Living at Nashoba and interacting with elders at Twin Oaks has inspired me to join the newly formed Elder Team, which is designed to ensure that elder communards are getting the care and support they need. While care teams are responsible for organizing and administering care for the individual whose team they are on, the Elder Team is responsible for addressing issues and concerns that effect all elders, or when an issue pertaining to one elder may set a precedent for others. My hope is that working with elders on issues regarding "aging in utopia" will help Twin Oaks become an even better place to live and grow old in community.
A longer version of this article appeared in the Spring 2014 (#162) issue of Communities magazine, featuring various aspects of how gender intersects with our alternative culture. See "Gender-Bending on the Commune" at http://www.ic.org/community-bookstore/product/162-spring-2014-gender-issues/
Our Gender-Neutral Pronoun "Co": This is used when the gender of a person is irrelevant or unknown, as in, "Each week, every member should turn in co's labor sheet." It's much less unwieldy than her/his. Also handy for thickening the plot in conversations like, "I hung out with a special someone last night, and co wants to spend more time together." (could be anyone....) The grammarians among us get antsy when people say "Each co should....." (using a pronoun as a noun) and often a lively grammar-geek conversation ensues.
"Addressing the Dress": During our Saturday tours of the community, sometimes male tour guides are wearing a dress or skirt. For us this is normal, but for many of people, it is not. If a Twin Oaks man is giving the tour and is thusly attired, he must "address the dress", and explain to the group that our culture does not limit this style choice to female-bodied members, and that we'd prefer all members be able to be comfortably attired instead of having to adhere to an arbitrarily-imposed fashion norm.
Our Shirt-less-ness Norms: On hot summer days, some people would like to take off their shirt to be cooler. In the mainstream, it is socially acceptable for men to do this but not women. We would prefer not to incorporate this gender bias and male privilege into our lives, and so our Nudity Policy states that at the times and places where it is acceptable for members to be shirtless, this applies to women and men equally.
The Collective Menstrual Calendar: In the bathroom of our dining hall, each year a member creates a beautifully artistic menstrual calendar. It has a square for each day of the year, and every menstruating woman can write her name on each day that her cycle starts. In the mainstream, this information would not be considered suitable for public sharing. For us, it is a convenient way for women to track their cycle, and a fun art installation, without any stigma.
Homemade Edits of Kids' Books: This is a familiar scenario to radical caregivers everywhere. You're reading a book to a child, and as the story unfolds, you realize the gender biases that are woven into the plotline, and find yourself starting to change pronouns... Some Twin Oakers wanted to take a more direct approach, and wielding a bottle of correction fluid and a pen, they went through our childrens' books, and altered the gender of some of the characters (eg. who was the farmer or the nurse), changed "Mrs" and "Mr" to "Friend" (we do not use honorifics here) and generally enjoyed re-imagining the storylines created by various authors.