Category Archives: History

In Which Steff Gets Nerdy About Genealogy

Down the rabbit-hole I go.

Genealogy, which I’ve been interested in for the last few years for some reason, is starting to be a thing, officially.

I’ve learned in just the last 24 hours that my family, Clan Cameron, fought on the side of Robert the Bruce in the Scottish wars of independence, 1314. I’ve learned that my Cameron in particular emigrated to Canada on a ship called the Rambler out of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, 1806 by Clan Cameron records but recorded as having left their island in 1790 by my family’s records. They had lived on the Isle of Barra, southernmost inhabited island of the rugged, isolated Outer Hebridean islands, and possibly they moved to Mull for a while, or elsewhere, before ultimately taking on the new world in 1806. This coincides with the Highland Clearances, so perhaps it wasn’t an “optional” departure.

Okay. Best family war cry EVER, right? SERIOUSLY.

Okay. Best family war cry EVER, right? SERIOUSLY.

There’s even a Clan Cameron DNA project! And we have a MUSEUM, bitches.

We have Irish blood on my father’s side too, the Monks. Some of my family have opened relations with the Monks remaining in Ireland, which I didn’t know, and now I might be able to have a whole new kind of adventure in the British islands, one filled with meeting kin I never knew I had. Gosh.

Leaving Home to Find Home

Then there’s my mother’s side, which I know others have compiled information on, which hail from both Ireland and France. Normandy! Brittany! In my blood. Hers was the first generation to not have French as their first language, a fact which troubles me even now. But still, all of these people were a coastal people. I’ve always said saltwater was in my veins, but it’s proving more true now than ever.

I cannot tell you how exciting it is to start having a sense of these things. I didn’t know it would mean so much to me. I’m thrilled to go digging over the next couple of years. The idea of being able to investigate church records and archives on the ground in communities that my families have had ties to for centuries makes me bubble with giddiness.

It’s funny how it seems like only one generation in the whole of my father’s ancestral history might have moved off of an island — he and his generation. Our people moved from the Outer Hebrides’ rugged isolated island to Prince Edward Island, famous for similarly brutal winters, and there they farmed for the next two centuries. Many of my family remain there and throughout the Maritimes.

My father was the first to move to terra firma mainland, but here in the next generation, both his children have moved to a new island, where I am today. My brother and I are both now living on Vancouver Island. Both of us report feeling more “at home” than we have in literally decades.

Are these things really imprinted on the DNA? Are we truly islanders at heart, and have we been for centuries, if not millennia? Is that why it feels like “home” to be separated by a ferry from the Mainland again, after a generation of having been backwards about it?

I don’t know. But I’ll love finding out.

History Is Cool

Later this year, once my trip plans are solidifying, I think an expedition to the UK looms for next spring, summer, and fall, to learn who I am, where my family heralds from, and what the history entails across all branches of my family tree. Eight families, eight histories.

The modern Clan Cameron crest. The motto is "Let us unite."

The modern Clan Cameron crest. The motto is “Let us unite.”

History will be a huge theme in my travels anyhow. I want to stay in all the old buildings — I’ve already found a 15th century Tuscan farmhouse, Spanish villa from 1683. I’ll wander Roman ruins, gape in awe under massive cathedrals, pore through museums. If you want to find me, wherever I’m visiting, head for the Old Towns. It’s there I’ll likely be.

I really do dream of tracking my Irish family as well as my Scots side. I want to learn how the potato famine affected my people, whether we were in workhouses for the poor. I want to know if we were shit-disturbers from ages ago. It seems to run as a theme in my family, where we’re all straight-spoken sturdy sorts.

We’re also survivors. Hard-workers who overcome adversity and roll with whatever life presents us. No doubt a necessary trait for people eking out a life on a scrub of a rock in the southern Outer Hebrides, staring off into the gaping maw of the Atlantic for possibly centuries of wind-battered struggle.

I don’t expect to find fame and fortune in my line. I expect a lot of adversity and challenges, social conscience and diligence. There’s no shame in being the hard workers, the line fighters.

Will I feel my life more validated by knowing the history that precedes me? For whatever intangible reason, yes, probably. I don’t know why that is. We’re a tribal people, I guess, and that sense of belonging is just another attribute of our DNA, perhaps.

In any case, Steff the Sleuth gets to don her inspector’s cap this year, with the help of cousins and other family members, and get to the roots of her family tree.

I’m a very happy camper about this. I’ll tell you some tales as I learn them and share some of my methods with you.

If you’re curious about your family tree, definitely take to social media and ask about it. Your loose connections with family on Facebook may have done far more research that you realize! After all, it’s 24 hours later and I now have a stack of papers with four lines of my family’s names in front of me. Monks, Hynes, and Whites… I’m comin’ for ya.

As a Canadian, How I Remember

I remember waking inexplicably with a jolt at 5:45am PST.

As a child of the ’70s, in hindsight I’d now describe the jolt as “a disturbance in the Force.”

Something seemed wrong, deeply and pervasively wrong, but I didn’t know what.

I shrugged and got out of bed. I brewed the coffee, amazed at the deceptively silent and beautiful dawn rising outside. At about 6, I sat on the balcony, enjoying my coffee, taking in the warm, gorgeous September morning.

At the time, I had no cable TV. In 2001, the web wasn’t as accessibly streaming news like it does today, and I wasn’t tethered to things like I am these days.

Then, I had no idea our lives had all been altered in the preceding moments.

I showered and headed to work.

There, coworkers told me what happened:

Two planes, two towers, untold thousands of civilians, utter chaos.

The second tower had only collapsed about 30 minutes before I got in.

The significance hit me squarely. “This changes everything,” I muttered.

My coworker Leslie nodded, saying that, in less than an hour, the world her 5-year-old son would grow up in had changed forever.

***

I often forget that morning now, when the words “9/11” flash past in conversation or print.

I forget the fear, the uncertain future, the heartbreak. I often forget it all.

Now, “9/11” is not so much a tragedy that changed my perspective on the world as it seems to be a code for the politicization of ideals that polarize the Right & Left.

“You’re with us or you’re against us” were the words that soon would divide us all, months down the line, as 9/11 became a vehicle for political divide at home in America, and also became an ethnocentric push of the “American way” versus the world’s.

***

But, on September 12th, 2001, I considered myself not Canadian, but “small-N north AMERICAN.”

I wanted to get The Fuckers. I wanted bloodshed for my American friends.

I wanted to help, I wanted to pray, I wanted a million things — I wanted anything but to ever again see the image of people jumping from burning buildings to a certain but faster and simpler death, or that horrible mushrooming cloud covering city streets in dust and decay.

***

Somehow, in the months that followed 9/11, we lost the brief  closeness it brought us.

We lost the “we’re in this together” feeling that came immediately with the attack. We lost the reminder of how important community and camaraderie were.

***

I remember those early days, though.

There was a moment on the evening of September 11th when I was just stunned to hear laughter trickling down the street as young children jumped rope and rode donuts on their bikes. It seemed odd to me that happiness could be found anywhere in the world on a day like that.

I thought, in children’s laughter, innocence lives on. Maybe it could come back.

We still thought there were maybe 40,000 or more casualties that day. How could there not be? Well, the simple matter of the attack happening before 9, that’s how there could be less.

And thank the powers that be, too, that the terrorists didn’t time it “better” for the arrival of workers. After all, “maximum casualties” is their credo.

Still, as I fell into the endless loop of videos on the news, it seemed like happiness and hope died that day.

I remember going to bed on September 11th, at a loss for where my place in the world was.

Who was this evil, where would they strike, when would this end, why did they hate us, what did they pray for —  all these questions raced through me.

I felt like a zombie for days — listening to the radio, waiting to see how America would really respond, what the global fallout was going to be.

Like most Canadians, I knew already:

“We’re in it with you, wherever you go, if it’s to get the fuckers who did this, we’re in — lock and fuckin’ load, motherfucker.”

***

And Canada’s always been in it against Bad Fuckers with our buddies, the Yanks.

We’ve really stuck it out in Afghanistan. We’ve had a strong troop presence since Day One. We’re still there. It’s our way of life that was attacked that day, too. Canada had a lot of Canadians in those towers.

But, down south, with our good friends, the post-9/11 stance got murky and somehow the parties decided it was time to use 9/11’s attack for political means.

Somewhere, the message got lost — the people jumping from those buildings, the aghast onlookers on the street, the chaos and fear, that ALL got lost.

Wrong choices were made.

Wrong alliances formed.

Wrong goals set.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Did what happened in the coming years disrespect those who died that day? Did the politicizing of the horrors take America’s integrity out of those attacks? Did the day itself fall out of relevance in the stupidity that followed?

I used to think so.

I sort of forgot just how deeply 9/11 cut into my soul, how much it hurt me that anyone could have that kind of hatred for a lifestyle that they’d just blindly kill anyone they could.

I sort of forgot how much I learned about life in those days — how kind strangers could be to one another, how alike we all are when we cry and grieve, how strong we could be for those around us, how pivotal being a friend in a time of need could be.

The lessons I learned from 9/11 about the GOOD in each of us are what I want to remember for the rest of my life.

And, to do that, I need to remember how horrible it was for a little while.

***

This morning, I’ve been watching some of a History Channel documentary from 2008, 102 Minutes that Changed The World (aka “…Changed America“, its original USA title).

It’s 9/11 “as it happened” — unnarrated, unadulterated. Just amateur recordings from people on the street in Manhattan when the Towers began coming down, shown minute-for-minute as it happened, from hundreds of perspectives.

My heart’s been in my throat a lot.

Now I remember.

I remember how “tragedy” became redefined for me, and how now I think of heartbreak on a scale of Zero to 10, with 10 being “the big fireman in the street, staring in horror at the World Trade Centre, screaming and crying”.

Definitions of some words were forever altered that day for me, and when I think of some emotions, like “horror” and “fear” and “loss” and “terror”, I flash back to  faces from the news, of people on Manhattan streets, from the coverage that played for weeks following.

***

I don’t know where we are now… whether we’re a better people than we were before 9/11. I’ve disliked so much of what I’ve seen of people’s values in the years since — the forcing of prescribed morality by the Religious Right, the sanctimony of the “true patriot” ultra-conservatives, the horribly bungled military actions, the loss of rights for immigrants, the prejudism, the erosion of the economy.

9/11 transformed so much for us, even in Canada, but the almost-a-decade since has led to dark, dark times in America.

So… where are we now?

With the economy shape-shifting daily, people re-examining their values and material mindsets with an almost-Depression-era austerity, and everything else that’s come in the last decade, I’m hoping we’re in the process of finding who we are, much like Americans did in the late ’40s and ’50s.

I’d like to think what we’re undergoing societally is like spring-cleaning a house. First you got to get it really dirty, tear shit apart, find all yer crap, get rid of it, and then reinvent things from the ground up. Then, you have awesomeness.

If it takes me weeks to do that on the homefront, I can imagine it taking more than a decade for a superpower like the USA to get their shit done. It’s year nine, post-September 11th.

So where are we now? Where is America’s soul today?

I dunno. Somewhere between there and here… and There.

I think that if everyone looked back at the three weeks that followed 9/11, they might start remembering that, somehow, this worst-thing-to-ever-happen-on-American-soil horror managed to, for a very short time, bring out everything that the world sees as being the BEST of what America is.

As September 11th looms, I’d like to remind my American friends that, when the Towers came down, we were with you. When you went to Afghanistan, we were with you.

And when you really need us again, we’ll very likely be with you once again.

But the America we’re with is the America you are when it seems like there’s no hope, the America you are when you rail against evil.

The America we’re with is the one that celebrated the end of whites-only club the night Obama was elected.

The America we’re with is the one that rallied to help its fellow man in the days following Katrina, when the government didn’t even have its act together. It’s also the America that didn’t hesitate to show up first for East Asia’s Tsunami and Haiti’s earthquake, because its people expect nothing less of its government.

The America we’re with is the one that lets all people speak for what they believe in, that celebrates freedom of speech and equality for all, and who stands up for international human rights.

Luckily, most of the time, that’s the America we know & see, too.

Maybe, this week, with 9/11’s anniversary returning, Americans can remember who they were on September 12th, 13th, and the days that followed.

Because the world stood with America for a reason.

The terrorists never won that day, and if we remember who we are, they never will.

Add Another Voice to the Fray

For everything I’ve published this week, four have gone into the depths, filed under lock and key, not fit for sharing. Too personal, too exploratory, too unconnected, too any-number-of-things.

A lot of what I batted around regards my relationship with sex: Where it’s been, where it went, why it changed, why it matters, what it means,  why my voice is relevant, and why I feel I need to re-enter that sexual fray.

Back in the day, when I was tapping sex blogging regularly, I was really onto something.

I’ve really enjoyed revisiting all my work. I see where I went wrong. But seeing where I went right? Empowering. I know my perspective has grown. Exploring that’ll be quite the ride.

Last night, I wrote something, then hid it  from you– a bold, in-your-face statement of what I think I bring to the sex-blogging world and why I feel relevant.

There’s a time and a place for that, but it’s not today. I need to update my sexual manifesto some day soon.

My first year of sex-blogging, I’d hit nearly a million page views, had ridiculous stats on Technorati and Alexa, and landed myself with raves from everyone from Nerve.com to Salon.com, with frequent spots on Gawker’s Fleshbot, and more.

Part of that appeal was the flavour I brought sex-writing.

I brought social anger, for instance. Defiance.

I was outraged I had to defend my sexuality after a lifetime spent in private schools and in semi-religious surroundings. This was 2006  & the peak of George Bush Administration’s attempt to divert scrutiny from the Iraq War by turning the country into a religious-morality battleground. Ideologies and politics clashed constantly. Church and state, indeed.

It was the time of Terry Schiavo, of adultery becoming punishable by life in prison in Massachusetts, of sex toys being made completely illegal in Mississippi, and of academic blackballing against professors who showed liberal sexual views privately while teaching in post-secondary institutions.

It was a time of growing fear, all because of what it took consenting adults to reach orgasm because of how THEY were hardwired, in that horribly socially-susceptible spot: private bedrooms.

I was outraged. I channeled that, and I channeled it well.

But I think another area that really cemented why my voice was (and is) relevant in the white noise of the web was pretty simple.

In a supposedly sex-positive online world, the industry keeps talking about wide, wide issues under the larger “sex rights” umbrella. And everything’s about the extremes of black and white.  All the time. Like, rights for sex trade workers.

While I support sex trade workers, the reality is, the average person isn’t one, they’ve likely never used one or known one on a first-name real-life basis. The AVERAGE person.

And who decides the cultural, ethical, political, and sexual future of our society? The AVERAGE person.

How are you going to draw that “average” audience in if every message immediately identifies its author with extreme kinks, or really wide-ranging BDSM life-styling, or has them aggressively advocating rights for sex trade workers?

Where’s the in-between? We shades-of-greys want our sex, too. Where’s the eroticism and issues-exploring for the not-so-big-in-Japan crowd?

Just because the average person might not want THAT much edge doesn’t mean we need to be churning out Cosmo-level copy on sex.

The average person, from 20 – 45, is more savvy, open-minded, and curious than ever. They’re open to aggressive debate. They like subjective commentary. This is The Daily Show generation, whether they’re into vanilla sex or not.

We can hit topics harder, push more intellectual agendas, and even open the door into kink by taking the intimidation out of it.

Until you soften the “heavy” agenda and temper its frequency, and until you realize that extreme kink and “core” lifestyles daunt and unnerve some who might consider dipping a toe in less-deep-and-scary kink-waters, then there’s a whole audience looking for sex insight that might just balk at your all-or-nothing approach.

I don’t want to shrug and say “Well, that’s their problem” because I was one of those people, and I’ve since bought the ticket to ride.

The odds of me ever going out and buying a ball-gag are pretty unlikely, okay? A riding crop, though? Giddyap.

The line between a ball-gag and a riding crop is a bigger ideological chasm than most seem to realize, I fear.

There’s a limit to what I’m willing to try to cross, and I’m not alone.

There are insecurities I’ve had to rise above, and I’m not alone.

There are apprehensions I have had and do have about behaviours, and I’m not alone.

Being sex-positive doesn’t mean everything suits my tastes, and I don’t/won’t apologize for it.

I write about what interests, angers, and inspires me. That doesn’t include the entire world of d-i-r-t-y sex, and never will. If I’m not interested in it, I’m not gonna lie.

I write posts that say “that’s not MY thing, but go ahead. ” When I say that, every reader has permission to not only like it, but to NOT like it.

Like with this not-so-lifestyle posting, where I confess that blowjobs aren’t my idea of a good time.

But… I wrote the GUIDE on blowjobs! I wrote an INTERNET CLASSIC on how to give mindblowing blowjobs, a posting that’s been plagiarized more than a high-school hall-pass!

Uh, yeah. Yeah, and I’m still saying I can think of better things to do than saying, “HEY! It’s FRIDAY! I need a cock in my mouth!”

Do I then fail as a sex writer? Fuck, no.

I’m strong, passionate chick who knows what she needs to do — and wants to do — to make a man happy. That’s when it’s not about the act itself, but about what it causes, what it leads to, and since happiness and satisfaction are beautiful things, why not? It’s an exchange, trade, barter. It’s wonderful.

But it’s not just about having a cock in a mouth, and that’s what gets me when I see simplistic sex writers breaking things down to only the barbaric and the basic.

Sex is so much more.

For all of history, arts and passion are born because of what makes our hearts swell and break. Wars and uprisings and cultural revolutions wage because of matters of the heart.

But little sister over there wants a cock in her mouth.

Oh, sorry, she wants a hard, dripping cock in her mouth. Much better.

Yeah. Fucking right my voice needs to be in the mix.

We need more than just the academics on one side and the rock-n-roll pornstars on the other.

We need people in the middle who aren’t your meek, mild-mannered “average” people. We need strong, unapologetic voices that are willing to own their “vanilla” or not-so-vanilla ways and stand up for biology wanting what biology wants.

Sex shouldn’t be some social status card like it is now.

I don’t need be a fan of burlesque in order to be sex-positive. It doesn’t require me to be bicurious, kiss a girl, love  swinging parties, be polyamorous, or even be promiscuous, in order to be a really big fan of orgasms and being dirty and having fun with a lover.

I enjoy what gets me off. That’s never been my problem. And I’ve closed the door on nothing sexual-taste-wise. Sex should lead where sex wants to lead — so long as precautions are taken, consent is given, and consequential ignorance isn’t a factor.

That’s the voice I want to have.

I want it to be okay to like it however way you want to like it. I want to be the voice that gently-but-bluntly encourages people to embrace surprise and take chances with new pursuits. I want to employ brutal truth and stand for what I feel is right when others would quash freedoms based on narrow world-views.

That’s my voice. Here’s where you’ll find it.

PHOTO: From chagrin.tumblr.com, no photographer or originating site listed.

6 Decembre 1989: Remembering a Formative Tragedy

I was 16 on December 6th, 1989, when gunman Marc Lepine stormed into Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, an engineering school.

When the blood had spilled and screams for the 14 dead women faded into muffled tears, it was found that the gunman had left a note explaining his actions — he’d wanted to kill feminists for making his life so much harder, thanks to quotas and changes in hiring practices.

bigI don’t remember where I was when I’d heard about the killings, but I remember slowly growing aware of what happened and why. I remember the confusion I’d felt as as a 16-year-old and the anger and fear this massacre opened in me.

In 1989, things were pretty “advanced” for women already. We had the old soul sisters Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin belting out that “sisters are doin’ it for themselves,” and movies like Baby Boom were showing that women no longer felt they had to have a man in order to make a “family” work.

I knew I could do anything I wanted to — that being a female really didn’t mean much anymore. Or did it?

Then, all my naivete changed. Continue reading

The Museum of Penis

This morning Urban Gypsy, aka Tess, posted this ever-so-brief diatribe against The Museum of Sex and its fucking moronic public relations campaign featuring the ads found at this link. Thanks, Tess!

245_sexmuseum2Where to start? Well, I guess it’s official, I’m unlikely to ever, ever be interested in the Museum of Sex if it’s going to be this misogynistic before I even put foot in the door. I mean, if there was a woman anywhere on this creative team, I’ll eat my bra. And it has an underwire!

But let’s go to the big issues first, shall we?

Bad sex is better than good sex with yourself? Is it, really?

Last bad sex I had, in August, outraged me, because it was casual, something I don’t typically do, and over in an instant. My thinking was, “If I’m going to risk STDs and whatever else you’re risking by sleeping with a casual partner, then a) it better be GOOD fucking, and b) it better last a long time. I mean, I better be SPENT after taking that chance.”

It’s the old adage, anything worth doing is worth doing well. I think that adage needs an asterisk from here on out, and a perma-footnote that reads especially sex. Continue reading

Awash in the Afterglow

I’m still in the euphoric afterglow of Obama’s victory. I suspect many of us are. I’m looking forward to the stories we’ll hear from around the world about this. It’s more healing internationally than I suspect Americans can possibly imagine.

In its most flippant terms? I believe this vote means American college kids can stop sewing Canadian flags on their backpacks to travel in Europe. I mean, fuck, during Bush’s reign there have been companies selling “Canadian” kits with our anthem, passport covers, and more, for Americans wanting to “lay low” abroad.

That’s because we’ve all been living under a cloud of What The Fuck? since Bush got elected.

Obama, though, represents everything awesome about America. He’s a throwback to the American leaders who so squarely defined America as the defender of ideals, the protector of its people, and the chief negotiator on the world stage. He’s a reminder of what presidents were — we remember what JFK and FDR did for the country, and this guy, he’s running on bringing that kind of politicking back to the national stage but with a modern twist. FDR never had the internet to inspire or unite his electorate with, after all.

He reminds us of the America that has set the pace for the entire world for a century. He makes it seem like, after a few decades of interruption, America has remembered who it is again. Continue reading