Introducing Choice: Texas, A Very Serious Game

About a year ago, I became dissatisfied with the lack of political presence in my art. Although a feminist, I rarely enjoy engaging with political issues when creating art. Politics frequently exhausts me, and writing poetry was a way to disconnect from whatever current events were currently distressing me.

But over time, it felt disingenuous to claim the title of “feminist poet” and not have a political component to my work at least some of the time. It didn’t help that my activist life had waned. When I first moved to Austin, I spent several months as a volunteer for the Lilith Fund. I worked the hotline and helped low-income women get funding to help pay for their abortions. I threw myself into the work, but a few months after being named volunteer of the month, I burned out and quit. Listening to stories of women with abusive partners, or who already had 3 kids and couldn’t possibly afford another baby, or who had lost their jobs, or who had life-threatening medical complications, drained me. I wasn’t able to put up a barrier; I empathized with every woman I talked to, and regretted that the Fund’s limited resources meant that I could only do so much.

I went on hiatus from activism, but unfortunately, I let that hiatus go on way too long. Last fall, I launched the Austin Feminist Poetry Festival and committed myself to more active, external engagement both with my art and my volunteer work.

A few months after making this commitment, my friend Carly Kocurek contacted me about collaborating with her on a game she wanted to make about the obstacles facing women seeking abortion in Texas. I was honored that she wanted to work with me, and jumped on board right away. Inspired by serious, educational games like Depression Quest (which shows users what life is like when dealing with clinical depression), we developed the prototype for an interactive fiction game called Choice: Texas, A Very Serious Game, and today is the hard launch of our IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds to finish the project.

Choice: Texas tackles issues that are common to women seeking abortion, but also addresses they ways that certain groups have less access than others. Cost is not the only struggle women have to deal with. Those who can’t take much time off work, or who have to care for children, struggle with making time for mandatory counseling and clinic visits. Those who live in rural areas may have to travel far and take several days out from their normal lives — and this is made especially difficult if they don’t have cars. In addition, recent Texas legislative changes that will cause clinic closures will require these women to travel even farther. Carly and I created a cast of characters that cover a swath of ages, races, economic levels, and geographic locations. Choice: Texas is a game that shows that while women in Texas ostensibly have freedom of choice, some women have less choice than others.

In addition, Choice: Texas is about empathy. From a high school student not ready to be a parent, to an excited mother-to-be facing life-threatening medical complications, these characters are not just avatars used to play a game. They have lives, families, friends, and jobs. They have hopes, dreams, and fears. They are representative of real women in Texas, and they have been created to show not just the difficulties in obtaining an abortion, but also the reasons why women make the choice they do. This is a game about access, but also about understanding.

Choice: Texas has been accepted to the F.R.O.G. (Future and Reality of Gaming) 2013 Conference in Vienna. We will have our working prototype finished by the end of September, and plan to launch the game in early 2014. If you can contribute to our fundraising campaign, you can learn more here. And if you don’t have spare cash but you still want to help, please spread the word on social media. We appreciate your support.

Feminist Friday: Austin Voter Registration Round-Up

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If you’ve been following the news around Texas (and many other parts of the country), you know it’s been quite a week. Rick Perry signed new abortion restrictions into law yesterday morning. I couldn’t make it, but I watched a live feed online, feeling sick the entire time. When Jon asked why I was torturing myself watching it, I glibly replied, “masochism.” Then I less-glibly responded that denial and disengagement won’t solve anything.

There are a number of ways to experience political disengagement. One of the worst? Not voting. Especially not voting during midterm elections. (You know, those elections people forget about because nobody is running for president and shoving ads in your faces everywhere you look that has a screen.) And it’s not just about registering yourself. There are ways to help to ensure that all people get registered and get out to the polls.

Do you need to register in Texas, or update your registration? Do you want to become a deputy voter registrar to help out with the election process? You’re in luck. There are events, both upcoming and ongoing in Austin that will make sure you’re set for the next election.

Saturday, July 20th: Austin Music People Deputy Registrar Training

The training will be immediately followed by a brief press conference with Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Travis County Tax Assessor & Voter Registrar Bruce Elfant, Austin City Councilmember Mike Martinez, and special guests.

Sunday, July 21st:  Austin’s Concerts in the Park Voter Registration
It’s a win-win; listen to the Austin Symphony AND register voters! Join us in front of the Long Center on Sunday evenings in July and August to listen to music and register voters. All you need to bring is your orange VDR card, and we’ll provide the rest. Feel free to bring a blanket so you can stay
Wednesday, July 24th: Austin Blues on the Green Voter Registration
http://join.battlegroundtx.com/page/event/detail/voterregistrationdrive/wrvl

Saturday, August 3rd:

Ongoing: http://www.traviscountytax.org/goVotersVDR.do
Travis County Voter Registration offer day and evening training the first Tuesday of each month at their office at 5501 Airport Blvd. And if you have ten people or more, they will also come to you!

Looking for other opportunities? Battleground Texas has a cool web site that lets you do a geographic search by zip code of upcoming events, and most of them are voter registration:http://battletx.bluestatedigital.com/page/event/search_simple

You can also access the Texas Volunteer Deputy Registrar Guide here.

Feminist Every Day

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Last night was rough.

I arrived at the Capitol just before 8. A security guard told me I wasn’t allowed to bring my water in, which was ridiculous, because I could look into the rotunda and see people with water. But given the number of people already arrested for ridiculous things, I wasn’t about to push it.  I gave up my water, went through the metal detector, and went in.

(The irony that I could bring a gun into the Capitol but could not bring my own water is not lost on me. At least I didn’t need a tampon!)

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I spent just over four hours in the rotunda, chanting and screaming. Because some security guards were not being helpful, I decided to just stay on the first floor. Most of the time, we were all corralled in the middle of the room. There was a brief period where I joined a group marching and chanting around the outer circle, but eventually we were all herded back into the roped-off area.

I stayed until the final verdict was reached. I didn’t leave to try to find water, because there came a point that if I’d left the rotunda, I wouldn’t have been allowed back in. I didn’t go to the bathroom. I stayed after my throat was hoarse and my knees and ankles started to hurt.

Our energy waned, and then it came back. We fought and we fought and we fought.

And we lost. There’s not much more to say than that. I have spent today trying to synthesize things with more depth, but what it boils down to is this: Feminism is not dead. Activism is not dead. We came together. We fought. And too many of our elected officials are spiteful misogynists unwilling to listen.

And this isn’t over.

I was born into a time and place with reproductive choice. I will be damned if I die in a time and place where that doesn’t exist.

And I still love Texas. Because Texas is not the sum of its legislature. This state is so much more than that. Texas is full of brilliant, beautiful, creative, wonderful people. It is an incredible place. Texas enriches me. I love Texas, and I will fight for Texas women.

Just like I fight for all women.

I was raised to be a strong, independent thinker. I was raised to stand up for what I believe in. I was raised to persevere, to keep going without giving up. I was raised to work hard. These were the values my parents gave me. I am tough, I am a fighter, I am stubborn.

I am not giving up. I will not let bigots take away my agency and autonomy. I will fight for the state I love and the people I care about. Because this isn’t just about Texas. It’s about women all over the world. 

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We did it!

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Merch table!

What a weekend.

The Austin Feminist Poetry Festival took place this weekend. After having a day to decompress, I am filled with so much gratitude.

I cannot express enough thanks to Katherine Oldmixon and the Huston-Tillotson University Department of English. Their generous donation of space (with such great acoustics, no less) was crucial to making this event happen.

Thanks to Susan Post of BookWoman for giving her weekend to selling books and helping support poets both local and distant. And much thanks to Debra Winegarten for helping to run the book table on Friday night. And thanks to everyone who bought books and helped support local artists and bookstores.

I had other help with logistics as well. Poet Barbara Gregg provided marvelous assistance with my Potluck Poetics workshop. Jon spent his day off making programs when our original volunteer fell through, as well as running errands and assisting with the BookWoman setup. Lisa Marie Estus sat down with me months ago and gave valuable advice that gave me the confidence to see this event through.

Thank you to all of our donors: Mom, Dad, Jennifer Karydas, Barbara Gregg, Paula Starche, and all those anonymous folks who left cash donations. Your support will help us move forward with a 501(c)3 application.

Thanks to ire’ne lara silva, Liza Wolff-Francis, Scott Wiggerman and David Meischen, and Beth Kropf for their engaging workshops. My only regret is that, because I was so busy with my hosting duties, I couldn’t attend every single minute. Thanks also to ire’ne and Liza for their amazing performances, in conjunction with Kelsey Erin Shipman and Faylita Hicks. Thank you for your hard work, your energy, your confidence. Thank you for being willing to be vulnerable. Thank you for being willing to ask questions about yourselves and your feminism, and be willing to do so publicly. Thank you for opening space for discussion.

Thank you to the parents, grandparents, and teachers who brought their teenage poets to this event. Next year, I plan to expand the program to include workshops aimed at younger feminists.

And most of all, thank you to everyone who came out for the workshops, who read at the open mics, and contributed to the discussion. Thank you for sharing your poems and your selves. I am grateful to everyone who came out and shared this experience, and can’t wait for next year.

 

Feminist Friday: On Not Hitting on People

There has been quite a bit of discussion, at least on my part of the internet, on why hitting on people is not necessarily welcome. This is an issue that seems to cause a lot of misunderstanding, so I’m glad that it’s getting some attention and cross talk. I’m sharing some excerpts of my favorites that have come across my radar this week.

From Miri: “Why You Shouldn’t Tell That Random Girl on the Street that She’s Hot

Okay. Before I say what I’m going to say, here are some things I’m NOT saying:

Finding a random woman attractive makes you a Bad Person.

Wanting to tell her she’s attractive makes you a Bad Person.

Every time you compliment a random woman on her appearance, it makes her uncomfortable/scared.

Every time you compliment a random woman on her appearance, that is harassment.

Here’s what I AM going to say:

If you find yourself really invested in the idea of complimenting random women on the street, you should do some serious soul-searching and figure out why that idea appeals to you so much.

It may very well be possible to compliment a woman you don’t know on her appearance in an appropriate way.

But, if you choose to compliment a random woman on her appearance, you run a high risk of making her uncomfortable/scared, even if she doesn’t show any outward signs of it. Are you willing to take that chance?

If you choose to compliment a random woman on her appearance, you may be harassing her.

 

Meanwhile, Chuck Wendig’s advice for hitting on the ladies?

SPOILER WARNING: DON’T.

[…]

Gents, don’t hit on women.

I know, now you’re saying, “BUT THAT’S HOW I GET MY PENIS TOUCHED,” and maybe you think that’s true. I realize there’s a certain mode of dating advice that suggests men must show confidence and be clear and forthright with their attraction. But “confidence” is a whole lot different than “aggression,” and hitting on someone is a whole lot more like the latter than the former. Note that verb: hitting — itself the language of violence, like you’re walking up and just bashing her about the head and neck with your sexual desire, like you’re clubbing a seal.

[…]

Talk to them. Connect with them on a human level. They’re not a socket for your plug. You’re a person. They’re a person. Go form an emotional-social tether before you go clumsily trying to bed them. I’m not saying every encounter has to end in marriage. Hey, you wanna just hook-up and find other people who just wanna hook-up, well, dang, I hope you two crazy kids find a way to slap your parts together, whatever those parts might be. Just the same, the way we find those people is by connecting. And being human. And recognizing that they’re human too. And not just treating them like prey animals who owe you a pound of flesh for your hunting efforts.

 

And Ferrett Steinmetz talks first talks about free coffee as harassment, and then a follow up post about how to hit on women:

The overall reaction from men is a whiny, “But I’m being nice!” No, sir, you are not.  You’re buying a coffee to try to get in her pants. The whole “What a nice guy I am!” aspect makes it easier for you to approach an intimidating situation, but let’s not romanticize this moment.  You’re not paying a compliment to that old, unattractive woman, or sharing your love of Terry Pratchett books with that dude over there.  You’re trying to buy five minutes of a cute woman’s time via a combination of guilt and gift-giving.  Jeez, what a prince you are!

[…]

The odds are good that she’s not going to respond well. And if you keep bugging women just because they happen to be within eyesight, then you send the none-too-subtle message that “A woman showing up in public means that she’s fair game.”  Which means she’s not a person, but an antelope in a game preserve.

[…]

And even if you’re really nice about it, recognize that hundreds of men have done this before, and this may not go over well.  If she rejects you coldly, she is not a bitch.  That’s on you, chum.  You took a shot, knowing full well you might irritate her, and lo you got exactly what you deserved.  Don’t tell yourself the story that “I was just trying to buy her a present!” because you were not.  You were bothering a woman in a clear attempt to get something from her.

 

And not only does it make people uncomfortable, it can cost your business customers. A few months ago, I was filling up a low-pressure tire with air. A guy from the tire shop across the street was buying a soda inside, came out and offered unsolicited help (I do, in fact, know how to track tire pressure and fill a tire, thank you), and then proceeded to flirt so aggressively, including trying to get my number, that he put me off from ever patronizing the store where he works. When I purchased some new tires a few weeks later, I definitely did not go to the place nearby, because why would I want to spend my money at a business that had an employee that was going to make me uncomfortable?

 

Feminist Friday: Kelli Russell Agodon, “Respect Our Girls”

On Tuesdays, poet Kelli Russell Agodon does a post called “Confession Tuesday.”  Confessions are about writing, family, travel…just about anything. This past Tuesday’s post, the Respect Our Girls Edition, resonated with me so deeply that I wanted to post it here today.

Growing up, I encountered a lot of mixed messages. Heck, these mixed messages still come across my consciousness. They’re just easier to filter out now. But for adolescent girls, they’re especially confusing. And it doesn’t seem like it’s getting easier. So here is Kelli’s insightful take on the subject:

Dear Reader,

I confess I’m not thinking about writing or creativity today, but the mixed messages we send our girls.

Here’s something I don’t write about much because I like to keep my family life separate from from writing life, but I’m the mother of an incredible daughter who constantly amazes me in all she does.

Recently, she’s been having a lot of questions about being a girl, a middle-school girl, which honestly, maybe be one of the hardest times in a girl’s life because they’re at that “mid” point–not women, but not children either.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about the mixed messages our societies gives girls–of all ages, we so want them to grow up into smart, kind, strong women, but right now, as kids, we’re kind of messing with their heads.

We tell them to love themselves for who they are, while grown women complain about their thighs, wrinkles, tummy fat, or gray hairs.  Some women go out and get plastic surgery, botox. Some women diet constantly, skip dessert.

Then Dove comes out with a huge campaign about loving ourselves and our natural beauty, while selling us anti-aging cream on the side.

We tell our girls “don’t dress sexy,” then sell them padded bras and padded bikinis.

We say “it’s important to be smart,” then make a snide comment about another woman while browsing a tabloid magazine in the checkout line.

We tell them “be empowered and be yourself,” but if “yourself” includes something that doesn’t fit our definition of beauty, sometimes we freak out a bit.

We tell the girls not to “dress provocatively,” instead of telling boys not to rape.

We tell them not to be bossy, then tell them to stick up for themselves & be assertive (though we rarely tell the boys not to be bossy).

We say “it doesn’t matter what other people think,” then live a lifestyle above our means to fit in or impress people ourselves.

We make dress codes for the girls so they don’t “distract” the boys, instead of teaching boys that you respect a girl whether she’s in a scoop neck t-shirt & short skirt or a button-up polo shirt & long pants.

And we don’t do all of this all the time, but we do it enough that I can see in the faces of these girls, the what-the-heck-is-going-on? look, the who-are-we-supposed-to-be?

And I know, this middle-place is hard for girls, their bodies feel as if they are part of some sort of hormonal experiment, but their bodies are theirs, their styles are theirs, and really, our girls are trying to figure out who they are.

Just as each of us at times in life, re-evaluate our life and values.

So in this time of change and crazy hormones, ease up on the girls, especially the ones in the middle, they are just muddling through this time as did we.  And help them support other girls who are also just doing the best they can and making the best choices they know how to at this very moment.

Love them for their baggy t-shirts or skinny jeans.  Their long crazy-colored hair or their short, this-will-do cropped style.  Their raccoon-eye make-up or their struggle with forehead acne.  Love them for their good and bad choices, their mistakes and what they learn from them.

Thank them when do something kind, no matter how small.  Girlworld folds in on itself and it can be hard to realize life is going on throughout the world and not just on your corner of the universe.

Let them know that no, they aren’t crazy, our culture is giving them mixed messages constantly.

Remind them how much they are loved and valued for who they are not how they look.  And that we as grown women will continue to try to make the world a better place for them by what we do and say.  In certain ways, these girls are a compact mirror of our who we are and the struggles we still have as women, so we need to love them and love ourselves, while constantly trying to make things better for generations of both girls and boys to come.

Amen.