and mage to do.

And so, Fireheart and I had the conversation last night. Not about me trying my hand at this Work full time, we had the other conversation. The one where we seriously discussed whether we should just say “Fuck It?” Let Wintersong and Fireheart die quiet deaths, along with the tattered remains of Tashrisketlin and chase the “white picked fence” as simply Nick and Eric? Many of my colleagues would say that it is not possible, gods slaves are never free. But the truth is that it has been done before, those who fail are generally not willing to sacrifice enough in the pursuit of that freedom.

The only other option left to us at this point is to turn our stubborn asses around and swim full-bore with Their current and hope it carries us someplace good. Fire and I are both nearing our 31st birthdays, and we took our oaths of service when we were nineteen. Maybe taking a leap of fail should not scare the ever living shit out of us anymore, but it does.

I know how stacked against us the odds are. One of my closest friends and lovers makes his living through his work in the BDSM/alternative sexuality world and we have discussed many times over all the reasons why I likely can not do the same.

However, here I am. I am actively pursuing mundane work that will allow me the scheduling freedom to take off to teach a class or attend a conference as the opportunity arrises. I am buckling down on my kink technique book, as well as a book of essays on magical theory and philosophy for Raven Kaldera's newest imprint.

Fireheart and I are choosing to swim with the current. We are trying to keep faith with those naïve children who signed away their futures to a goddess they barely understood and did not have a name for because She promised that life would never be boring and we would always be able to be proud of what we did and who would become.

Maybe this new path will be “successful,” and maybe it won't. But whatever happens, Fireheart, myself, and the whole of Tashrisketlin will strive to serve, and hope that the great river carries us where we are supposed to go.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Sending The Wrong Signal

This post will violate one of the cardinal safe practices of life in the internet age, I am going to write about where I work. The media is full of stories about people getting into trouble for doing exactly that, but I believe there is a difference between “telling tales out of school” and commenting on the legitimate effect corporate policy has on the lives of LGBT people. Sorry Mom.

For the past half decade I was the project manager for a small design firm that I co-owned with my partners. One of the many upsides of being a queer small business owner, is that the issues of sexual orientation & gender identity discrimination in the workplace loose much of their personal immediacy.

I have certainly faced harassment and discrimination at work in the past. After college, while waiting for our now ex-husband to graduate from university, both myself and my partner (we were in a polyamorous marriage for just over eight years) worked for a local Jiffy Lube franchise to pay the bills. We each endured significant, daily, and at times violent harassment at our respective stores because of who we were. We were grateful to leave such things behind when we founded our little company.

Now, like many business owners faced with a troubled economy and/or familial strife we have had to shutter our company and seek gainful employment in the broader world. To keep the electricity on, I recently accepted a position as a junior sales consultant at a successful import car dealership on the coast of New Hampshire. For this essay we can call my dealership OBM.

Before I write another word I want to be completely clear that I have not received an iota of harassment at OBM due to my queerness. No one has used gay slurs in my presence, and my supervisor did not bat an eye at the mention of my “partner” or “boyfriend.” And yet, I do not feel safe or secure at work. The awareness that as far as OBM policy is concerned, I am a second class citizen, is never far from my mind.

Our employee handbook and training covers discrimination and harassment extensively, hardly surprising in an industry focused on customer interaction after all. OBM levies steep penalties up to and including summary termination for any harassment or discrimination on the basis of the standard categories: race, religion, sex, disability status, etc. Sexual orientation and gender identity/presentation are not protected under OBM policy. The anti-workplace discrimination video all employees have to watch only featured one portrayal of a gay person, and that was as the stereotypical predator who wouldn't take “no” as an answer from a heterosexual co-worker.

New Hampshire is a gay marriage state, so presumably health benefits are available to married gays and lesbians. With repeal looking horrifyingly likely in the upcoming legislative term however, I would be extremely surprised if OBM was to offer health benefits to same-sex partners without a state mandate.

If I have never been harassed at work, why then does this lack of protection concern me? For the simple reason that I am always aware that I can be at any time. My employer has made the decision that I as a queer/LGBT person am not someone worthy of protection in the workplace. The argument could be made that I am theoretically afforded some limited protections by the state's non-discrimination law as it applies to employment. However, this position has two flaws. The first is that the law's scope is more limited than one might imagine. The second is that if state legal protection really is all that one needs, why then does OBM have a policy to cover any categories of identity, as all of the ones named in OBM's guidelines are also covered under state law.

I am not so naïve as to think that having sexual orientation and gender identity/presentation in my employer's anti-harassment policy would provide me any real protection or recourse if I was being harassed at work. However, I do think that not including those categories sends the clear message to OBM employees that the company has no direct objection to the harassment of their queer colleagues. This disregard by the corporate management in itself creates a state of heightened tension in the work environment, even in the absence of any conflict with my coworkers.

I think of myself as a queer activist. In fact, I have taught classes on queer/LGBT activism in the past. This situation at OBM has me deeply conflicted. With no recourse against discrimination or harassment, it would be difficult for me to bring the issue up, particularly in a field that still has a reputation for machismo. Moreover I am still in my probationary period, and rocking the boat so-to-speak could reduce my chances of being retained at the end of my probation. I feel a deeply rooted struggle between my desire to fight for my right to work in a workplace free from fear, and my desire to keep my creditors at bay.

In truth, I would be somewhat surprised to find that OBM's owners and management have any serious anti-LGBT bias. This situation feels more like one of benign neglect than outright discrimination. Perhaps OBM has not had many openly non-heterosexual employees in its many years of operation.

As I continue to learn the ropes in my new job, I am not going to stop being who I am. I will not switch my pronouns, or pretend to be single when I am not, or police my mannerisms anymore than I would in any other professional environment. I hope that over time my concerns will prove unfounded, and my queerness will continue to be a nonissue with my supervisors, coworkers, and customers. However, even if my none of my concerns manifest, the criticism remains a valid one. In a workplace that allows anti-LGBT harassment, even should it never occur, an LGBT person can never be truly equal to their fellows.