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At the school where I work, they are celebrating National Coming Out Day with assemblies that highlight the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity curriculum introduced in BC schools two years ago. I am so grateful to live and work in an inclusive environment that respects people of all genders and sexuality, because I am bisexual.

But more importantly, because I watched a boy the same age as my daughter, suffer excruciating anxiety and miss too much school until he changed his name and came out as the trans boy that he always felt himself to be. As a girl, his body language was wilted and caved in on itself. He rarely smiled, or made eye contact and seemed to be disconnected from his person. Then he came out to his classmates, and thanks to the SOGI education they had received, the class cheered for him, immediately accepting his new pronouns. The very next day the body language and demeanor of this boy was wholly different. Suddenly he was standing upright and walking tall. He moved with confidence and I watched him laughing with his friends for the first time in months. He attended camp for the first time, and started going to PE again.Butterfly transformation

It was a remarkable transformation. I have shared with many, the human drama that I was privileged to bear witness to. It touched me deeply. I had never met a trans gendered person before, and he was astonishing to behold.

In August, Vancouver’s Queer Film Festival hosted a series of short films focused on trans youth. As fate would have it, one of the films was directed by a woman I had consulted about my short film, so of course I was eager to see it. The whole series was a revelation, but especially moving was hearing the trans kids describe their experience, one I had just watched unfold at school. My heart went out to the brave children, some of whom were present at the screening and sat at the front of the theatre afterwards, earnestly answering questions from the audience. Their courage was astounding.

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A documentary by Christina Willings

It has been quite a learning journey, but what struck me about the whole experience, was how resistant my brain seemed, to the concept of trans gender kids. It was hard for me to understand. I found it inexplicably challenging to adjust to the boy’s new pronouns. I accidentally referred to him as her. I thought it would be easier for me, and it was alarming that I might not be as open minded as I always thought.

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As I watched the film, moving though it was, I could hear my brain debating with these children as they described their feelings. I wanted to cheer for their bravery and fight for their chosen pronouns, yet my brain kept saying, “Yeah, but…” Yeah, but wanting to play hockey instead of ballet classes doesn’t make one a boy. Liking make up and dolls doesn’t make one a girl… and this type of example seemed to be the context of each child’s self-discovery.

As a bisexual woman, gender norms seem unimportant to me. Who I am attracted to or my ‘male’ characteristics don’t define my womanhood. My life and experiences do. So, I found myself asking that question… what makes us women and men? Clearly not biology or sexual attraction… these kids may only have interests and friends within which to reflect their gender identity, but I trust them when they say they felt like they were in the wrong body. I believe them. I just can’t relate. I feel connected to my body quite intimately. We have survived a lot together, and being a woman is a big part of how I define myself: a bisexual single mother, pro-choice advocate, filmmaker, and sexual assault survivor.

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But that’s me.  And as much as I deserve to be believed, and trusted in how I define myself, watching that young man grow into himself over the past 6 months has convinced me that everyone deserves the same trust and belief, whether you can understand or agree with it or not.  It is all I needed, to see that gender identity education and inclusion matters. It mattered at my school, to that boy and his family.

And it matters to the other kids out there who may be suffering in silence the same way.  We need to change the culture of shame and silence, by believing.

 

Published @bitethebulletstories Sept. 21, 2018

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Amy Starkey “Bites the Bullet” to voice abortion and say it is possible to feel grief and regret while proudly standing for choice and reproductive freedom. 

It’s been many years since I had my abortion, and even though there is much joy and fulfillment in my life, the heart-shredding pain of that decision is always within reach, easily recalled at any moment. Sometimes, it sneaks up on me, and I have to catch my breath a little, either shoo it away … or go into the feeling and hold it close for a little while, letting the pain vibrate in the deepest part of me.

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As an actress, I have recalled my grief as a tool to instantly conjure emotion. As a director, I have used the memory to evoke empathy in another actor. And as a writer, I have explored the moments of my greatest sorrow and shame to build drama and tension in a story.

But I would never, ever exploit my regret to tell another woman what she should do with her body.

I was terrified to tell my story, afraid that ‘In Her View’ would be misconstrued as an anti-abortion film. Every day of filming, I fought the fear of revealing my weakness and shame.

IMG_9779Today, I am finally able to give voice to the decision that almost de-railed my life. I have fought my way through depression, rage and chronic body pain, to raise the daughter I eventually had, on my own, and reclaim myself as a woman, a creator, and a mother. While many days continue to be a struggle and I grapple with what may have been, I bite the bullet to advocate for choice amid an alarming rise in anti-abortion political fear.

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Because I know that what I once considered to be the most shameful part of myself, has become my greatest source of strength.

 

My latest blog appears on Exhale, a movement that inspired me, in part, to write my screenplay:

When I began writing the screenplay for In Her View, it was because I had a compelling story to tell. A story like so many others that has been shared through Exhale. It was to be a cinematic memoir of an abortion I had; an experience that left me broken and depressed. These stories don’t get written very often and when they do, it’s not likely they get made into a film. I can count on one hand the number of films about abortion that have hit mainstream audiences since the 90s. People don’t want to talk about abortion, and they certainly don’t consider it entertainment for their local multiplex. Fair enough. Yet daunting as it seemed, I persisted in writing my script.

I was inspired by films like If These Walls Could Talk, and Citizen Ruth. More recently indie films like Obvious Child and Grandma have attempted to re-ignite the conversation in the wake of regressive state laws sweeping across the US since 2010. Yet, the attempts were oblique, one-off comedies that failed to make much of a statement. It’s like we’re afraid to talk too deeply about the real challenges of women who are faced with an unplanned pregnancy. At the same time, so many of the stories are told from a white, middle-class perspective.

I grappled with my story for years. I wanted to tell it, but I feared the repercussions if I did. Because the reality is, that I was scarred by my abortion. Despite living in a progressive, feminist country like Canada, that offers women much more freedom of choice than most other countries, I felt trapped into making a choice that I didn’t want to make. And as compelling as that story was to tell, I feared that I would lose control of my own narrative and my story would be used to further someone else’s political agenda. That was in fact, the very plot of Citizen Ruth, a 1996 comedy starring Laura Dern.

So, I felt I needed to reframe the script. In the heated political climate of today, I didn’t want to simply tell one woman’s story. I had more to say than that. At a time when women’s rights are being debated and their stories are being exploited for political gains, I wanted to write a film about the power of giving women a voice to tell their own stories.

Inspired by Exhale’s mandate to simply listen and support women without judgement and to help end the stigma of talking about our abortions, I re-framed my story through the eyes of a documentary filmmaker, and how the stories she hears impacts her views about her subject matter. I also wanted to demonstrate how the first hand experience of abortion can change our views, because despite the deeply traumatising experience I had, I emerged from it convinced, more than ever, that women must be empowered to make their own decisions. It is not enough to simply say women must be free to access safe, legal abortion care. We also must feel supported in whatever choice we make, regardless of our circumstance. And for poor, marginalized women, that is so seldom the case.

There are many grey areas in the subject of abortion. Each woman’s story is unique to her alone, as Exhale has highlighted so beautifully through their work. My dream, in bringing this film to audiences, is to ask people to really examine those grey areas, and to leave their steadfast views behind for long enough to see abortion through another person’s eyes. It is my hope that by doing so, we can all work toward a world where every woman can choose for herself, supported in whatever challenges she may face.

Until we are able to find our voice and simultaneously accept that every woman’s truth is not our own, what hope do we have of moving beyond the anti-/pro- dichotomy, toward finding real solutions that will improve women’s lives?

It can only begin when we confront our fear of talking about abortion without shame, yet with honesty and openness.

I am so proud to support Exhale’s mandate of pro-voice conversation through my film In Her View, which gives voice to diverse women’s abortion stories. In our fundraising efforts, we have committed 5% of money raised to Exhale. Please visit our Indie-gogo campaign, watch our pitch video, read about the short, proof of concept film, to be released very soon, and donate as much as you are able. You can help amplify the conversation about abortion and end the stigma.

Coming up for air finally after months of non-stop action. Reflecting on 2017 and the year since my first blog post that began with the election of Trump, followed by Inauguration Day when I resolved to fight the forces that put him in the White House. I may be Canadian but American attitudes infect our society too. And besides, border or not – we are all in this together. Today, I continue to be grateful for my more compassionate, feminist Canadian government, but as committed as ever to raising my voice to be heard in this society that remains dominated by male voices and men’s perspective.

The good news is, that though the election of Trump represented a huge step backwards for progressive women’s rights, as the pendulum swings, we’re now due for two steps forward… and I think we are seeing that begin with the explosion of women’s stories and #metoo, the exposing of Harvey Weinstein and other high profile degenerate men, and the determination of women who are standing up for themselves this year.

As promised in my earlier blog post, I am doing my part.

This year, I became a filmmaker. I am just about ready to debut the trailer of my film, In Her View, that tells a spectrum of women’s abortion stories, centring on the impact that our stories can have on each other, and how we view the issues that affect us the most. It has been a long and arduous journey to get this far and I have learned much along the way – inevitably. This past summer, I simultaneously directed the sizzle reel of my screenplay and co-directed a play. When I first agreed to direct it, I knew it would coincide with the film shoot, so rather than saying no, I invited a man I had only met briefly to co-direct with me. He was interested in our theatre company and he had a background of directing in tv. We shared some of the same ideas for incorporating multimedia elements, and I thought it would be a good complement of skills. Which it was.

At the same time, despite efforts to find a female director of photography to shoot In Her View with me, I found myself working with a 20-something man to shoot the sizzle reel.

The past few months have been an eye-opening lesson in gender dynamics.

Both projects highlight female sexuality. This is not an accident. This is why I’m doing them. It is a subject that has been under represented from the female perspective, beyond the fantasy of the male gaze. In both projects, I collided with the divergent ways both men and women view female sexuality. In some cases, it seemed that to flip the script meant simply to objectify men the same way women have been. One night, I found myself raging against the objectification of both sexes, by both sexes, because that’s not equality in my view. And I worried that having a male DOP was being unfaithful to a film titled In Her View, despite his obvious talent and instincts for the story.

Another day, I was fighting to justify why a female character should be portrayed as strong, despite a physical weakness, because she was fighting to demonstrate her sexuality.

Then an actor dropped out of playing a romantic lead because his love interest was being “too sexual”.

Coincidentally, some of the female actors were challenged by the physical, sexual nature of their characters, afraid to fully embody the sensuality of their roles.  And I was baffled by this. These women have grown up in a post-Madonna culture. Where is the female empowerment that the biggest pop icon gave to my generation? I was slapped in the face by the realization that we had taken a step back, long before Trump took office. Somewhere along the line both women and men have come to fear their sexual natures.

Why?

Perhaps because it’s no longer merely for the enjoyment of men. And because the progress we had made served to feed  women’s social-emotional power – gave them license to lead outside the bedroom too. And everyone is afraid of that. We saw that in last year’s election.

I have heard men say they are convinced that lesbians are going to take over the world. Lesbians! They are strong, and don’t need men after all… but there’s not nearly enough of them, I said. “It’s the bisexuals you have to worry about…”

(I’m looking at you, Wonder Woman).

The social order has been up-ended by race and gender, and nothing made that so clear as watching neo-Nazis chant, “We will not be replaced” in Charlottesville this year.

It was never so clear to me as when finally, after months of sensing the discomfort of my older, white male co-director, at relinquishing leadership to me, he erupted at my use of the “F-word”. What began as offence at the way I spoke to him, quickly degenerated into the reality that he felt emasculated for having bought me lunch a couple of times. It made him feel like a production assistant, he said. And I thought he was just being a nice guy.

My generation of white male cannot allow themselves to be perceived as serving a woman, unless she is helpless, or in bed.

Yet, by the same token, we women have to face our own anger too – while justified. It does us no good if it’s not channelled productively. I felt that truth poignantly in both projects; in my anger, I alienated people I respect and am grateful for, and I saw the impact it has had on the younger generation. Our anger at the injustices and abuse that has been heaped upon us for centuries has taught younger men and women to fear their sexual impulses, lest it get out of control and be misdirected. We are at a cross-roads, it seems. Or maybe it’s just me. But the world certainly seems to be exploding with anger, frustration and accusations. And amid all the drama playing out over these two projects that I was helming… I was astonished by the brave and understated response of one young actress, who ever so calmly reported to me, a case of a non-consensual kiss by another actor. He was reprimanded, the behaviour was never repeated and we moved on without further incident. Later, when #metoo was highlighting the inaction of so many people, I wondered if I should have fired him… and I still wonder. But I checked in with the actress and she was satisfied with my response and its result, so I guess that will have to be good enough for me too.

And as I wish to portray with In Her View, we could all use a little less blame, we can slow down and listen to each other’s stories.

That’s my goal. What’s yours?

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I woke this morning with one thought: stupid electoral college. So much boils down to just that thought. All the philosophy and reflection of the past two months – the questioning why? How? How could America vote for Donald J. Trump? Yet, they didn’t. Hillary Clinton won 2.9 million more votes than he did. But for the electoral college, we would have watched Hillary Clinton take the oath of office this morning in Washington D.C. Instead, it’s President Donald J. Trump, and it makes me sick even to think those words, let alone type them. Yes, I have felt physically ill every time I think of his inauguration. Just as in the days following the election, I have spent today in a Trump Slump. It is unspeakable to me that this man now holds the most powerful office in the world. I will attend the Women’s March tomorrow along with my sisters who resist the presidency that represents regression and stolen, illegitimate power. I am most cynical about this election – no, this authoritarian coup. Because that’s what I believe it to be. Between the electoral college and the gerrymandering of districts, voter suppression and Russian hacking claims, there is little doubt left in my mind that the Republican party and the Russian government have installed a President that they didn’t even want. He’s just agreeing to all their white, male supremacist policies, so that’s all that matters to them.

Today, I commit to fighting the powers that seek to destroy women’s equality, minority rights and lgbtq freedom. I will do my part. And my part is to make my film, Through Her Eyes. I commit to crowd-funding and independently producing my script that tells stories of abortion in all their unflinching detail, without catering to what anyone else thinks those stories should be. I will tell the stories of Liz and Grace to illuminate the power of female autonomy and self-expression. And to assert that we live our choices every day in every way and we decide what defines us… or doesn’t.

When I wrote this script, it was from the safety of the bubble of Canadian confidence, in which women’s reproductive freedom and health care is universal… at least for now. Our Conservative government at the time stated that it was not interested in challenging women’s right to choose – Trump sure makes Stephen Harper look tame in comparison, doesn’t he? But soon after I finished the first draft, I began hearing news reports out of the US, of states passing obstructionist laws, making abortion more difficult to obtain. Waiting periods and mandatory ultrasounds were imposed on women seeking abortions in certain states. And within only a few years, the political climate was transformed, even during President Obama’s tenure. Suddenly Roe v. Wade was under threat and abortion clinics were closing all over the country, due to so-called TRAP laws that targeted clinics with unconstitutional restrictions, forcing them to close their doors and fight all the way to the Supreme Court. And now, while in Canada, we have a feminist Prime Minister, our neighbours to the south are ruled by a government of misogynist right wing Republicans who have promised to take away their right to choose. I cannot stay silent any longer. The time has come to make my film Through Her Eyes, and in so doing support the women of America in their quest to maintain their hard won rights.

When I raise funds for my film that seeks to show the power of women’s choice and bodily autonomy, I will ensure that 5% of all funds raised go to Planned Parenthood, which is under direct threat by the new authoritarian regime. I will commit a further 5% to Exhale, a pro-voice organization that provides a talk-line for women who have had an abortion. And finally, another 5% will benefit the Single Mothers Alliance, an advocacy group that seeks to improve the lives of single mothers and empower women who make that choice, as have I.

Stay tuned for my crowdfunding campaign, and support Through Her Eyes. Stand up for women’s rights, inclusion, diversity and make us stronger together.

Remembrance Day 2016

I am reeling. I thought it would just last a day or two, and then I would bounce back and get on with it… but I can’t bounce back. I am devastated by Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump (Why is he putting the J in there anyway? His father wasn’t President before him…). I have moved from the shock and denial,  and the rage, into full on depression. And because I am unemployed right now and my daughter is on a 4 day weekend from school, I have nothing to distract me from the endless news cycle of conversation about Hillary’s resounding defeat.

Over the past 8 years of Obama’s administration, I had grown ever more hopeful. I cried with elation at the election of America’s first African-American President. I cheered for the social progress I saw happening to the south of Canada’s border: marriage equality, racial tolerance, steady leadership and a new wave of feminism. There was backlash to be sure, but it only seemed to reinforce the march forward. Suddenly we were hearing about equal pay, affordable day care, campus rape and reproductive freedom. A Latina was appointed to the Supreme Court! The tide was turning! Hashtags like #blacklivesmatter and #shoutyourabortion were going viral and Bill Cosby is actually facing a rape charge! People were paying attention to women’s issues. When Justin Trudeau defeated Stephen Harper here in Canada, we had, for the first time, a gender equal Cabinet in Ottawa. And Joe Biden showed up at the Oscars to introduce Lady Gaga’s powerful anthem for campus rape, Till It Happens to You, speaking eloquently and passionately about an epidemic that had been ignored for decades. Then Whole Women’s Health won their Supreme Court battle against Texas state laws restricting abortion clinics. That was a huge win for women’s rights it reminded us all how critical the Supreme Court nomination would be after Justice Scalia’s death.

But then Jian Ghomeshi was exonerated. And Trump won the Republican nomination for President.

Yet, I remained hopeful. This time, Hillary would win. How could she not? With every passing week of the campaign, as it descended into chaos – madness – every time Donald Trump opened his mouth or tweeted, and I found myself complacent in the notion that Hillary would become the first female President of the United States. All the social progress of the past 8 years suggested it was impossible that a racist misogynist could take the highest office. Girls run the world now don’t they? Queen Bey said so.

Donald Trump’s win threatens to turn back all that social progress. His appointment of a Supreme Court justice and his VP-elect’s dangerous views on LGBTQ people, with plans to reverse Roe vs. Wade, will turn the clock back on human rights for the foreseeable future.

For a long time, I sat on the little abortion film I had written, thinking there wasn’t a market for it and even if there was, I have never made a film before, so how could I get it made now? And besides, I’m Canadian. Our rights here are secure. Even when Harper was in office, he said that he wasn’t opening that subject. And now we have a feminist leader, so thank God I am Canadian. I try to remain detached from American politics for this reason.

I can no longer.

American politics affect us. We share their culture. It has always been more sensationalist and gawdy than Canada’s reasoned and polite culture, but now it is downright toxic. And it threatens to seep across our border, giving permission to alt-right extremist bigotry.

I am depressed and in mourning for North America right now. We are not immune to the political divide that has rent our neighbours to the south.

I have been working in the past year, to get my abortion film made. I have been reading and sharing about women’s issues exhaustively, especially about the representation of women and the sexism that still excludes us from the cultural conversation. This election result has me feeling deeply disheartened for the moment, but I feel the tide rising within me. I will no longer wait for permission to make my art. I will speak up and be heard, because it is more important now, than ever before.

Renaissance Woman or Jane of All Trades?

“Writers aren’t exactly people; theyre a whole bunch of people trying to be one person.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

In July of this year, I was fired from a job I had done for 5 years. With no real explanation other than, I’m not a good fit – the vague wording for firing that attempts to maintain some semblance of dignity, despite the utter lack of dignity with which it is accomplished.

After 5 years of blood, sweat and yes, even tears for that organization, I was dumped unceremoniously with not so much as a goodbye card.

So, here I am reflecting on how to re-invent my working life at this stage: mid 40s, single mother to a pre-teen daughter, with what feels like several lifetimes of back story. A former aspiring actress and waitress, writer, Realtor, CSR and administrative coordinator. A what?

First, I performed, and I was good. I was the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and an evil City Councillor in The Swinging Piper of Hamelin. I even performed when I was a competitive gymnast – or so said my Grade 9 coach for my profile in the local paper, “Amy always smiles and really puts on a show,” she said of my floor routine.

So, from school productions to creative writing, I discovered my flair for dialogue – according to my Grade 3 teacher, anyway. From my first novel at age 11 until much later, when she read my first stage play, she remembered, “Your stories always used lots of dialogue.”

I was a writer, an actor… a teller of stories, from a very young age.

When I was studying to be an actor, I attended a workshop with Uta Hagen – such a privilege for a young aspiring actor! Her focus was so singularly on the craft of acting – brilliantly so, but I struggled with my other side – the writer in me. Writers and actors can be so different, after all. Practically polar opposites.

So, I asked Ms Hagen, Ïs it possible to be both? A writer and an actor?

And she replied, “Maybe for some renaissance … people. But no, I think you have to pick one and stick to it.”

Yet today, I look around and everyone is a hyphenate of some kind: writer-director, actor-writer, writer-producer… or the original triplicate: singer-dancer-actor; and the mythical E.G.O.T winner.

Creatives are doing it all today: “Hi, I wrote, produced, directed and act in my new film!”

So, is it possible to do it all, despite what the great Uta Hagen told me? Well, I aim to find out.

I invite you to join me as I chronicle my journey to re-discover my Element and write the stories she could tell – as dramatically as possible.