Jules' Tools for Change: Boobs: interviews with anthology contributors

March 8, 2016 by Julia Horel

Welcome to this month’s edition of Jules’ Tools for Social Change, a column that features a book, author or publisher whose work deals with issues of race, gender, sexuality, ability, colonialism, economic justice, or other social justice topics. In honour of International Women's Day, this month’s featured title is  Boobs, edited by Ruth Daniell and published by Caitlin Press.

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Dear Reader,

Welcome to this month’s edition of Jules’ Tools for Social Change, a column that features a book, author or publisher whose work deals with issues of race, gender, sexuality, ability, colonialism, economic justice, or other social justice topics.

In honour of International Women's Day, this month’s featured title is  Boobs, edited by Ruth Daniell and published by Caitlin Press.

(Editor's note: of course, not all women have boobs, nor is everyone with boobs a woman!)

From the publisher: “At turns heartbreaking and hilarious, BOOBS is a diverse collection of stories about the burdens, expectations and pleasures of having breasts. From the agony of puberty and angst of adolescence to the anxiety of aging, these stories and poems go beyond the usual images of breasts found in fashion magazines and movie posters, instead offering dynamic and honest portraits of desire, acceptance and the desire for acceptance.”

I spoke with several Boobs contributors via email. They all had so many things to say about boobs and their involvement in this anthology that we have an extra-long column this month. Enjoy!

‘Til next time,



* * *


Readers can skip through to the various author interviews here:

Ruth Daniell

Zuri Scrivens

Christina Myers

Emily Davidson

Devin Casey

Lynn Easton


* * *


Ruth Daniell: anthology editor and "The Friend With Boobs"


Julia Horel: How did you become involved in the project? Did you conceive of the idea or was it pitched to you by Caitlin Press, or was it a collaboration?

Ruth Daniell: I don’t think you can talk about an anthology without talking about collaboration—the final book wouldn’t be what it is without the support of Caitlin Press—but I suppose in terms of its origins, Boobs was my idea. Now, though, I still can’t believe that I thought of it first—it seems like the kind of thing that should have already existed. I feel very privileged to be the one to help get a project like this realized.

I had the idea to do a book about breasts and female identity for several years, but it started off as a small idea that I would just mull over to myself now and then, wondering … Then I started to wonder out loud—to fellow women and writers at literary events around Vancouver—and nearly every woman I talked to was enthusiastic about the idea. Eventually, enough people told me, “I’d totally read that book!” that I took myself seriously and decided to propose the idea to a publisher. I knew right away that I wanted to approach Caitlin Press, because they have such an amazing track record of publishing important feminist voices, and I was just thrilled when they agreed to support the project. Many happy hours of collaborating followed our first meeting on the phone.

JH: How was the process of soliciting submissions and curating the anthology? Did you see themes emerging and is the order of pieces related to themes or connections, or otherwise ordered?

RD: The process of curating the anthology was hard. I received a tremendous amount of strong work and I could not include every piece that I admired. I had to make decisions about the overall arc of the book—considering content diversity and unity at the same time—and try to strike a balance between the seriousness and the humour that the topic inspired. The book is organized with that balance in mind.

It’s difficult to talk about themes emerging in the collection, since I received such a wide range of stories. I had the privilege of reading some very tender stories about breastfeeding and motherhood, about sisterhood and friendship, about puberty and adolescence and aging. I address this in my introduction to the book, but I received a lot of pieces that specifically tackle the subject of breast cancer and breast cancer scares. When you think about the sheer number of people who are affected by a breast cancer diagnosis (received for themselves or someone they love), though, this isn’t surprising. I also received stories about surviving sexual violence. Breasts, unfortunately, are often central to some of most difficult moments in women’s lives.

Throughout the collection, however, even the stories about the darkest, toughest stuff tend to lean towards a brightness or an earnest hope for understanding. Perhaps the strongest connection that I saw emerge as I put the book together is the pursuit of acceptance and self-love. I suppose that any good story has to have conflict, and if you ask for people to tell you stories about their breasts, you’re going to hear about conflicts people have had with their breasts. That does not automatically mean, however, that you’re going to hear about how people have overcome those conflicts, or the determination with which they continue to overcome those conflicts. But over and over again, as I read these poems and stories, I was struck with the resilience of these women (and men). Breasts, of course, are not always the conflict, but they are often central to stories about women’s conflict with themselves, with others, with society’s expectations—especially around gender and sexuality and beauty and relationships.

In “So Big Men Can’t Help Themselves,” Sierra Skye Gemma tells a story about blaming the size of her large breasts for the sexual violence she suffered and how she learned to stop blaming her body and herself. I think that’s incredible. In “A-T-C-G All the Cancer Grief,” Annie Parker uses her own breast cancer diagnosis to advocate for genetic research to help other women at high risk for breast cancer. Sara Graefe writes “Variety Pack,” the story of a self-aware feminist who, in the face of an originally-undiagnosed breast anomaly, is simultaneously determined not to let her body define who she is and honest about her disappointment in her inability to breastfeed her son. Heidi Grogan considers the function of breasts as both sources for milk and also sources of comfort, through her story “From Scar to Sacrament” about breast reconstruction surgery. And then there’s the defiant anthem of Lorna Crozier’s poem “News Flash from the Fashion Magazines” that relishes in the beauty of breasts and advocates for their celebration. In one way, then, I guess you could say that Boobs is about folks not loving their breasts, about wanting to love their breasts, and about striving to love themselves.

JH: In your piece in the collection, "The Friend with Boobs," an adolescent friendship and the narrator's own sense of self are closely intertwined with her perception of her body. Her changing relationship with her growing breasts mirrors her growing independence and confidence as she matures and moves beyond her dependence on her popular, larger-breasted friend. I'm fascinated by this interplay and wonder whether this story was in your mind when you started working on the anthology, or whether it emerged during the curation process.

RD: That’s a tough one to answer. Of course my own experiences with my body were on my mind when I started working on the anthology, but I don’t think I specifically knew I would write the story that I did. One of my goals for the anthology as a whole was to show how women’s identities can become tightly connected to the way they (and others) perceive their breasts. Breasts—even as far as we’ve come in our understanding of gender identities—are still seen as visible indicators of femininity, and the visibility of breasts by the public naturally makes their importance all the more acute to those who have them. Of course, there are women for whom their breasts are of little interest or anxiety. That is not my story, or the stories of the writers who submitted their work to the project. For each person who sent in stories, their breasts had at some point meant (or continue to mean) something more than just some factual reality of their bodies.

“The Friend with Boobs” emerged during the curation process, I suppose, in response to themes I was seeing come up again and again in the submissions I was reading and in response to my goals for the anthology. My story tries to illustrate one way in which an individual’s relationship to their breasts can impact their sense of self and the way they choose to connect to and relate to others. I tell the specific story of an adolescent friendship, but the poems and stories in Boobs approach the role of breasts in myriad and diverse ways. I don’t want to suggest that we must all unite over some imagined common experience about having breasts. Nor do I want to suggest that Boobs can represent the diversity of experience from individuals of all ages, orientations, colours and backgrounds, including transgender writers—although it was important to me to include as many voices as I could. I do want, however, to contribute towards a discussion of the role of breasts in the forming of identity, and how our perception of our breasts interplays with our perceptions of ourselves and our relationships to each other and our communities. In “The Friend with Boobs” and in the anthology as a whole, I hope to offer the personal as a way to connect to the universal, not a claim for one universal experience of having breasts, but a universal hope for kindness—to each other and our selves and our bodies.

Ruth Daniell is an award-winning writer originally from Prince George, BC, who currently lives and writes in Vancouver, where she teaches speech arts and writing at the Bolton Academy of Spoken Arts. She is also the founder and organizer of a literary reading series called Swoon, which focuses on discovering new and innovative work about love and desire. She holds a BA (Honours) in English literature and writing from the University of Victoria and an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia. Her poems and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in various journals across North America and elsewhere, including Arc Poetry Magazine, Grain, Room Magazine, Qwerty, Canthius, The Antigonish Review, and CV2.


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Zuri Scrivens: "Pep Talk"


Julia Horel: How did you find out about the anthology? What made you decide to submit a piece?

Zuri Scrivens: I found out about the anthology through one of my colleagues, Christina Myers, who I am honoured to share the pages with. When I found out the focus was on women exploring what it means to have breasts, I practically lunged on the opportunity. Having recently undergone treatment for breast cancer, not once, but twice, I had so much to say about this disease and its implications for women and men. 

JH: In your piece, "Pep Talk," you tell the story of losing your breasts to breast cancer. Looking at yourself in the mirror, you say, "I don't know this androgynous being." How connected are your breasts and your concept of your own femininity to you? Has this changed over the years? 

ZS: I think my use of the term "androgynous being" was not so much about my feelings surrounding my femininity, but simply about the physical appearance of my body now. As a teenager, I definitely connected my breasts to my femininity. However, as the years passed on and my priorities changed, shifting from boys to rugby to career to marriage, my relationship with my breasts was no longer as important to me. It wasn't until I had my first child that I began to connect my breasts with being a woman again. Interestingly enough, it was not so much the loss of my breasts that severed that re-connection so abruptly, it was more the drug therapy that keeps me in menopause. It is that which has caused the most damage to my feminine connection—yet, I would never choose the alternative. 

JH: You don't want to dwell on what you have lost, your piece explains, but to focus on what you have gained through your cancer recovery. How does being open about your breasts help or contribute to this sense of gain?

ZS: I've gained so much through having and recovering from cancer, but being so open about it all benefits not just me, but those around me. At least, that's what I hope for. Fear can be very debilitating—and I always felt that the calmer and more at peace you are with your circumstances, the better able your body can be to heal. For me, obtaining as much knowledge as I could, and then sharing that knowledge over and over again has helped me break down the fear. One of the surprising gains from my cancer diagnosis is that although I shared my story in a way that I initially thought was just benefiting me, I have since spoken with other cancer patients for whom my story has resonated and given them hope. This creates a whole other level of purpose that was missing from my life—and it feels good to know that I'm helping in some way. 

Zuri H. Scrivens is a writer, knitwear designer and two-time breast cancer survivor, born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia. Currently living in Langley, BC, with her husband and son, Zuri divides her time between selling handmade knitwear through Etsy and writing her first memoir, an exploration of a husband and wife’s shared bond of post-traumatic stress disorder. Zuri’s work has also appeared in Emerge 15.


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Christina Myers: "The Pencil Test"


Julia Horel: How did you find out about the anthology? What made you decide to submit a piece?

Christina Myers: To be honest, I don't recall exactly where I saw it first—certainly it was on Facebook, and either in a group for Writers Studio students, teachers and alumni, or in a group called Girl Gang, which is a networking group for women who work in media, communications, etc. in the Vancouver region. I'm quite positive it was posted in both, but as to where I saw it first I can't be sure! 

The second I read the submission call, I thought "I know exactly what I'm writing." There was no question or hesitation. I think the pencil test had been sitting inside me waiting for years to come out—that one moment in time had played such a large part of my self perception. Seeing the word "boobs" on the submission call was like ... a hallelujah moment for me, like someone somewhere wanted to give me permission to talk about this. (From a practical perspective, having a deadline date and a shape and a format to write to provided great impetus to get it out on the page—I've always worked best with a deadline and some shape to guide me.) I knew there was a lot of interest in this book from other writers, and that there would be a lot of hopeful submissions, but I was so excited just for the chance to be part of it. I let it simmer and swirl for a few months and then as the deadline approached I finally got down to work (see, old deadline habits are hard to break!). I had the chance to do a small reading right before the deadline, and decided to brave the first draft: afterwards, so many women came up to me and said "oh wow, the same thing happened to me!" or "I never knew that was the definition, I wish I'd known that years ago!" I was amazed how many people had heard of the pencil test and how many had memories from the same age regarding this. It seemed to strike a chord—it made people laugh and then it made them nod sort of sadly and wistfully. For me, there's almost nothing better than making people laugh, but also to recognize something deeper in something I've written and be touched by that, in any small way. So once I saw the reception it had, I felt confident enough to give it a good cleanup and revision and send it on its way. And then I sat with fingers crossed just praying I'd be in! 

The other very compelling aspect was that I was familiar with some of the other recent publications by Caitlin Press (I had read Pedal by Chelsea Rooney right around this time) and I knew they had a great reputation. Knowing they had a focus on women writers, particularly from this region, was very attractive. I felt like if they had decided to do this book, it would be great in the end—and a wonderful thing to be a part of. 

JH: Your piece, "The Pencil Test," is a coming-of-age story about your experience developing earlier and larger than your friends did. A particular sleepover incident follows you into adulthood. Why do you think bodies and particularly breasts can be so fraught for young girls? 

CM: Phew. Big question and a really tough one to answer. I think part of it is that we are trained from a very young age to see ourselves as "on display"—we are put into pretty little dresses, our hair gets done up in fancy braids, we get encouragement and reward from others for being "cute," being "pretty" and so on. At the age I was at the start of this piece, I was at that particular juncture where you're on display in multiple ways: to those older than you (parents, teachers, grandparents, etc.), of course, but then you're discovering that you're on display to boys (and sometimes you're realizing even that you're expected to be on display for men, too), and then perhaps most critically, you're realizing that you're on display to EACH OTHER, to other girls, to other women. So much of the interaction between girls - at least in my generation, at that age - was comparative: who had their period? Who had a bra? Who had zits? Who had stylish clothes or nice hair? Who was liked by this boy or that boy? I don't mean to suggest that it precluded wonderful friendships, but our perception of each other and our perception of ourselves seemed to be defined most acutely by all those things that were "on display" to the world and could be compared and rated. And what differentiates a girl from a boy more dramatically than breasts? What can be rated more easily than breasts? We even have a handy cup size to mark them on! They became a focal point because, well, visually they simply are - not just in your day to day life, but in media, magazines, and so on. It just went without saying that breasts were REALLY important, therefore our breasts were really important to who and what we were—how successfully we managed to navigate becoming women was, in part, tied to how well we managed to grow boobs (of the right shape, size, perkiness and so on.) 

I don't think this has changed at all since I was young; if anything it's become more pressing, more obvious, more critical. I have a five year old daughter and an eight year old son, and I've joked in the past that every time I undress in front of them I consider it a "minor act of feminist revolution"—I say it with a smile, and to make people laugh, but I'm not really joking. They will see thousands of perfect breasts by the time they are teenagers and I'll be damned if they don't somehow, in some way, get a chance to realize that breasts come in a million different shapes, sizes, colours and that their sole purpose is not to be "on display" and that I, and other women, are allowed to be comfortable in our skin.

I think that's what my story is about, in a way. I wonder how much more comfortable I might have been, without that moment—or better yet, if I had known off the top that the definition of the "pencil test" I was being given was inaccurate. It sounds hyperbolic, but it really shaped my self view, and I thought of it often—I mean, a lot—over the years. I would see a model in a magazine who maybe had the side of her breast exposed and I'd be evaluating the lift and curve of the shape wondering if a pencil would sit under there. If I'd known that "failing" this test made me (by someone's definition) more of a woman rather than less of one, how might that have altered the way I looked at myself? And ultimately, why do we have so many tests anyway? Why are we both on display and then evaluated for our worthiness as display?

It is a question I struggle with all the time. I turn 40 a few day's before International Women's Day this year and I'm so excited to be 40—to feel this slow shedding of the care I've given to this issue of being on display, to not be "under gaze" so much. Whether I am thin or fat, pretty or not, wrinkled or not, people seem to care less as you get older; their eyes have moved on to a younger generation. I guess I hope that maybe one girl (maybe my daughter) reads a story like mine and finds a way to shrug off the awareness of being on display, of existing as a viewed thing. What a different way to experience life that would have been.

Christina Myers worked as a community journalist in the metro Vancouver region for more than a decade, garnering several provincial and national journalism awards in that time. In 2015, she joined The Writers Studio at SFU as a student and then returned in 2016 as a mentor apprentice with the narrative non-fiction stream. She lives in North Surrey with her husband and children.


* * *


Emily Davidson: "The Exhibitionist"


Julia Horel: How did you find out about the anthology? What made you decide to submit a piece?

Emily Davidson: I heard about the anthology through its fantastic editor, Ruth Daniell. Ruth and I are both graduates of the Creative Writing MFA program at UBC, and while we were in different cohorts, we have lots of overlap at events and in friend groups. She promoted the call for submissions online, and her regular reminders were helpful in getting my act together. Because I knew I might have a story involving breasts—two pairs, in fact.

After I’d written the piece, it actually took the help of two other women writers for me to get up the nerve to submit. This, for me, is a very confessional piece, and I wasn’t sure how comfortable I was talking about my body in public. In the end, that’s what made me do it—that discomfort. That, and wanting to lift up a friend by writing about her awesomeness.

JH: Your piece, "The Exhibitionist," is about a friendship with a woman who has magnificent breasts and magnificent self-confidence. Your character in the story has smaller, less prominent breasts, and lower self-confidence. How do you see the relationship between her body and her confidence, and between your body and your confidence?

ED: I’ve started to wonder if confidence isn’t contagious. The wonderful thing about Natalie—the woman in the story with magnificent breasts—is that her self-confidence is generous. She loves herself and everyone around her with the exact same enthusiasm. She is dramatic and warm and hilarious and very at home in her skin.

When we met, I wasn’t that great at liking myself. Both my insides and my outsides were kind of embarrassing to me, so I went through life apologizing and trying to take up as little space as possible. I felt bad when I laughed too hard or inconvenienced someone or said a wrong thing. I was trying very hard to be "acceptable."

But we were roommates, and Natalie had a front row seat to all the bits about my body and my personality I was trying to hide. It is very difficult to live with a woman like Natalie without picking up a few things. Natalie felt fantastic about her body and didn’t mind making mistakes, and I began to want what she had. I began to look at myself and say “you know, this isn’t so bad.” And then not-so-bad evolved into kinda-great. And so maybe the secret is that confidence can be learned, if we have the space and safety to practice.

JH: I was really struck by these lines in your piece, regarding the confident friend: "Her breasts have determined so much about her life. Natalie, I realize, has never once been invisible. Never wielded obscurity like an inverse superpower." How is obscurity sometimes an advantage?

ED: Obscurity can be a shield. In a society that still scrutinizes women based on their physical appearance, being noticed often means being objectified. Many women have stories—myself included—of times we were hassled or made to feel unsafe simply because we were existing in the world. Obscurity can help in dodging unwanted attention.

The trick with obscurity is that it can become a defense mechanism. You can forget how to turn it off. I was able to insulate myself from a lot of risk simply by being part of the scenery—reining in my behaviour, avoiding social interactions. Then I began to notice that it bothered me that my strategy was working: I’d disqualified myself from some really good things. I actually wanted, sometimes, to be noticed—but on my own terms.

Emily Davidson is a writer from Saint John, New Brunswick, living in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her poetry has appeared in magazines including Arc Poetry Magazine, Descant, The Fiddlehead, Poetry is Dead, Room, and subTerrain, and was recently anthologized in The Best Canadian Poetry 2015. Her fiction has appeared in Grain, and was shortlisted for The Malahat Review’s 2013 Far Horizons Award for Short Fiction. She is at work on a novel.


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Devin Casey"Skin Deep"


Julia Horel: How did you find out about the anthology? What made you decide to submit a piece?

Devin Casey: The editor of the anthology asked me if I would be willing to talk about the bumps formerly known as my breasts. I agreed without hesitation, although if I still had them, I would not have talked about them.

JH: Obviously, as you demonstrate in your piece, one doesn’t need to identify as a woman to have breasts, want breasts, not want breasts, or feel ambivalent about breasts. The very first line of your piece, "Skin Deep," says, “I wouldn’t be talking about my breasts if they were still here, but they aren’t.” As you transitioned in your 40s, you chose to remove your breasts. How has this physical change helped you to affirm your gender identify?

DC: What I tried to convey in my piece is that I don’t think identity depends on physical appearance. I agree that one doesn’t need to identify as a woman to have breasts. Any feelings about them are really individual and depend on your experience. We’re not all Meryl Streep, able to morph into anyone we want to be. Sometimes our external physical appearance and our interior knowledge of who we are don’t match in ways that are easily understood by the rest of the world. Sex signifiers like breasts can send the wrong message, and that can make things difficult.

It’s an odd question: my surgery didn’t “affirm” or “reaffirm” anything that wasn’t already well-established for me. Some trans men choose to keep their breasts and not just because they can’t afford surgery or can’t get approval. Some men enjoy their breasts, but having breasts doesn’t make them not men.

In the same way, not having breasts doesn’t make a trans woman not a woman. Breasts are just an easy, external physical shorthand for the rest of the world to determine your gender. And our society is strongly based on gender, from our language to the way we organize many of our public spaces. When something about a person’s physical presentation challenges those determinations that we all make thousands of times a day, then it can be confusing and, for some people, scary or even infuriating. Those are the times trans people pay for that fury. That’s why, for some trans people, passing is important. It can keep you safe. It can keep you alive. 

When you are “in between” genders, you are in a danger zone because you threaten those boundaries. If you have known a trans person before and during their external transition, you might have trouble seeing them evolving. You might feel confused or surprised.

It’s also important to understand that my surgery wasn’t just a double mastectomy. It involved nipple grafts: which means taking my nipple tissue and reforming it to make male nipples, which are smaller and differently placed from female ones. It also involved liposuction to remodel the tissue over my pectoral muscles. I now have a male chest. My plastic surgeon and his team were very skilled.

I no longer have mountains on my chest: now, it’s just gentle man knolls….

Because breasts can be such a crucial signifier of femininity, it’s important to say that I understand that women who are faced with losing one or both breasts to cancer feel very differently about having a mastectomy. For them it’s a loss; for me, it was liberating. I’m very close to my godmother, who survived breast cancer and found it very hard to come to terms with the loss of her breast. She was the one person I hesitated to tell that I was having surgery because I wasn’t sure she would understand my choice. We love each other, and it was fine.

JH: You make reference to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which is known to have been transphobic in its explicit lack of inclusion of trans folks (as your piece says, “…the trans girls who were stopped at the gate and made to feel very unwelcome.”) The Festival was founded in the 70s and there has been controversy for many years about the lack of inclusion. How far has society come and how far do we still have to go in terms of the way we talk about gender and explicitly make space to include people all along the gender spectrum?

DC: Regarding Michigan. Trying to sum up the music festival or even talking about it is like delicately opening a can of vipers … Some trans guys went every year, and so did some trans girls. The point is that you had to be low-key and fly under the radar. If you could pass as a cis lesbian, and more important, wanted to, you could probably get in (and you did …). The issue is respect for personal identity, which in the end added to the organisers’ downfall, amongst a number of other reasons: people sneaking in and getting in the food line; performers’ reluctance to appear; the rising cost of putting on events like this; burn-out … Who knows? After thirty-five years, it could be anything but that’s where the conversation ended about the Festival. The organisers solved their problems by closing down. It’s a moot point now.

Michigan is in the past. It was a large canary in the gender identity coal mine … There’s a world of hate standing in front of every trans person, and all too often the price is your life, not just the price of a ticket to a music festival. And that’s why trans women and men fight so hard against bigotry. Little things add up to bigger ones, and words like “tolerance” and “kindness” are lost. The fight has got really ugly: if you put some feminists and some trans girls in a discussion together, there will be blood splatter.

Of course, it isn’t just feminists. It seems as though we can’t even talk about restrooms without a debate. Somehow, a place to pee has become one of the main battlegrounds for trans people’s rights. Just let me go in peace without pissing on my head! Why not just make all public bathrooms gender neutral? The issue would be closed, and they would certainly be cleaner! The general public should just come out of the water closet …

Trolls want to close the conversation by screaming, "I’m right, which means you have to be really wrong …”

Nobody is going to pretend to be trans on a whim, for god’s sake. This is who we are and we deserve respect and legal protection from hatred and discrimination.

The discussion has barely begun. For a long time, we had to be “gay,” standing under that umbrella to get laws passed. Things are different now. The bars are gone and so are many of the safe havens, which is not good! Our gay ghetto in Toronto, Church Street, is also rapidly changing, with only a few men’s bars left. The 519 Church Street Community Centre is the last remaining inclusive haven for everyone. Times certainly have changed and not always for the better.

We don’t discuss things face to face: everyone who has access to a computer can express their opinion on social media, and that has made the conversation much more polarized. Even our Pride Days are divided into Trans, Lesbian, and Gay. And even the Trans March has divided into more than one camp … We need to find a way to come together and stop going all Lizzie Borden on each other. Leave your hatchets and throwing knives at home. We can forge some truly meaningful dialogue to help change the course of our liberation and celebrate our common ground rather than the slight differences in our DNA sequences. We are more than the sum of our bits and the sparkles we were born with. Let’s come back together under our umbrella-ella … Even if it is just to fight for the right to tinkle in peace.

The beginning …

Devin Casey is a photographer and multimedia artist living in Toronto, Canada. He’s a social services residential/commercial building operator by day, and an environmental activist by night … Visit his website at www.devincaseyphotography.com.


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Lynn Easton: "Nine"


Julia Horel: How did you find out about the anthology? What made you decide to submit a piece?

Lynn Easton: I heard about the anthology from a call for submissions on the Caitlin Press website and from tweets by several people in the SFU’s Writer’s Studio, which acted as reminders to get writing. I submitted a piece for a couple of reasons. I have great respect for Caitlin Press and the work they are doing. Since Caitlin Press was looking for any and all stories about boobs, several creative non-fiction ideas came to mind immediately. I think we all have a never-ending supply of stories we could write on this topic.  I chose to submit Nine because the subject matter is very close to me and because I am working on a series of stories that look at how feminist sensibilities are shaped as they are passed down through generations.

JH: Your piece, "Nine," discusses an arbitrary but heavily-enforced rule whereby at the age of nine, girls must cover up and not be shirtless in public. How is it that society can control girls' bodies from such a young age and determine at what point they are no longer sexless? How does your story's narrator, and to an extent, her mother, push back on this "rule"? 

LE: These rules are unwritten but very powerful. I think we allow this very subtle societal control over our young girls, in large part, because we don't recognize it's happening.  Quiet down. Be nice. Put your shirt on. We sometimes say these things to girls without considering the impact. If we do see what we are doing, it's often tough to stand up against these unwritten rules. The narrator in this story was also told to put on her shirt, just like her daughter. She won't do the same thing to her child even though she's conflicted, and somewhat embarrassed, to let her flat-chested girl walk around without a shirt. The narrator’s mother remembers being told she couldn’t climb trees anymore at age nine, and she refuses to continue that cycle with her daughter. The narrator sees how tough it must have been for her mother to defy the rule of nine, even if she couldn’t manage to allow her daughter to walk around topless. The narrator realizes her mother was braver than she thought she was. We can all make small changes. They matter.

JH: Your character feels embarrassed to be a girl once the "rule of nine" is imposed. What can we do to better empower young girls so they don't have to feel this way?

LE: Yes, I think she is embarrassed, too. I remember being that age and wondering why I was suddenly supposed to become someone else and play by rules I never knew existed.

I think we can empower girls by letting them be who they are. Always. I think they should make their own rules. I think we need to follow their lead and let them tell us who they are. That is easier said than done, of course! It’s not easy to recognize these ingrained rules or to know what to do to protect our daughters from them. But I think if we are honest with our girls, it will help. The mother in this story tells the daughter that there are rules she can help break, and ones she can’t. I think it’s a good thing to let our daughters know that even a small defiance can be powerful. When we question the subtle, controlling rules our girls face every day, like putting on a shirt even when you are a flat-chested nine-year-old, we empower our daughters to take on the bigger challenges. Let them make their own rules. They know what to do.

Lynn Easton is a writer and columnist from Maple Ridge, British Columbia. She’s currently working on a series of creative non-fiction essays after completing SFU’s Writer’s Studio in 2015.


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