I haven’t been writing much, for quite some time. But I have found myself in countless… erm… discussions on social media, concerning many topics, but most especially, of late, racism. White privilege. White fragility. So, I started a social learning group that I could tag, in place of having these same arguments time and time again, with other white people. I will soon begin to transfer all of the educational units I’ve posted, there, to this blog. I hope someone finds them useful.
I WANT to believe in men
In case you have been in a coma, or on holiday somewhere without internet or television or print media or anything of that sort, I will begin with a short recap.
Gillette released a commercial, this week, challenging the idea that men are, already, “the best [they] can get.” The commercial is a work of art. I would ask you to spend some time reading the comments on that, but I’ll recommend you don’t bother. They’re not worth the bandwidth.
See, what happened, the moment the ad ran, was that a swath of insecure, childish men lost their poor, ego-driven minds. The ad basically says, Hey, men! We believe that we can all be better than we have been. Better than the sexually harassing, bullying, rapey assholes we’ve so long been able to get away with being.
And a huge host of men responded with a resounding, NO WE CANNOT AND HOW VERY DARE YOU! I’ve spent a great deal of time, the last couple of days, laughing at them for their transparent and quite unflattering pearl-clutching. Their anger, their fragile masculinity, their absurdly hilarious attempt to “boycott” Gillette, their silly youtube videos, in which they are throwing away their razors, have all had me laughing. Rueful, sad laughter, but laughter nonetheless.
There’s something here, though, that really isn’t funny. Gillette basically said they believed in men, in their ability to overcome years of toxic conditioning, to become better human beings. And instead of being flattered that someone believed in them so much, men got angry. Furious. Enraged.
Which points to the reasons why the message was so essential in the first place.
I’m not as optimistic as Gillette seems to be. I don’t believe that men, if taken as a whole, can be all that much better. Not when so many of them react to a simple and uplifting commercial this way. I don’t believe.
But I want to. I want to so very much.
Now, I don’t hate men. On the contrary, my three favorite people in the entire world are men, or (in the case of one) will be, in a few years. I love men. I love several men who have been in my life, throughout my life. I care about a more than a few others. And most of those men, the men I know and choose to have in my life, are kind, compassionate, intelligent, and secure enough in their masculinity to recognize that someone pointing out the parts of masculinity which are toxic is not attacking them, personally. They’re nurturing and giving and eager to learn how to be their best selves. I know they are not the only ones, either. I know there are plenty of other men who are much like them, men I haven’t yet had the pleasure to know.
Unfortunately, I’ve also had a great deal of experience with the other side of masculinity. I’ve known a virtual mob of men who are likely among those currently throwing their razors in the garbage, without a hint of self awareness, nor the desire to acquire any such thing. I’ve been on the receiving end of what they consider masculinity. I’ve been interrupted, talked over, condescended to, mansplained to, shushed and brushed aside, because I’m a woman. Online, I’ve been threatened with stalking, rape, and even death, as well as told to kill myself. I’ve been catcalled, wolf-whistled, harassed in school, work, and many other public places. I’ve been handled, groped. patted, pinched, tickled, picked up, had my ass slapped and my hair pulled, all without my consent. I’ve been molested, and I’ve been raped. I’ve been emotionally, financially, psychologically, and physically abused, all by men I loved, who claimed to love me.
These experiences, in sheer number, far outweigh the good experiences I’ve had with men, in my forty years on this spinning rock. Still, I want to believe.
I want to believe that men can learn as children not to be bullies, not to use fear and anger as tools to intimidate those who are weaker than they are, and not to harm the ones who won’t give them their way. I want to believe that men can learn affirmative, enthusiastic consent, can move beyond “No means no,” and into the land of “Only yes means yes.” That men can learn how to be vulnerable without being either drunk or ashamed, especially with other men. That men can learn to hold one another accountable for their unwanted sexual advances and other sexist behavior. That they can teach their sons to use words instead of fists to solve problems, and that respecting women is the truly masculine thing to do. That they can learn the value of emotional labor, and begin to both appreciate it, and carry more of that load.
I want to believe this. At the moment, though, all evidence seems to prove otherwise.
I still believe it’s possible, but I think it’s likely to happen very slowly, given the resistance of those whose participation in this initiative is so necessary.
In the meantime, I will continue to view new men in my life with the studied and logical wariness with which I have learned, all my life, to view all men who enter my world. I will ask them the questions that the Gillette ad asked of men around the globe, and so many more, to determine if they are the type of men I want to know, want to be around, want to have in my life. In the meantime, I will keep hoping, keep talking with my sons about what a real man truly looks like, and keep debating the social and political realities of the world we live in with the adult men in my life.
And I will continue to hope that one day, I can believe in men.
Dedicated to Brandy, who said I’d better write some more, soon.
In which privilege doesn’t mean you’ve had it easy, cis isn’t an insult, and you can now stop being a fucking tool
Originally posted elsewhere, 4/15/18
After all the amazing things which have already been written on the internet, and on this site alone, about privilege, I can’t believe this still has to be explained. But there are a host of you who still aren’t getting it, so it obviously does.
Privilege is not a term used to mean that you’ve had it completely and utterly without difficulty in your entire life. It doesn’t (necessarily) mean you were born with a silver butt plug up your ass and sailing so smooth it may as well have been lubed for all of your days. You acting as if it does mean that makes you a fucking tool, so stop that, sit back, and for once in your goddamned life, listen.
Privilege means a set of advantages which come along – unsought and unearned – with certain life circumstances which are (usually) beyond your control.
- If you’re white, you have a set of social advantages which come with being white, and there are people who are not white who do not have those specific advantages.
- If you’re male, you have a set of social advantages which come with being male, and there are people who are not male who do not have those specific advantages.
- If you are not poor, you have a set of social advantages which come along with not being poor, and there are poor people who do not have those specific advantages.
- If you are able-bodied and have no mental illness, you have a set of social advantages which come along with not being disabled, and there are disabled people who do not have those specific advantages.
- If you are heterosexual, you have a set of social advantages which come along with being heterosexual, and there are people whose sexual orientation falls elsewhere on the spectrum than straight, who do not have those specific advantages.
- If you live in the US, and you are of primarily European descent, you have a set of social advantages which come with being of European descent, and there are people who are not of European descent who do not have those specific advantages.
- If you had access to a higher education, you have a set of social advantages which come along with that higher education, and there are people who do/did not have such access who do not have those specific advantages.
- If you are conventionally attractive, you have a set of social advantages which come along with being conventionally attractive, and there are people who are not conventionally attractive who do not experience those specific advantages.
- If you grew up in a two-parent, non-abusive home, you have a set of social advantages that come along with that upbringing, and there are people who grew up in single parent homes and/or abusive homes who do not experience those specific advantages.
- If you are comfortable with the gender you were assigned at birth (cisgender), you have a set of social advantages which come along with being comfortable with the gender you were assigned at birth, and there are people who are not cisgender who do not experience those specific advantages.
While that list is probably not comprehensive, sit back and take a look at it. Chances are pretty good that you have some of those advantages, and don’t have others. Those items where you do have the set of advantages? That’s privilege. That’s all it is. It’s not saying you don’t lack the advantages of some other items on the list, somewhere, or that, even if you don’t experience any of the disadvantages listed, you haven’t ever had any difficulty in your life which you’ve had to overcome by whatever means necessary. Literally nobody is saying that.
If you’ve been “called out” on your privilege, chances are, it’s not merely because it exists. You can’t help that, any more than you can help the color of your eyes.
But if someone is, for instance, disabled, the last thing they want or need is someone who isn’t disabled telling them how their experiences aren’t valid, or telling them how they should be doing things. That’s using privilege to speak over people who are oppressed in ways that you aren’t. It’s invalidating their lived experiences, based off of the incomplete information that is all that’s available to someone who isn’t disabled. One can’t possibly, from a place of not being disabled, understand all of the struggles and feelings and obstacles and injustices faced by someone who is. So, from that place of privilege, telling them that their lived experiences are wrong, or that they should just do things the way you think they should, even though you’re not disabled, is a shitty, tone deaf, oblivious and unkind thing to do. Disagreeing with them, talking over them, shouting them down, when they’re describing those obstacles and feelings and realities, is just shitty humaning. Trying to horn in on spaces that they create where only other disabled people are present, spaces they create specifically so they don’t have to deal with the added struggle of having non-disabled people doing those things, is shitty humaning. It’s basically saying, Hey, I have no clue what your life is like, but not only can I tell you how to live it better, I should be able to do that, anywhere, anytime, without hearing you complain about it.
And this applies to every axis of oppression, every item on that list. If you have those social advantages, and are using them to speak over or silence or invade the carefully cultivated spaces of those who don’t, then you need to, as they say, check your privilege. That’s not about you having everything easy in life. It’s about recognizing the advantages you do have, and not, in essence, rubbing them in the faces of the people who don’t.
When you get called out on that, the appropriate response is to sit with your discomfort. Because, yeah. It’s uncomfortable. It’s supposed to be. The thing is, those differences in advantages shouldn’t, in an ideal world, exist. The thing is, we don’t live in that ideal world, and behaving as if we do is being willfully blind to reality.
So, instead, you sit with the discomfort, and recognize that you can’t possibly know what it’s like to not have the advantages you have, so it’s not okay to act as though you do. It’s not okay to wade into a discussion about race, as a white person, and tell people of color how they should behave when fighting or discussing their oppression. That is the literal least you can do. There’s plenty more you can do, but at the very least, don’t make it harder on people who are oppressed in ways you aren’t, by being a tool.
Now, onto that last list item. Let’s get one thing out of the way:
THERE. IS. NO. SUCH. THING. AS. “NORMAL.”
There are normative and non-normative states, but “normal” is just a setting on a dryer, and not something you can apply to people. It tells you absolutely nothing clear about a person to say that they are “normal,” because it’s a subjective term, not an objective term. Therefore, we have descriptors that we use to differentiate people. White, straight, middle class, male, educated… none of those words are an insult. Just a classification. None of those things is “normal,” either. They’re just one end of an axis, on which other classifications exist. Can they be occasionally used as an insult? Sure. That doesn’t make them inherently so. I can say that someone is wearing a blue shirt and make it sound like an insult, but saying that someone is wearing a blue shirt isn’t by its existence, insulting. Anything can be made to be an insult, but that doesn’t mean that everything is.Acting like you don’t understand that is either ignorant as fuck or disingenuous.
There’s an axis for gender identity, like it or not. On one end of that axis, there are people whose identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. The classification, the descriptor, that we use for that end of the axis is transgender. Trans is Latin for on the other side of. There has to be a classification, a descriptor, for those on the other end of the axis, those whose gender identity is the same as that they were assigned at birth. If the doctor who delivered you said, It’s a girl! and you feel like a woman, or they said It’s a boy!and you feel like a man, then you are described with that term. That term simply is cisgender. Cis is simply the opposite of trans. It’s Latin for on this side of. It doesn’t mean “sissy,” it’s not an insult, and you’re a tool if you act as though that’s the case.
So stop being a fucking tool.
Stop waving your privilege around like it’s a bull in a china shop.
Stop acting all butthurt when people accurately describe you as cisgender, or cis.
Stop being such a dick that people need to tell you to stop silencing and talking over people who are oppressed in ways that you aren’t. And if you’re doing that, stop whining about not having it easy when you get told to check your privilege, because it doesn’t matter if you’ve had it easy. It matters that you’re not oppressed in that specific fashion. And that you’re refusing to give credence to the lived experiences of those who are.
Really, it all boils down to the most simple life pro tip of all: Don’t be a dick.
A joke and a chair
It all started with a joke.
It was October 16th, 2014, and stand up comedian Hannibal Buress was doing his routine at the Trocadero, a club in Philadelphia. He was talking about actor and comedian Bill Cosby, and his tendency to moralize at young black men.
Pull your pants up black people, I was on TV in the ’80s,” Buress said during a show at a Philadelphia comedy club, mocking Bill Cosby. “Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby. So turn the crazy down a couple notches.
He encouraged his incredulous audience to go home and Google “Bill Cosby rape.” *
Buress had been doing the Cosby bit in his routine for more than six months,* to no particular reaction, aside from the scattered, uncomfortable laughter of his audience, but that night in Philadelphia, something struck a chord. Philadelphia Magazine posted his performance on their website, and suddenly it seemed that all of the major media outlets – and everyone else – were asking the same question: How had Cosby managed to maintain his squeaky clean image for so long, if he was really a rapist?
Over the course of the following year, speculation became the horror of slowly dawning recognition. Women began to speak out, one after another after another, each new voice giving strength to the so-far silent ones which followed. They told eerily similar stories of Cosby promising to help with their careers, or using other means to get them alone, then drugging and sexually assaulting them. On their July 27- August 9, 2015 cover, New York Magazine posted a photo of thirty-five women who had already come forward to speak their truths about what Cosby had done to them… and one empty chair. The article inside that issue contained photographs and profiles of the women, details of many of the allegations against Cosby, and a resounding condemnation of the culture which had allowed him to get away with his harmful and predatory behavior for so very long.*
The day after the article was released, journalist Elon James White tweeted the cover photo, along with the hashtags #TheEmptyChair and #BillCosby.* For days, White’s twitter timeline was full of direct messages he’d received from anonymous women, telling their own “empty chair” stories.* Watching this as it happened, I felt that there was something new in the air. That something much bigger than the stories of these individual women – and exponentially more wide ranging than even the implications of the Cosby case would eventually be – was on the horizon.
The only criminal charges Bill Cosby faced were tried in June of 2017. The trial resulted in a hung jury and a mistrial. A miscarriage of justice, to many. He is scheduled to be re-tried in April of next year.*
But the something new was still in the air, and it was stirring, coming awake for perhaps the first time in history.
April 1st pf 2017, The New York Times explosively reported on the thirteen million dollars paid to five women who had accused the Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly of offenses including verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. O’Reilly was masturbating. Three days later, advertisers began to pull their ads from his show. April 18th, a new woman made accusations of both sexual and racial harassment against O’Reilly, including calling her “hot chocolate.” The next day, O’Reilly was fired by Fox.* Roger Ailes, the “father of Fox News,” had been fired the year before, for similar charges.*
September 16th, 2017, actress Amber Tamblyn penned an editorial in The New York Times, saying that she was “done with not being believed” about actor James Woods propositioning her when she was only sixteen.*
October 5th, 2017, almost exactly three years after Buress’ joke went viral, the New York Times published allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. The Times investigation “…found previously undisclosed allegations against Mr. Weinstein stretching over nearly three decades.”* Within days, over 30 women had come forward with their own stories of being preyed upon by Weinstein, and worse, tales of how it was constantly hushed, ignored, swept under the carpet, and assiduously covered up by the rest of the powerful people in film-making.* And the stories kept coming.
The dam finally broke. The sleeping thing awakened. The sleeping thing that was the long-silenced collective voice of women who’d been harassed, intimidated, threatened, abused, assaulted and raped was no longer sleeping, and boy, was it pissed.
Over the next two months, up to the present, allegations have surfaced about actor Ben Affleck. Amazon executive Roy Price, Nickelodeon producer Chris Savino, Editorial director of Vox Media, Lockhart Steele, celebrity chef John Besh, writer-director James Toback, fashion photographer Terry Richardson, New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier and president/publisher Hamilton Fish, MSNBC political analyst Mark Halperin, E! News correspondent Ken Baker, actors Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Piven, NPR Chief Editor Michael Orestes, comedian Andy Dick, filmmaker Brett Ratner, Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover, actors Dustin Hoffman, Ed Westwick, and Jeffrey Tambor, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, Alabama judge and republican senate hopeful Roy Moore, Comedian Louis C.K., Warner Bros. producer Andrew Kreisberg, DC comics editor Eddie Berganza, theme park CEO Gary Goddard, Senator Al Franken, New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush, PBS/CBS host Charlie Rose, Pixar and Disney Animation chief John Lasseter, Backstreet Boys singer Nick Carter, NBC host Matt Lauer, and radio personality Garrison Keillor, among others.*
And that’s just in the U.S.. Politicians in France and Britain are also facing a rising tide of allegations.
What’s strange isn’t that so many powerful men are alleged to have harassed, assaulted, and raped. What’s strange is that, for the first time in our history, people are listening to the victims. Sure, there are still the inevitable sneers of derision coming from the privileged, the entitled, the clueless and the guilty, claiming that these must be false accusations, that these women (and men) would have spoken up sooner if there had really been something wrong, that women are being too sensitive, that boys will be boys, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Those people, largely men, have always been there, ready to jump to the defense of anyone accused of sexual misconduct. The difference is, they were always the only voices anyone could really hear. The difference is, no one was speaking out against them, at least not loudly enough to be heard over the din of CRAZY LYING BITCHES and NOT ALL MEN!!
The difference is, that’s just not the case, anymore. Wealthy, powerful men are losing careers, social standing, businesses, and respect. Morning show hosts are grappling with the emotional dissonance of discovering a beloved colleague is also a sexual predator, and they’re doing it on air. This has reached critical mass. Our voices, so long kept silent by shame or fear or force or coercion, are finally being let out in the open, and the screams of those voices released is echoing around the globe like one endless, reverberating sonic boom.
Yet here in the U.S., We have a president who has, through his own admission, sexually assaulted and harassed multiple women. Who has admitted that he “move[s] on her like a bitch,” and “grabs them by the pussy.” Who is accused of child rape*, and marital rape.* Who is as misogynistic as they come, and entirely unapologetic about it.
We have a two party system in which one party is in near total power, and uses that power to further disenfranchise every oppressed class – the poor, people of color, indigenous people, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community – including and possibly even especially women.
Meanwhile, the other party is basically scrambling to keep up, to hold on to as many civil liberties and legislative not-losses as humanly possible.
The party currently in power has no scruples. They will find any reason to defend the election to the Senate of alleged pedophile (or for those who like to dicker about semantics, ephebophile) Roy Moore.
The party not in power is the party which has, in its current incarnation (pre-Roosevelt democrats aren’t relevant to this discussion), always championed the rights of the disenfranchised, the oppressed, the trod-upon… or, at least, that’s what we would like to believe of ourselves. Yet here we are, and we have an opportunity to show the country and the world that we stand by our principles, even when it is not politically expedient to do so… and we are not. Instead of demanding that our “problematic faves” be held as accountable as we want to hold those on the other end of the political spectrum, we’re caving in to flawed logic and sickening apologia. Instead of demanding that both Roy Moore on the right, and John Conyers and Al Franken on the left either withdraw from campaigning or resign their seat, we’re clinging to the idea that Conyers and Franken are irreplaceable, that losing them in their current offices will mean giving up champions for the civil rights of those who need such champions.
Conyers was on the judicial committee, the reasoning goes, and Trump is going to ram through too many right wing nominations if he’s not there.
Just how many has he stopped so far? I posit that it hasn’t been enough to make any discernible difference*, so putting another Democrat in that seat will not be in any way more damaging than leaving Conyers where he is, and could arguably be much less, given the allegations against him.
Likewise, there is a rallying cry from the apologists of, but Al Franken is a champion for women, and a respected voice in the senate! We can’t let this little groping business take him away from us, or we’re DOOOOOMED! (only very slight exaggeration, there).
The thing is, Franken would be replaced by a nominee from Minnesota, nominated by a democratic governor. And the governor has plenty of options, one of whom is state Attorney General Lori Swanson, who was one of five state Attorneys General to file suit against Donald Trump for his attempts at refusing Muslims entry into the United States. She is well known as a champion for the oppressed, and would likely be as prominent and respected a voice as anyone else. Or there’s representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected to the U.S. Congress, who has a 100% rating from NARAL for his position on abortion. Then, in either 2018 or 2019, depending on when he stepped down, Franken’s seat would be put up for a special election… in a die-hard blue state.*
So all this fear-mongering and apologia is not only damaging and disgusting, it is also relatively pointless. These men are not irreplaceable. The fact that so many men have lived so much of their lives believing that they can’t be replaced is much of what’s brought us to this situation in the first place. After all, if they can’t be replaced, they can get away with anything, right? Like, perhaps, “grabbing women by the pussy?” “Moving on them like a bitch?”
When we excuse sexual harassment because it was done by someone we think is irreplaceable, or demand that their career and influence be given more weight than the consequences of what they’ve done, we are quite literally engaging in the same behavior as the republicans who excuse Trump’s behavior as “locker room talk,” or say that Roy Moore was only interested in 14-year-old girls because of their purity, which isn’t so bad, right? It doesn’t actually matter that some sexual crimes are worse than others, in this instance. We’re not talking about sentencing these men to prison for a rape sentence (which, in case you’ve forgotten, can be as little as three months – see Brock Turner). We’re talking about removing men who’ve caused harm to women from positions where they are supposed to represent women. It is really that simple.
Otherwise, without us demanding that sexual offenders always, without exception, be held accountable, I fear this is just going to return to what it was when it began.
A joke, and an empty chair.
“We are all just humans.”
Image description: Rainbow colored drawing of a manatee, with the words, “OH THE HUE-MANATEE.”
Nope. Sorry. BZZZZ wrong answer. Try again.
This goes right up there with NOT ALL MEN, in the category of Obvious bullshit clueless privileged people say that doesn’t mean what said privileged peoplethink it means.
No shit, Sherlock. We’re not dolphins or capybaras, quokkas or rattlesnakes. Last I checked, chances of a polar bear or a parakeet having a discussion in an internet forum were pretty damned low. Of course we’re all humans. As in, we’re all a member of the human race, all scientifically homo sapiens (well, except perhaps for the Cheeto in Chief, anyway. Pretty sure he’s some sort of barely sentient rodent anus/badger crossbreed, but I digress).
Was it state the obvious day at the learning how to people preschool? Because you quite obviously want head pats, or acclaim, or some other sort of congratulatory reaction to your asinine statement. Perhaps a cookie?
Unfortunately, Cupcake, this is the real world, and in the real world, distinctions have been made between subgroups of humanity, rightfully or not so, correctly or incorrectly, justifiable or heinous. We may not have made those distinctions, but they’re fucking there, like it or not, and those distinctions have had an impact on the lives of the people in those subgroups since the very first moment they were made, which was, in most cases, loooong before your grandparents were sparkles in the eyes of the great grands.
And that is where your But we’re all JUST HYOOOOMAAAAANS train hops right off the tracks.
The people who say such things will often say other, similarly tone deaf things, such as Well, I just don’t SEE color. As if they are somehow blind to the levels of melanin which give different color variations to human skin. As if they spend their lives closing their eyes every time they’re around people, so as not to visibly encounter their flesh tones. As if they walk around with some sort of magic eraser that turns everyone into a virginal coloring book outline which hasn’t yet been graced by a child’s crayons.
Except. That magic eraser does not, CAN not, and SHOULD not erase the experiences people have had solely because of the color of their skin. See, that attitude, while usually well intentioned (though how it’s possible to not know this by now is beyond me) minimizes those experiences, denies their validity, takes away the earned scars and triumphs, pain and joy, which has come from being forced to walk through a world which views you as otherthan.
See, you, personally, may not treat people differently because of their skin color (doubtful, but possible – we almost ALL have some internalized shit to unpack, yours truly included), but the way you treat people doesn’t make the way others have treated them in the past, and will continue to treat them in the future, any different than how it would otherwise be or have been. So YOUR intention doesn’t make a damned bit of difference.
Of course you see color. And chances are pretty damned high that you have some biases around it, whether you are aware of them or not.
Just like you may think it doesn’t matter whether someone is queer or straight. To you, maybe it doesn’t. If you’re straight, that’s much more likely than if you’re not. Because for you, it’s not a thing about which you have to spend a lot of time thinking. You don’t have to spend time worrying about whether or not holding your partner’s hand in public will get you cursed, spat upon, or even physically bashed. You don’t have to be concerned about whether your boss finds out about the partner with whom you cohabitate, for fear they will fire you on the spot. You don’t have to be concerned about whether your church will toss you, as soon as they discover you have a partner with whom you are deeply in love.
So it’s kind of easy for it not to matter to you whether someone is gay or straight, but it’s also kind of insulting to pretend that what matters to you is the reality for everyone.
Same thing goes for cisgender and transgender. My kid is transgender, and until he came out to me, though I thought I understood the difficulties, I had no fucking CLUE how many things are so much more difficult and frightening. How much more precious safety becomes. How frustrating it is to do a simple thing, like have a tuxedo tailored for prom, or walk into a barber shop and ask for a haircut without being insulted. And he’s a boy. It’s many times more difficult, in most ways, for transgender women, and I couldn’t possibly conceive of that, on any level approaching the true understanding of a lived experience.
So sometimes, yeah. It’s absolutely necessary to have terminology that describes those differences, without further insulting the people who are already so harmed by the distinctions which are already there whether you like it or not. Which means that “normal” is nothing other than a setting on a dryer, and you don’t fucking GET to use it to refer to human beings. Therefore, when talking about gender identity, there has to be a term for those people who were assigned a gender at birth with which they are perfectly content to identify. And that term, whether you like it or not, is cisgender. PERIOD. Facts do not require your approval.
And no, Cupcake. Nobody “invented” this terminology, out of the blue, like it was never there before. The prefix ‘cis-‘ is a Latin term (and I think we can all agree that Latin, being a dead language, was around before you ever came along, right?) which simply means “on this side of,” whereas ‘trans-‘ simply means “on the other side of. Cisalpine refers to something on this side of the Alps, whereas transalpine refers to something on the other side. Simple opposites. Not insulting. Factual, and not subject to your interpretation or emotional ego vomit. Cisgender is what you are, if you’re content with the gender you were assigned at birth, SCIENTIFICALLY SPEAKING, and your tantrums and breath holding and foot stamping don’t change that one whit. It has been used to refer to gender since as early as pre-1920s America, and your whining doesn’t change that, either.
And no. This language is NOT what’s dividing us. More than anything, what’s dividing us is ignorance. Ignorance of the lived experiences of people who are in some way unlike ourselves. A lack of knowledge of what it’s like to walk a mile in that other person’s shoes. And these terms you’re all worked up about? These labels? These “divisions( which are actually classifications, which is a different thing)?” Those are the things which HELP us LEARN about one another. They help us to educate ourselves and each other about all of the differences in life experiences. And the more educated we become about the differences in experiences, and how they came to be, and why they continue to exist?
The closer we become, as people. The less divided we become. The deeper our understanding goes, the more likely we are to become closer to one another, to have more compassion for one another, to care about those lived experiences, and to want to improve them to the point where they are at least as good as our own, in that arena. The language isn’t what’s dividing us. Your insistence on refusing to use it, and learn why it’s necessary?
That’s the thing that keeps the distance between us so vast and unfathomable.
So, um… STOP THAT. Do better.
Dear America: a letter from your future self
Image description: Image is a US flag, upside down, with the words underneath reading “We are not OK.”
TW: racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, rape culture, rape, domestic violence, etc.
This town is a cesspit of all that is wrong with this entire country. A microcosm of the hate, ignorance, poverty, religiosity, meanness, insularity, and dehumanization that has characterized the rest of the nation for the past two years.
The only difference is, it’s never not been on the surface, here. I mean, I know it’s always been there, everywhere. Here, though, it was never hidden. They never had to hide. They never needed Trump and his white supremacist, misogynist ties to parade their hatreds around in public with pride. And they were – are – a point of pride. The guys driving the mud-splattered pickups with the lift kits – and, often as not, homemade Krylon camouflage paint jobs – compete to see who can be the most publicly hateful. The confederate flag bumper sticker is child’s play. The vanity plate with the same thing, emblazoned with sayings like, American by birth, Southern by the grace of God, Rebel by choice, are a matter of course. The winners of this hate game, for as far back as I can recall, were the ones who had the flagpoles in the back of those despicable pickups, the hateful white starred blue cross on its red field flying in the wind of speed, the bigger the better. Some of the flags are as big as, or even bigger than, the cabs of the trucks themselves. They seem to defy physics, alongside decency. The drivers wear their realtree baseball caps with the bills bent almost in an upside down “V”, fishhooks and budweiser caps attached gods know how. They rev their engines and squall tires pulling out of parking lots in such a way that I always think – and often say – So sorry about your tiny penis.
This kind of hate is easy for them, here. There aren’t very many black people in this shitpot town. At the last census, the numbers were less than 4%. Only 5% were Hispanic or Latino, and less than 3% were any other race besides white. Overt racism, here, doesn’t have many consequences. It’s one of the reasons I left with my kids, when I did. They needed to know something I didn’t, growing up – that not everyone looked like them, and that treating people badly because of that was not only shitty and wrong, it was stupid.
Homophobia and transphobia are also pretty easy for them to get away with, here. It’s expected, in a town where probably 80+% of the population is evangelical, and believe that not being cishetero is a one way ticket to the eternal fires of hell. In 1996, I was the one of two non-hetero women I knew, and one of only about eight or nine non hetero people of any gender. I didn’t know any transgender people until I was well into my twenties, and far gone from here. They all left here as soon as they could, running like their hair was on fire and their ass was catching, in the local parlance, and never came back.
The female population here, in 2010, was exactly half. Fifty percent. But somehow, that didn’t stop – and still doesn’t stop – the misogyny from being as large a part of the local identity as the racism and homophobia and all the other bigotry. It’s a smorgasbord of hate, all you can eat. Or stomach. Those old bumper stickers with Ass, grass, or cash, no one rides free are still not old, here. The womenfolk are still oft referred to as the womenfolk, and they’re expected, de facto, to take care of the kids and the house, whether or not they work, which most of them do, often being the sole breadwinner and sole functional housekeeper and parent.
It’s what made it so easy for me to recognize that rape culture was a very real, very present thing. Catcalls are still not challenged, here, almost ever. Men and teenage boys still high five one another in public places – not even confined to locker rooms – about that drunk, passed out chick they all managed to bang on Saturday night. Husbands and fathers still treat wives and daughters like property, and sometimes their mothers, too. Property to be dealt with, and disposed of as they see fit, when they feel like it. Or ownership transferred, like livestock. Boys on the football team who raped another boy with a broomstick as a part of what seems to have been an ongoing, traditional “hazing” ritual, gone only slightly wrong from its intended ends, were only charged with misdemeanor assault. Like kids who’d had a quick shoving match in the schoolyard. Women and girls who are raped sort of just… know there’s no point to telling anyone. Best case, someone might shake their head and wonder aloud what is wrong with the world, these days, as if it hadn’t always been like this. Worst case, the victim is blamed by police, blamed by family, blamed by boyfriend or husband, shunned by friends, family, church, or anyone else who’s important in her life, and treated like a pariah, as if she’s wearing a scarlet letter “V” on her chest, wherever she goes.
In this town, the evangelicals have always run the show, back when nobody called them evangelicals. Then, they were just different forms of Baptists. Freewill Baptists. Independent Baptists. Independent Freewill Baptists. Some variations, with the occasional Pentecostals thrown in for good measure. In this town, churches have been screeching at their parishioners for decades that we didn’t come from monkeys, and that believing in such bunk was grounds for… you guessed it … hellfire and damnation.
They’ve also been preaching hate. Straight from the pulpit, pure, non-watered-down, high test hate. When I was ten, my dad’s second cousin preached from his pulpit that the hommasexshuls were going to bring on the rapture with their sinful ways, that their Sodomite behavior would bring Jesus down from heaven, full of rage and ready to party like Mao Ze Dong. He preached from his pulpit – to a small congregation which included children as young as three – that black people were supposed to be slaves, and that’s why our nation was in so much trouble, to begin with. That their blackness was a punishment from god for Noah’s son, Ham, who gazed upon his drunken father in his nakedness. He preached from his pulpit that Catholics and Atheists (nearly indistinguishable in the eyes of most more hardcore evangelical types, for reasons which utterly defy logic) were hellbound idolators and heathens, ruining everything with their secular ways, which just might include such horrors as Satan worship, cannibalism, and ravishment of “our” women, not to mention corrupting the fragile and malleable minds of the youngens. He preached from his pulpit that women were born evil. They couldn’t help it. They were born carrying within them the root of the sin of all mankind, and it was a man’s duty, as a father or husband, to root out that evil, no matter what it took. Daughter wearing makeup? Beat her with a belt. Wife daring to question her husband’s judgment? Same thing.
Immigrants were supposed to come in only as servants, required to be indentured until they’d earned the right – always and only given by a white man – to be treated with anything even resembling dignity.
And Islam? They were so alien as to not even matter, aside from the occasional sneer of “sand-n*****,” tossed out without a moment’s hesitation. Because, you know, all Islamic people were Arabic, and Arabic people were just bizarre and impossible to comprehend.
That was back in the eighties and early nineties. Children, here, pounded on bibles outside elementary schools, screaming at their classmates that they were whoremongers and sinners, bound for a lake of fire. Children as young as five, both doing the screaming and being screamed at.
And the world largely ignored places like this. The rest of the country occasionally looked on in bemused horror or benevolent condescension. Because they were better than that, doncha know.
Except they weren’t. We weren’t. And those of us who knew better ignored them while they grew, as a movement, while their numbers swelled… until they took over. Until they found themselves a demagogue who had fuckall to do with their poison religion, but knew precisely how to use the hate it generates to whip them into a feeding frenzy of hate.
This place was once a sundown town.
This place’s past is quickly becoming our nation’s future.
And none of us are ready. Most of us still aren’t taking this seriously. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone – almost always a cishet white man – say something along the lines of It won’t get THAT bad. There are checks and balances. There is more than just Trump. The rest of us, by and large, don’t say such things. We see that the checks and balances were taken over, already, well before Der Trumpenstein was elected. We see that our entire government is in the hands of the enemy, and that we’re all in danger.
And we see that we’re not ready. That we should have been, but we’re not. Aside from a very small minority, largely made up of BIPOC and queers and transgender people and a handful (relatively speaking) of white women who’ve been active for a while, who’ve been in the know for a while, nobody was prepared for this to get this bad.
I’ve lived this before. This country is now the town where I grew up. I ran as soon as I could, and was devastated when I had to come back, but there’s nowhere to run, now. All of us are living in that place, now.
And we have to fight. We have to be better prepared than we are, and fucking fast. We have to stop giving them inches, stop compromising, stop allowing our moral and ethical snobbery (but we have to be better than them! We can’t stoop to their level!) to get in the way of the single most important thing we’ve ever, as a nation, needed to do – defeat this. No matter what. No matter how. Whatever it takes. However brutal and frightening that may be. We’ve handed the keys to our country to its lowest common denominator, and we have to take them back, no matter what it takes… or we’re all going to be living in the church I grew up in. Where all is hate, and all is suppression, and nobody who isn’t straight, cisgendered, white, male, Christian, healthy, and financially stable will be safe. To some degree, it’s always been this, everywhere. But even those who recognize this must also recognize that this? This is worse. This is not only endorsed by the most powerful, it’s being intentionally, publicly, unashamedly pushed by the most powerful.
And trust me. You don’t want to live where I grew up. No matter who you are.
Keep making noise
So last night, this happened.
At what point have I invited attention here? Or is it the case that I’ve got my head down, keys between my fingers in my pocket, ignoring my boyfriend’s text messages lest I become distracted and vulnerable, trying to simply get the fuck home? It doesn’t matter, because as a woman on the street – a public space and by default a male space – I’m fair game.
The narrative between my female friends and I is tedious and exhausting. ‘I’m sorry you had to go through that’, we say with almost weekly-regularity. ‘That’s shit’. ‘Are you okay?’ ‘At least you got home safe’. At least you got home safe. Like the entirely feasible and almost unsurprising alternative is not getting home safe, and if you’re aware of my back story you’ll know that actually, not getting home safe is a very real and possible…
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Wake up, fellow white people. Time to get to work.
Another morning, another young black man murdered by police for… what? For the crime of being born black in the US. And another day when white people all over the country will shake our heads, avoid watching the video or reading the horrific details, and at best, post a little something on social media.
I am a train wreck. I am always a train wreck when someone else is gunned down for no fucking reason. Other white people I know inevitably ask me, “If it bothers you so much, why do you keep reading the stories? Why do you keep watching the videos?” Some of you may be asking the same thing, right now. Why bother doing something when I know it’s going to tear me up emotionally, and I’m going to cry, and rage, and be a triggered pile of nightmare mess for who knows how long? Why not just put it down, turn it off, walk away?
Because not everyone gets to walk away.
Sure. I can walk away, if I choose to do so. I can distract myself with kitten gifs and YouTube videos of talking porcupines, and do my dead level best to forget that another young man was killed. I would probably be fairly successful. Because I’m white. Because when I go to bed tonight, I don’t have to worry if tomorrow morning’s headline will be my brother or my sister, my partner or my child. Because I have the privilege of being able to assume that if any of those people get pulled over by the police, even if they have a gun in the car, they are seven times less likely to be killed by the badge wearing bastards who are allowed to murder without consequence, day after day after day. If they are charged, they are much less likely to be convicted of a felony, or serve prison time. Because they’re white.
If they got arrested, chances are pretty good that the media would find some cheery, innocent-seeming social media photo to flash across the screen with the headlines, if it were to be covered at all, instead of digging up some years-old mugshot from a minor drug offense and preaching about how they were no angel. Because they’re white.
There is no longer a legitimate excuse for ignorance. There is no longer a legitimate denial that there is systemic racism in our “criminal justice system.” Just typing those three words makes my stomach churn for the sick, tragic irony. There is no “justice” in this system.
If you’re a white person who is still denying the problem, you are a part of the problem.
If you’re a white person who is using your privilege to turn away from the images, the stories, the reality, then you are a part of the problem.
If you are a white person who will just shake your head, and do nothing, you are a part of the problem.
Sure. I could walk away. But then I would be a part of the problem, too. Hell, no matter what I do, I am a part of the problem, simply by benefiting from this system. The price I pay for living on this planet, for being a human being, is using the privilege I have to make a difference.
Maybe it won’t be much. Just me, a disabled queer lady in a small southern town. But it will be something. And no matter who you are, white person sitting comfortably on your sofa or at your desk, reading this in air conditioned safety, you can do something, too.
“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”
Here’s what you can do:
- The least possible effort you can make is sharing the accounts and posts on social media. Share them with your white friends and family members. Open up a conversation. I don’t care how awkward or uncomfortable it makes you. It is the smallest possible debt you owe for the privilege you’ve been granted by being born white in this country. Talk to the people you know who aren’t yet aware, or aren’t yet convinced. Argue with them, if need be. Show them the statistics, the videos, the comparisons of how white people who commit crimes and black people who commit crimes are treated by the media. Hit them with a barrage of information, until they can no longer deny that this is a systemic problem, and one which we as a nation are responsible for fixing. Let them know that, as long as they refuse to grasp this simple and undeniable truth, you will continue to shove it in their faces.
- Write to and/or call your representatives.. Ask — no, DEMAND — to know what they’re doing, personally, in Congress, to address the rampant murders of people of color, especially black people, by the law enforcement officers who are supposed to protect and serve. Do some research. If there has been an LEO murder of a POC in their district (you can search by state, race, and armed/unarmed status, as well as access any news accounts), ask them whatthey’re doing to make sure the murderer(s) are brought to justice. Keep writing them and calling them. Make a nuisance of yourself. Put it in your Google calendar or your smartphone. Remind yourself to call them again, email them again, twice a week, every week, until you get a satisfactory answer, or you see actual change in policy. Do not believe that one call is enough. Your representatives receive hundreds and thousands of calls from special interest groups like the NRA every week. We have to make ourselves loud enough, annoying enough, uncompromising enough, to be heard above the din.
- Support the activist groups doing the work out in the world. The groups protesting, like BlackLivesMatter. Put your bodies in the streets, if you’re able. Donate, if you aren’t able. If you’re poor and disabled, then do your best to spread the word, educate yourself, and educate others.
- In short, USE your white privilege to fight anti-black racism.
I guarantee you there are at least two things on that list that every single one of us can do. So stop sitting there shaking your damned heads, and hop to.
To any POC reading this: I am, obviously, a white person, trying my best to be an active anti-racist. If there is anything I’ve missed, or any tone deafness on my part, or any other thing wrong with this that I’ve missed, please call me out. I will repair it ASAP. Thank you.
So You Think You Can Dance (a poem for the Random Man in my inbox)
Image description: One person’s bare feet surrounded by footprints in blood across a hardwood floor.
Oh, Honey, NO.
… or any other, for that matter
Yeah, there’s a dance
my round ass is shaking
to the tune that’s playing
but nobody invited you
and I sure don’t want
in my dance space
Like Jennifer Grey
and her spaghetti arms
what the fuck she was doing
but trying hard to act
just like she did
I *been* dancing this dance
and I know the tune
I know the steps
runs in my blood
all without your
THIS dance is a dance
you don’t know
you *can’t* know
you never ***had*** to do it before
even when your legs were aching
and your back was sore
even when your heart was tired
and your mind was screaming out
all you really ever wanted
was to lie down
and make the spinning stop
and silence the beat
But I did
because we had to
until our feet bled
until our legs were weak
for our fucking lives
for the lives
of husbands and wives
of children and parents
and kin not even blood
And now you
wanna storm in here
while I’m dancing
that I teach you the steps
then spouting off
about how these steps are wrong
how the dance would be
the way *you* want to see it
you ought to get
a spot in the pattern
and be able
to change the moves
slow down the tempo
because your tender feet-
can’t handle these
grunts of effort
the sweat flying
from our cheeks
or are those tears of exhaustion
and your tender feet
know nothing of this dance
accident of birth
which made you white
made you born-man called-man
made you comfortable
made you straight
made you healthy
because of *nothing* you ***did***
you know nothing
but that privilege shuffle
with its mellow groove
and its easy softness
And we ain’t got time
for your feet to catch up
because we gotta keep dancing
because this dance
is the only way we got
to change the tune
to slow it down
we gotta dance
until we can all shuffle
or maybe find some ditty
somewhere in between
a nice waltz, perhaps
that won’t crack our bones
on the downbeat
we ain’t got time
to teach you all the steps
and how they came
to be part of the pattern
and we *sure*
ain’t got time
to argue you
out of your wrong
out of your sweet, easy shuffle
that keeps you from seeing
the horror and pain
the blood and the death
that have always been
a part of this dance
Shuffle your shuffle
right on outta here
and come back when you learned
come back when you worked for it
come back when you got some way
to make this easier
not for your shuffling feet
but for our bleeding ones
or when you’re ready
to bleed with us
until we’re all doing the same dance
Don’t come around here
demanding I do your dance your way
when my ass been shaking
since I was born.
The when I’m in
Image description: Pale blue background with words which have been made to look as if the letters were torn from newspapers or magazines, forming a quote – “Activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.” – Alice Walker
(For Bill, among others)
One day, perhaps
I will lay down my arms and my words
One day, perhaps
I will not need them anymore
Perhaps there’s a time coming
when the words are common
and the arms have rusted from disuse
in some old cellar I don’t yet own
… but that day is not
the when I’m in.
One day, perhaps
girls won’t still be taught
that if they don’t
dress how they ought
then they’re asking for something
they only barely understand
waving the red flag of their flesh
in front of the animals who can’t help it
and the boys and men
who aren’t animals at all
won’t be taught
that they’re too weak to resist
the temptation to take
won’t be taught that
it’s only in their nature
to pursue the things they want
even when those things are not things
but people who
do not wish to be
One day, perhaps
those boys won’t know
what it is to taunt each other
to destroy one another’s humanity
no one will say
because no one will have taught them
that feelings are unmanly
or that all things feminine
are worth about as much
as tits on a rooster
…but that day is not
the when I’m in
the norm will be
to teach little children
boundaries and agency
to tell them
that their tiny
belong to them and them alone
and that nobody gets to tell them
when they should be touched
that nobody gets to make them
give hugs to be polite
from aunts who wear
too much lipstick
from the uncle nobody likes
just to spare their
Perhaps one day
no woman will reach adulthood
without being shown
that it is okay to say no
and mean it
and not back down
no matter how they are pushed
no matter how they are cajoled
no matter how very rude
they might seem
to the person hearing.
One day, perhaps
boys will be taught
to hear a no
as something more
than a challenge
…but that is not
the when I’m in
Perhaps one day
we won’t ask
how much she had to drink
or why she wore
whatever she had on
because we will be too busy
demanding of him
the origin of his conviction
that she ever said yes
that she wanted to be there
for even the thought
of her attire
to come to mind.
And perhaps one day
sexual will not
when we talk to our children
so that we can be honest
instead of posturing
instead of threatened
instead of obligated
without shame in our pleasure
without justification for our need
without fear of speaking up
when somebody turns our pleasure
into their weapon against us
…but that just isn’t
the when I’m in
Until it is
I’ll keep on standing
right on this spot
where everybody can see
I’ll keep right on shouting
about the things
they don’t want to hear
because they are
too uncomfortable in the silence
to care about anyone’s pain
Until the when I’m in
looks more like the way it should be
than the way it once was
(back before we understood
that woman doesn’t equal weak)
Then I will stand
loud and proud
in this when we’re all in
until I can help to drag us
forward into the now
that we should always have known.
One day, perhaps
I will give up the ghost
and stop making waves
making people uncomfortable
with words that expose
the danger and wrongness
Because I can’t change the world
but maybe only one part
and perhaps one day
that will not be enough
…but that is not
the when I’m in.
That day is not today.
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