Category Archives: Social Justice

Fundraiser for Malawian Women and Children – Donate and Win!

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I think about my time in Malawi a lot. I don’t think anyone can have such an experience without it affecting them throughout the rest of their lives – which is one of the reasons I wrote my book Vuto, inspired by my experiences in the country known as the Warm Heart of Africa.

My intention with the novel has always been two-fold:

  1. To open readers up to a culture and a people they may have never known about before.
  2. To give back to the Malawian people.

It’s time to kick that second purpose into gear!

Current Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) are doing some fabulous work in-country right now, especially with initiatives aimed at youth and women. Two projects that particularly excite me are Go Girls! and Hope Kit:

Go Girls! Community Mobilization

According to PCV Tyler Walton, “HIV rates in Malawi are upwards of 10% of the population and the risk for contracting the virus is even higher among adolescent girls. These risks come from gender roles, gender-based violence, high dropout rates from school, economic inequalities, physiology of disease contraction, and many other factors. Go Girls! uses local youth groups to lead community mobilization meetings and facilitate community discussions on how to best address the issues in a locally appropriate manner. Our current project is targeting six villages and we hope to expand if our pilot project is successful.  With this pilot we have the opportunity to reduce vulnerability for over 500 adolescent girls, increase rates of those completing school and reduce overall HIV rates in the local community. Every 20 cents can change the life of one girl.”

Hope Kit Training

Hope Kit is an interactive training program that targets youth with HIV prevention messaging,” Walton explains. “We are hoping to do a training of trainers with two leaders from 10 different youth groups. These new trainers then go back to their communities and do out reaches with their youth groups, spreading valuable information about making healthy choices and avoiding contracting HIV. Peace Corps has already provided 10 Hope Kits for this training and we just need a small amount for additional supplies. This will be the second implementation of this project. In the first, eight other youth groups and two schools participated and in their community interventions they reached over 1,500 people! With 60,000 people in our catchment area, we know we can do more!”

I’m partnering with Tyler to make a difference. Today through July 4th, every dollar donated will earn the donor one entry to win a prize pack that contains an autographed copy of Vuto, a bookmark, tote bag, postcard and poster.

Not only that, but I will match every dollar donated as well.

Interested in participating? Send a donation to walkleyaj@gmail.com through PayPal today.

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Filed under Africa, AIDS, Social Justice, Vuto, Women, Writing

His Choice

Last year I entered a short story in the NARAL Pro-Choice America Choice Out Loud contest. While I didn’t win, I thought I would share this short piece with you today:

His Choice

By A.J. Walkley

Nobody ever asks me.

“Did you want it? Did you want what she wanted?”

Nobody ever asks. No. They fawn over her, though. Plenty.

“Are you okay? Are you feeling better? Do you need anything?”

They ask and they ask while inside they’re either thinking, I could never do what she did.

Or, There was no other decision to make.

Meanwhile, she seems not to notice I’m there. Standing in the background. By her side – yet not too close. Too close is a reminder. I remind her.

She reminds me, too, but I’m still there.

Why wouldn’t I have a say in the matter? Why is that? Why shouldn’t I? The two of us were involved in making it happen.

The two of us should have made that choice.

Would I have chosen differently? Maybe.

Probably not.

No.

But she didn’t ask.

She didn’t have to ask – but I wish she had.

Even just to see if I wanted to come with her. To hold her hand. To reassure her. To drive her home. To sit with her while her body healed.

To make sure she knew, her choice was my choice – and that choice couldn’t be wrong.

Instead, she is surrounded by women who say they know, they understand, they get it.

Some say they’ve been where she is now.

They say this while they look sideways at me, their meaning implied –

He could never understand.

But, I do.

I would have been a teenage parent, too.

When I found out, after the fact, two thoughts went through my head.

  1. Why didn’t she tell me?
  2. Her body, her choice.

And then, fleetingly, just for a second, I thought: We dodged a bullet.

Instead, here I stand, willing her to look my way, past her friends, her mother, her aunt. When she does, I say all I can with my eyes.

I love you. I’m here for you. Whatever you need from me, you’ve got it.

There is no anger in me, just guilt. And a sadness I cannot put into words.

I should have shared this burden. She didn’t have to go through this alone.

She glances quickly away, her lip trembling, before she tells everyone to leave the room.

Except me.

We are alone for the first time since before…

I stay still until she reaches her hand out and I feel pulled towards her, accepting this lifeline. I sit down and she rests her head on my shoulder. Our hands entwine and I pull her even closer.

I love you. I’m here for you. Whatever you need from me, you’ve got it.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, her voice raw.

“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” I assure her.

She cries and I follow suit.

And I stay.

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Filed under Abortion, Choice, Social Justice, Writing

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: An Interview

As a member of the greater LGBTQI+ community, I am constantly on the look out for creative projects that help spread the word and inform the public about issues affecting us. As a writer, I am particularly drawn to the written word, so when I heard about a book trying to gain traction on IndieGoGo that tackled transgender* issues, titled Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, I was instantly interested to learn more. I spoke with editor Laura Erickson-Schroth to get a deeper look into the project and what it’s hoping to achieve:

A.J.: Tell me a little bit about the book. What can readers expect once it’s published?

Laura: Trans Bodies, Trans Selves was inspired by Our Bodies, Ourselves. In the late 1960s, a group of women living in Boston got together to teach and learn from each other about their health, and saw that they were their best source of information, not the male doctors taking care of them. They wrote about really radical things like abortion, lesbian identity and rape. Today we’re following in their footsteps by writing a book by and for transgender people and having trans experiences speak for themselves. We’re hoping that the book will be a resource for people just beginning to explore their gender identities and those farther along their paths, as well as friends, family and service providers.

A.J.: Who are the writers who’ve contributed to the book?

Laura: Hundreds of people have written portions of the book. There are over 50 chapter authors who are all transgender or gender nonconforming people with expertise in a particular area. For example, the legal and immigration sections have authors who are trans lawyers and trans immigrants. Within each chapter are short pieces written by trans people, their friends and family members. There are also photographs of many of the short piece authors, as well as art produced by trans people.

Zil Goldstein, one of the authors of the Social Transition and Employment chapters of "Trans Bodies, Trans Selves," and also a board member for the organization, talking at a trans* forum held in NYC. Photo by Katia Ruiz.

Zil Goldstein, one of the authors of the Social Transition and Employment chapters of “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves,” and also a board member for the organization, talking at a trans* forum held in NYC. Photo by Katia Ruiz.

A.J.: Why did you decide to go the crowd funding route for Trans Bodies, Trans Selves?

Laura: We have two goals with crowd funding. From the beginning, Trans Bodies has been a volunteer project. However, at the late stages it became apparent that there were things we needed, such as an experienced editor, that we just didn’t have the expertise to do in-house. Once these expenses are paid, we will continue to raise money for our second and more important goal, which is to get the book out to as many people as possible, regardless of ability to pay. We’d like our fundraising efforts to help us donate copies of the book to community organizations and to sell reduced price copies of the book to individuals at conferences and other events.

A.J.: What will the funding you receive through IndieGoGo go to exactly?

Laura: First, to cover expenses incurred during the four-year production leading up to publication, including our web designer, two illustrators and a professional editor, all of whom offered their services at reduced rates, and were necessary to logistically get the book done and in print.

Second, and more importantly, to support a national outreach project to improve the lives of trans and gender nonconforming people. This project will expand on the publication of the book by enabling us to offer the book at reduced or no cost to individuals unable to pay, to schools, libraries, community centers and other support services. Also, the project will focus on the education of providers, community and online forums for the exchange of information and for support, to be a visible presence at national conferences, and to produce ongoing editions of the book as issues evolve.

A.J.: I can see why this is an important project, but how would you explain the need for such a publication to someone who doesn’t understand?

Laura: One of the most important things about this book is that it is written by and for trans people. But that is what makes it so valuable to non-trans people too — it is a view into trans life that is not edited for another audience. Friends and relatives can learn about identity categories and coming out, parents can read about kids, health professionals can find up-to-date preventive and transitional care information and partners can find tips on relationships, all written by the experts — trans people themselves.

For more information about Trans Bodies, Trans Selves visit their website HERE or their IndieGoGo campaign HERE.

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Filed under Books, Gender, LGBT, Writing

VUTO Book Trailer

I am so thrilled to report that the official Vuto book trailer is now live! A big thanks to the wonderful Kevin Beaty for his work on this project. I hope you enjoy:

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Filed under Africa, Books, Gender, Politics, Vuto, Women, Writing

My Review of Shiri Eisner’s Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution

I just finished Shiri Eisner’s Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution and, I must say, I am geared up and ready to make change! Looking back over the book now, I realize I have highlighted almost every single page in this non-fiction call-to-action and will have quite the challenge to synthesize my thoughts into a digestible review. Nevertheless, here we go…

First off, overall I would like to say that this is a definite must-read for not only every bisexual activist, but every bisexual, pansexual, monosexual, homosexual, heterosexual, genderqueer — heck, everyone! The research Eisner has done for this book is clear from the beginning and the result is an incredible historical review of the bisexual movement from a whole host of perspectives and views, as well as clear ideas for revolutionizing it from here on out. With chapters on bisexuality, monosexism and biphobia, privilege, feminism, women and men, trans*, radicalization and what Eisner calls the “GGGG movement,” or the Gay-Gay-Gay-Gay movement, readers are exposed to the major issues that have impacted bisexuals over the years and those that are affecting us today.

While I could easily write a series of articles based on Bi, I have instead chosen some specific quotes that truly spoke to me to comment on; we begin with, “our political struggle needs to reflect the interests of everyone, address everyone’s needs, and endeavor to attain resources for and empower people of all groups — not just the ones who fit a certain palatable standard.” Eisner continues: “A very long list of people is being thrown overboard in the effort to ‘fight biphobia.’ In this way, the rebuttal in fact imposes biphobic normative standards on the bisexual community itself, drawing a line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bisexuals.” And further on: “It seems that in order to receive mainstream approval and acceptance, bi communities adopt and repeat the same mainstream values that are normally used against them.”

These quotes truly jumped out when I read them because of the fact that, in my own writing and in the Bi the Bi column I have co-written for The Huffington Post, I believe I am at fault for trying to make greater society accept bisexuals by assuring that I am a monogamous bisexual, for instance, attempting to counter the stereotype that bisexuals cannot be monogamous. Eisner is spot on here — some bisexuals are monogamous and some aren’t, and that is okay, that is beautiful. We cannot hope to move forward in bisexual activism by scapegoating anyone. I will be sure to check myself in this area in my own writing and speaking engagements from here on out, and I thank Eisner for calling this aspect out. I hope others will do the same.

Perhaps one of the most important points for bisexual activism is that we cannot continue to neglect specifically bisexual causes in order to assimilate into the “GGGG movement.” We have put a lot of force behind repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the fight for marriage equality, for example, which do impact bisexuals — but perhaps not as much as issues of health disparity, homelessness and domestic violence. Eisner writes:

“People with more urgent needs than marriage are neglected from the resources and activist efforts of the GGGG movement. GGGG organizations spend many millions of dollars on the struggle for marriage, while organizations addressing the issues of queer and trans homelessness [sic] youth, HIV+ queers, queer and trans people of color, queers in poverty, queer and trans survivors of violence, and many others suffer from a constant lack of money and resources.”

And when bisexuals are affected by these issues to a greater extent than lesbians and gay men, it truly makes you take a step back to reassess where our time and money is going — as well as why we are trying to assimilate to begin with.

There are definitely some radical points of view Eisner poses that may not be for everyone; but regardless, the messages within Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution are important and ever so relevant. We must actively build up a varied bisexual community that is welcoming to all gender identities, races, ethnicities, abilities and disabilities, etc. so that bisexuals no longer have to, in Eisner’s words, “[come] to terms with our identities in, and through, communities where we are strangers.”

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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Filed under Gender, LGBT, Politics, Social Justice, Women, Writing

QUEER GREER Giveaway

Head on over to Goodreads to enter to win an autographed copy of Queer Greer today!

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Filed under LGBT, Queer Greer, Women

A Malawian Birth

The following is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote after my return from Malawi, Africa, as a health volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps. This experience directly impacted my decision to write my novel Vuto. Enjoy!

***

I had been in Malawi, Africa, for just over two months. At the time, I had already seen a slew of images I had never so much as imagined before: coffin-making shops, one after the other, down a village street; barefooted children playing with plastic bags and hangers in the dirt; albino beggars littering the roads of the country’s capital.

But this day, in August of 2007, I was given the opportunity to experience a live birth in the middle of an African village.

I had never seen a child being born in the United States, let alone in a Third World country with the bare minimum of medical care. The nurse at the clinic was younger than I was at 23. The mother was even younger. At 17 she had already had one child before who had died within a week of being born. Her skin was dark and coarse from years of tending the soil, pumping endless buckets of water, and walking the hard dirt roads without shoes. She was already six hours into her labor when I showed up to observe.

“Will she mind that I’m watching?” I asked the nurse.

“You are white. She will think you are a doctor,” she told me.

“Where is her family?”

At this, the nurse laughed at me. “There is no family. She must do this alone.”

In Malawi, and other parts of Africa, the birthing process is a journey the mother must make by herself. It is a test of strength. Even though this woman – or girl, rather – was calling out for her mother, the nurse told me she did not really want anyone to come to her aid. If a blood relative was there, it would be a sign of weakness. Not even a friend was allowed at her side.

She squirmed and moaned on a makeshift gurney, a sarong the only thing covering her. Within another hour, the nurse told me she was ready to push.

My mouth fell open and I strained for a closer look. The crown of her baby’s head emerged from between her legs. Within minutes, the head was out, then the shoulders and, finally, the entirety of a brand new baby girl entered the world.

The umbilical cord was cut by the nurse with a rusty razor the mother had brought with her. The baby was swaddled in a sarong, also brought by the mother for this purpose.

The placenta was pushed out and, five minutes later, Mom was up, cleaning herself of blood, amniotic fluid and feces. She was preparing herself to bring her daughter home.

Still in shock, I asked, “Why isn’t she happy?” I was the only one in the room with a grin on my face.

“Nobody knows how long she’ll live,” the nurse told me. “They will not name her for another week. If she dies before, the father will not consider her his child.”

The alienness of this world enveloped me then. A potential miracle turned tragedy to me was only reality to the Malawians.

**

Purchase Vuto today!

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Filed under Africa, Vuto

The VUTO Playlist

There is many a writer I know who records their playlist for each book they write – a list of the music they listened to while writing each individual novel. I am a writer who must have silence to write. However, I listen to music constantly when I don’t have a pen in hand and oftentimes that music speaks to my writing.

I thought it would be fun to share with you a playlist of the songs that spoke to me most during the time I was writing and editing Vuto. Three bands particularly stood out for me over this period of time: Imagine Dragons, Hanson and Walk Off The Earth.

Click on the name of the band to listen to the song, or the song title for the lyrics:

1)      Imagine Dragons, “It’s Time”

2)      Hanson, “Great Divide”

3)      Walk Off The Earth, “Red Hands”

4)      Imagine Dragons, “Bleeding Out”

5)      Hanson, “World’s On Fire”

6)      Walk Off The Earth, “REVO”

7)      Hanson, “Fire On The Mountain”

8)      Imagine Dragons, “Demons”

9)      Hanson, “Never Let Go”

10)   Hanson, “Strong Enough To Break”

Vuto is now available for purchase at Rocket Science Productions, Amazon.com and the iBookstore.

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Filed under Vuto, Women

VUTO Endorsements

One of the many ways I prepared for the release of my third novel, Vuto, was to reach out to fellow authors, as well as readers to request endorsements for the book. I sent advanced review copies to anyone who was interested and, if they wanted to once they finished reading Vuto, they sent me back several sentences of recommendation for the book.

The following are the endorsements that have come in thus far for your consideration if you are still on the fence about reading it yourself:

Purchase Vuto now at Rocket Science Productions, Amazon.com or in the iBookstore.

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Filed under Africa, Vuto, Writing

VUTO Sneak Preview

Vuto is available for pre-sale before it’s official release on Monday, July 22nd!

You can pre-order the book at my publisher’s site HERE.

You can also find it in the iBookstore and on Amazon.com.

Vuto Banner

If you’re thinking about buying it, here’s a sneak peak of the first chapter to help you decide:

VUTO

*

I knew the pains in my belly and what they meant. I had already done this two times before. That did not make it easier.

“Mama! I want my mama!” I cried, knowing she was not there, knowing she would not come and knowing I should not be calling for her.

I whipped my head back and forth as another pain ripped through, staring for a moment at the white girl in the corner, looking at me as if I was some angel.

“Aaaaaagh!” I screamed and she flinched, but stayed just the same.

A familiar face was better than none.

I could hear her whispering in broken Chichewa, “What does she say?” to Nurse Leoni, who was helping me along.

“She is calling for her mother,” Leoni told her.

“Then we should go get her mom,” the girl replied. I would have laughed if I was not being torn apart from the inside out.

“She cannot. She must do this alone.”

I pushed hard, the chitenje I had wrapped around me came unfurled and fell to the ground. I lay, naked, for the world to see.

I felt the head between my legs and knew it was only moments before I would meet my baby.

“One more push, Vuto, just one more big push,” Leoni told me.

“Grrrrraaaghhh!”

I felt the pressure ease and heard a tiny wail.

No more words were spoken.

Leoni took my baby, cut her cord with rusty scissors and wrapped her up tight in two chitenje. After passing the placenta, I got up myself, the soreness something for me to overcome and not linger upon. I cleaned myself and took my baby, not even five minutes in the world, and looked over at the girl in the corner before leaving.

She had tears in her eyes and I could not understand why.

This was every day.

This was life.

This was Malawi.

This was Africa.

Did she not know that this child was not really alive yet? Did she not know it would take two weeks before I could name her and her father would acknowledge her?

*

Order Vuto today by clicking HERE.

Follow @AJWalkley on Twitter for updates about the Vuto release.

Like A.J. Walkley on Facebook for the latest endorsements and reviews as well.

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Filed under Africa, Vuto, Women