PO Box 29
Athens, OH 45701
A few years ago I was part of a small women’s health group — it was 3 friends of mine and me and we were slowly, awkwardly, learning how to learn things together. We were all pretty shy and pretty self conscious and we talked about how cool it would be to someday be able to teach or facilitate classes on things like physiology, self defense, nutrition, herbs, self exam, stds, birth-control; things like that. There were a million things to learn, and it would be so nice to learn and then to share what we’d been learning in ways that would empower women instead of making them feel judged or lectured to.
We were talking about this one day at our meeting; how we wanted to teach, but God, who could even begin to imagine getting up in front of people. We’d been talking about wanting to teach a self defense class, because it was the one thing we really did know something about, and there were no self defense classes taught by women in our town. The class that was recommended by our rape crisis center (which was otherwise a really great, feminist organization) was taught in a way we had serious problems with. The instructor taught important moves and skill, but didn’t acknowledge the emotion that went along with learning self-defense. The assistance were all pretty strong men, and we had to line up, get choked, and practice choke releases; line up, get in a “potential rape position” (that is actually how they worded it, as if we needed reminding) and practice throwing the man off, rolling out from under him, running away. They never acknowledged that any of this could be triggering and traumatizing, and they didn’t really give us a way out — it was just “line up” never, “you can sit out this one if you want to.”
It was a particularly bad time in our town. There was a serial rapist who was targeting women who worked at downtown bars, and my friends and I went directly from our health group meeting to a community meeting about the situation. Maybe the meeting was helpful to some people, but to us it felt like a nightmare; a room packed with fear and tension and anger, and there were no real answers. We were lectured to about how important it was for us to report to the cops if we were raped, because how can they do their job if we won’t let them. (our fault). The cop read off a bunch of statistics about how little crime there actually was (we are blowing it out of proportion. we are hysterical). And then he said some statistics about how downtown was more scary because homeless people were statistically more violent. “That’s just their lifestyle,” he said.
I am a shy person, but when I snap; I snap. I stood up and yelled, “That is a lie!” He explained with statistics and antidotes. I yelled some more words, but this wasn’t the place for this and I was shaky, wanted to flee, was trapped in this packed room with no escape. When the rape-crisis center person got up and started recommending that instructor I mentioned earlier, my friends started whispering. -- Let’s just do it. How? We’ll have to just figure it out - ok -- ok. So one of us got up and said “We’re offering a self defense class and skill share too.” We passed around our contact information and set a tentative date and place. Shy and awkward as we are, we planned a six week course and we did it. We made our own hand held punching bags out of vinyl from the fabric store, stuffed with foam from the back of carpets that the carpet store was throwing away.
We shared stories. We talked about how wide a spectrum self defense really is; how if you are alive, you’ve probably been practicing it. We talked about the social political reasons women are denied their voices, denied the right to defend themselves, denied their own bodies. We talked about honoring all forms of self defense; from punching and screaming, to disassociation - leaving your body. We practiced kicks and releases; practiced different techniques that can be used in different situation. But in ways that are hard to explain, it was even so much more than that.
There is something so fundamental about women learning self defense together - or women and trannies, or trannies only, or sissy boys, trannies and women - whichever feels right, or is most needed. There is something so fundamental about self-defense. It can open us up, bring us together, make us stronger, both physically and emotionally. It can make our friendships stronger. It can help us fight our own internalized sexism. It can help us really value ourselves and each other. So many things; such importance, I wish everyone would form their own little self-defense group!
Next issue: advice and ideas about starting your own self-defense group.