Amelia Mae Paradise, Fall 2018 Zimmerman Library
University of New Mexico

I have always been a feminist.  This word has held many definitions for me in the course of my life.  As a small girl in the late 70s, even before I knew the word itself, it meant looking up into the proud, beaming, hopeful eyes of my mother, and believing that I could “do anything and be anybody.” As a teenager in the 80s, feminism was confidence instilled in my body and voice — the courage to openly hold hands with my best friend as we boldly crossed campus to jeers, and raise my hand and my voice over and over again expressing dissent in class. In my college years during the 90s, feminism grew to mean a visceral sense of dismay and dread, and righteous indignation, at the intellectual and historical revelation of pervasive violence done to women and those whose gender didn’t conform to binary, and the undeniable social oppression of patriarchy. That’s the origin of the rift, the psychic dissonance – between an experience as a person joyfully inhabiting my own body and voice and my burgeoning understanding of cultural structures of oppression as violence and danger. 

Feminism has been a lifeline for me. Feminism as sexual freedom, feminism as lesbianism and dykeism, feminism as fat-postivity, feminism as earth witch spirituality, feminism as sex work, feminism as egalitarian Judaism, feminism as hirsutism, feminism as burlesque performance art, feminism as communalism, feminism as separate space, feminism as inclusion, feminism as polyamory, feminism as intersectionality.  I am, what Sara Ahmed calls a lifelong feminist killjoy, which means that I take pleasure in the work of interrupting the status quo in society of racism, patriarchy, christianism, and capitalism, and disrupting the norms of these systems that pass as joy. Feminism has always fit me, because like me, feminism is a shape-shifter.

Sometimes being a feminist killjoy can feel like you are getting in the way of your own happiness; and if happiness means not noticing the injustices around us, so be it. But that’s not the only way of telling a feminist story, because apprehending the world from a feminist point of view is apprehending more, not less. Living a feminist life helps to create a more complete picture because we try not to turn away from what compromises our happiness. Of course sometimes it can be tiring being unhappy about so many things! But I find joy in the fullness of living a feminist life, though not only, and not always.

Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life

I was formally schooled in American Studies at the University of New Mexico and in 1998 wrote an honors BA thesis entitled “Stripping Down: Feminism, Postmodernism, Queer & Transgender Theory and Women in the Sex Industry.” In 2000 I moved to San Francisco and was colloquially schooled in social justice in Northern California as an artist, community organizer, mentor, friend, and professional financial administrator: an anti-capitalist bookkeeper by day and a bearded-lady burlesque performer by night. As a student of life, my personal course of study evolved to encompass the creations, configurations, and continuations of racial, gender, and economic structures of inequity in this country.

In 2014, I was exposed to the work of Oakland’s Transformative Justice and Abolition movement, and the organization Justice Now.  Then as 2015 morphed into the personally and politically nightmarish 2016, a crack opened up deeply in me, revealing the utter necessity of facing my own complicity in the persistent, horrific systems of harm under-girding civic life.  In the spring of 2017, I returned to live with my parents in my childhood home in Albuquerque, suicidal, and after almost 20 years away. Here, in my city of origin and with my family of origin, I have confronted the upbringing in which I grew and thrived in total segregation.

In 2018, at the University of New Mexico’s interdisciplinary graduate program at the Institute for the Study of Race and Social Justice intersectional sociologist Nancy Lopez taught me that if I have a rigorous understanding of the systems of social oppression and of my own social location within these systems, and I bring this veracity to my endeavors, I can be a part of creating justice. And during the same time, with my parents in my childhood home I re-learned how to be alive. Living for and into justice has become inextricably woven into the very fabric of my life.

As a white ashkenazi jewish femme dyke US born cis able-bodied bearded woman who grew up with class privilege, it is my responsibility to face unwaveringly my own participation in systemic oppression and continually grow my part of dismantling neoliberal capitalism and US white supremacy/settler-colonialism/imperialism individually, institutionally, and structurally. With an eye towards both leveraging the privilege I have as well as engaging actively in the redistribution of privilege, I hope to carry this message into my communities of origin as well as my chosen communities. It is my obligation to share and teach that before I had a consciousness of privilege,what started as a little girl’s empowerment grew into a young woman’s entitlement and then shaped my adult complicity in a society that sanctions and deploys violence as social control.

My primary purpose and work is to serve an abolitionist next economy vision, and anti-racism, anti-capitalism, and anti-oppression consciousness and action shift, and power redistribution. I claim the identity “white” both to continually make visible the invisible, and also to live into some other, more conscious and less violent way of “being white.” In an effort to move myself and the spaces I facilitate towards one of practicing collectivity (ie: less white supremacy culture power consolidation,) I am dedicated to de-emphasizing individualism and continually understanding my own social location within oppressive systems (racism, capitalism, patriarchy, christian hegemony) that I might rigorously and honestly work to shape new civic and social structures for collective well-being.

I’ve had, and continue to have, nothing less than a completely disorganizing and reorganizing experience of being alive. I’ve always been de-assimilationist, even before I had the perspective to understand what it means to actively de-assimilate. All the formative and invisible pillars bolstering my sense of where I fit and who I am in the world continue to be revealed as false construction.  As these old and corroded, seemingly unmovable, pillars of reality are painfully removed and dismantled, it is my ongoing experience that there is more capacity for knowledge, awareness, joy, connection, creativity, liberation, a more tender experience of humanity, and more vibrancy in life itself.

Amelia Mae Paradise, Summer 2018
Red Canyon, New Mexico

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Enlightenment is a destructive process

It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier

Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth

It is seeing through the façade of pretense

It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.