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The Reality of all Realities: Biology and Liberation

DEDICATED TO MY PARENTS, who pulled the plug on our household television (c.1956) and never looked back. I was 5 or 6 years old, probably in first grade, with an older sister (8-9), younger sister (2-3), and one still to come. Unfortunately, I never got to delve into their deep reasoning. Nor were they particularly revolutionary in any other way. It was the gift of a lifetime, one that I passed onto my daughter — until she was 12 and discovered a small black & white TV set outside our building’s dumpster. She brought it upstairs. It worked. I didn’t say anything. The gift of living in reality had already been relayed, as best it could be in a stunted culture.

UPDATE March 25, 2022
See section D. Postscript: TERF-Tranny Alliance

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this point.
When did we lose touch with nature, the earth, reality?
When did our words become sounds without meaning?

A. Earthly Realities:
A personal take, 1982-2021

For 25+ years (approx. 1982-2007) I wondered how the habit of discarding autumn leaves began. Didn’t people know that this year’s leaves is next year’s soil?

As I got deeper into my 25-year gardening career, I wondered why so many of my neighbors, clients, and other property owners didn’t seem to notice when their plants needed watering or other kinds of attention, e.g., mulch around their evergreens so they wouldn’t die over the winter. Didn’t they pay attention to the weather? or to their own gardens? 

The last 15 of those years posed a new conundrum. As people in my “progressive” community (Evanston, IL, a Chicago suburb) became more attentive to climate and environmental destruction, leaf blowers became more and more common. Didn’t people (companies, residents, officials) hear, smell, and see how destructive leaf blowers are to land and people?

Looking for places and ways to have public discussions about these confusions, in 2005 I started working on food & farm systems. My hope was that discussing such a basic need — food — would enable consensus-building at all levels — local, state, regional, national — about other realities — about nature and our interconnections. Unfortunately, as other U.S. food & farm activists have discovered, most U.S. people don’t know where their food comes from. Some don’t know it grows from the ground, some don’t even know that all food was once alive. 

I used to think it was my fellow urbanites who were so ignorant about reality. But then I heard a story about an Iowa corn farmer’s son. Sitting at the breakfast table, he asked: “Where do the cows keep the cartons?” On second thought, he had an excuse for his ignorance: He was 7 years old at the time. And at least he asked.

Deeper into my now 17-year food & farm policy career — where every initiative is rightly framed as food & farm justice or food & farm democracy — I discovered that almost no U.S. food & farm folk know what democracy really is. Nor do they know how to apply democratic principles in their own work — e.g., drafting an agenda, following the agenda, facilitating a meeting, hearing from all participants, agreeing on action items, etc.

Lest readers think I’m holding myself up as the arbiter of reality, here are a few important pieces of reality that I learned along the way:

1. Chicago water commissioners (MWRD) say they can’t get drugs (anti-depressants, etc.) out of our fresh water supply (i.e., Lake Michigan).

2. Currently, I know of no activists who are monitoring the medical supply chain:
— Where do the raw materials of common U.S. health care industry products come from (over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs, anesthesia, hormones, cleaning supplies, etc.)
— What are the conditions of raw material procurement (mining, ecosystem, labor conditions)
— How do waste products get disposed of? (MWRD has unused drug drop-off community events)
— What about users’ waste products (feces, urine) in sewage treatment and our drinking water?

3. The Money Question: who creates new U.S. money, how does it enter circulation, by what rules is the U.S. money supply regulated?

4. The Money Question was a common civic issue during colonial America and the first half of U.S. history

5. Corporate personhood is the original transhumanism. 

6. Most U.S. adults are in pain because we feel ineffective, even though schools, media, and politicians tell us that, as a “self-governing” nation we could and would be effective. Unfortunately, in 233 years, no one’s put any resources into making sure that all U.S. adults are effective (funded sovereignty, regular training, initiations, etc.).

7. Many youth are in pain because (a) they are facing growing existential crises (climate, violence against women, police brutality, growing economic inequality, homelessness, debt, etc.) and (b) there are few good adult role models (individual or collective) for averting or dealing with any of these crises. 

B. Women’s Health and Sex Education 2022

Now, at the age of 70 years old, I’m wondering about a different reality. I am discovering that more and more people don’t know that humans are a sexually dimorphic species. People don’t seem to know that for hundreds of thousands of years the human species has continued because most human bodies are born either female or male — as women and as men — and that one of each is necessary to produce healthy children who, themselves, will mature and reproduce with someone of the opposite sex. And that most of these women and men through all humanity’s ages have the right body parts — internal and external — to do this.

In Nov. 2021, when I compared the spurious “administrative redefining” of farmers (taking place in the State of Maine by agri-business) to the similarly spurious redefining of “woman” by the gender identity “industry” and certain activists, I was cancelled by a food & farm listserv (the one whose mission is to promote democracy through food policy councils, FPCs). The full details are here: EXPLODING LISTSERV: Industry & lobby groups “administratively redefining” farmers and women — I’ve been cancelled.

In the four months since, I have continued my research into the sources of these national disconnects from reality — from soil, from rain, from noise, from basic needs (food, etc.), from the details of our national story (democracy), from human reproduction, etc. I’ve written a few more blogs and some Twitter threads — about confusion, about gender identity, about women’s public authority and women’s ways of knowledge, about the “personal misery” of academics and other U.S. folks.

Thankfully, I’ve come across a lot of other people talking about reality who are also worried about mainstream culture’s weakening grasp. But deep down I kept wondering if I was missing something, that this many adults couldn’t possibly be this disconnected from reality (could they?), that maybe I was disconnected from some aspect of reality.  Plus, many of these disconnected adults vis-a-vis human dimorphism are people I respect and appreciate: journalists, activists in so many fields, scholars, etc. But many of the adults I’ve known and appreciated over the years are also disconnected from the soil, the weather, our food sources — some of them incurably so, despite 40 years of gentle reminders and explanations, e.g., Leave the Leaves.

Then I stumbled across a recent (March 4, 2022) Twitter conversation, part of a much longer thread about a doctor complaining that her article on pregnancy was categorized under Women’s Health. I no longer doubt my sense of reality.

The tweets included one by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, a much re-tweeted, respected, beloved spiritual teacher, who describes herself as a feminist. (See 2019 article in The Chicago Reader about “the Twitter rabbi” by Aimee Leavitt.) Rabbi Ruttenberg’s single tweet was in reply to a previous tweet:

Legitsky: This brings up an interesting point; what *would* be an appropriate article to put in the Women’s Health category? Does that remain a useful classifier in 2022?

RaDR: Maybe if you’re looking at external health impacts like gender-based violence (but obviously that must have a VERY intersectional lens, accounting for transmisogyny and misogynoir and etc). But women don’t all have the same internal parts.

“Does Women’s Health remain a useful classifier in 2022?”
“Women don’t all have the same internal parts”?
Did I read that right? 

But somehow, thanks to women — the few, the handful, the ones and the millions (gazillions?) — who did all have the same internal (and external) parts — the human species has survived for generations and generations? And thanks to “women’s health” — practiced primarily by women health practitioners — enough mothers and babies survived to get us to [checks notes] 2022 — i.e., all of human history.

All I can say, once again, is,
Oy, when did we lose touch with reality?

Was it with the advent of TV? or radio before that? The ever-growing sophistication of marketing and advertising servicing ever larger, ever hungrier corporations? The dumbing down of civic and political speech? The loss of extended families, especially intergenerational female relationships, in an increasingly mobile society? Thousands of years of men defining reality, i.e., “knowledge”?  The fast pace of language invention, facilitated by the internet and especially social media? “The Lie as the animating feature of all Western discourse” (Barbara Alice Mann, Rematriation of the Truth)? All of the above?

About 20 years ago, I came across a statement by an educator who, loosely paraphrased, posited that the problem with U.S. education is that we teach the “words” before the “things”. Unfortunately, I do not remember where I read that statement or who the educator was. But it resonated immediately and I still see examples of it every day:  so many words and so much of our conversation have become just sounds, emotional buzzwords. People living in our heads but, paradoxically, not actually thinking because our thoughts and words have no connection to real things, to the immutable basics of our real lives.  In other words, we have no roots.

C. Luckily, Reality is Real

Luckily, for those who are feeling disconnected from reality, reality hasn’t lost touch with us. That’s actually the nature of reality. Reality is right here in our bodies, minds, emotions, and spirits.  In our senses — sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch. Reality is right here, on this Earth, in the air, water, soil, and fire (light, warmth), in the plants, animals, micro-organisms. Reality is right here, beneath the words. But if the words are spoken truly and consciously — from the center of the Earth, from the place where we stand — reality is in the words, reality is the words.

Here’s some Indigenous North American resources to help us reconnect to reality, including the quote I call The Reality of all Realities — the connection between our liberty and the renewability of life. There may be similar resources in other cultures, but growing up Jewish I never heard any or they were never presented in an earth-loving or sacred way.

1. One good mind of consensus
The Thanksgiving Address: Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen
a. Video by Ryan DeCaire and Chandra Maracle
b. Words Before All Else: Greetings to the Natural World
Ends with: “And now our minds are one.”

2. Rematriation of the Truth
Short essay by Prof. Barbara Alice Mann (Humanities, U. of Toledo)

“The first step toward sanity is the Rematriation of the Truth. A term coined by the Mohawk poet, Susan Deer Cloud, “Rematriation” retools culture in terms of matriarchal giving. Regarding speech, it means that the Gift of Breath replicates reality; it does not invent some myth convenient to bullies. Rematriation of the Truth means that everyone has access to all the facts, all the time, to facilitate the One Good Mind of Consensus.”

3. Rematriation: Returning the sacred to the mother
A movement led by Indigenous women

4. En’owkin
A group decision-making process developed by the Okanagan people of British Columbia to elicit voluntary cooperation. Described by Jeanette Armstrong in her 2013 article, Let us Begin with Courage.

“The word En’owkin in the Okanagan language elicits the metaphorical image of liquid being absorbed drop by single drop through the head (mind). It refers to coming to understanding through a gentle process of integration.”

5. The Reality of all Realities
Connection between LIBERTY and the RENEWABILITY OF LIFE

Quote from Basic Call to Consciousness
ed., Akwesasne Notes, 2005
Native Voices — Summertown, TN

“The renewable quality—the sacredness of every living thing, that which connects human beings to the place they inhabit—that quality is the single most liberating aspect of our environment. Life is renewable and all the things that support life are renewable, and they are renewed by a force greater than any government’s, greater than any living thing or historical thing. A consciousness of the web that holds all things together, the spiritual element that connects us to reality and the manifestation of that power to renew that is present in the existence of an eagle or a mountain snow fall, that consciousness was the first thing that was destroyed by the colonizers.”  p.123

To get the full impact of this reality — the connection between our freedom and the automatic way in which life renews itself, imagine how unfree astronauts in space are: 100% dependent on human technology for air, water, food, warmth, and waste management and possibly dependent on human ability to stay awake indefinitely.

Reality. There’s nothing like it.

D. Postscript: TERF-Tranny Alliance  

I applaud the TERF & Tranny Alliance for trying to enlarge our conception of reality: “Sex is real. People are weird.”

In the first part — “Sex is real” — I’m presuming that they’re referring to the sexual dimorphism of humans — that there are two types of human bodies, female and male. On the other hand, knowing the Heterodorx’s love of wordplay, they may be referencing the sex act itself, or perhaps the sex drive.

But since they identify as TERF & Tranny, I’ll go with my first instinct. In which case, I think there’s a better way to articulate the second part (“People are weird”) so that it’s more clearly actionable. Otherwise, why have an alliance?

Taking both parts together, my own personal TTA motto is: “Sex is real. Without women’s public authority, 21st century human societies are unbalanced, out of touch with reality, flying off the rails, and in danger of taking everything with.”

I realize that doesn’t fit very succinctly on a tiny, beautiful badge.
Any suggestions?

Follow the Heterodorx for a mature perspective, cutting-edge guests, thoughtful conversation, and 100-proof sarcasm. 
— Corinna Cohn Twitter
— Nina Paley Twitter

UPDATE March 25, 2022
I think it important to add that the Alliance is not an official organization. TTA is not incorporated and, so far as I know, they don’t have meetings, by-laws, or a budget. It was originally created in the humorous spirit that infuses much of the Heterodorx podcasts and the individual Twitter accounts of Nina and Corinna. Ultimately, I believe that they are trying to create a seriously safe space for nuanced conversations about these interlocking messes called 21st century humanity.

The bottom line for me is that TTA’s reality includes compassion for people (especially when young) who might make choices for themselves that they later regret — which includes most of us. Episode 51 of their podcast gets serious about this.

To that end, although the TERF-Tranny Alliance is not official in any way, they do have a platform:
• Sex is immutable (in mammals, inc. humans)
• Clothes and personalities are not
• Men can wear dresses
• Women can be ‘masculine’
• Go on with your weird self
• Transwomen are men
• Keep men out of women’s spaces and resources
• Transmen are our sisters