Dear America: a letter from your future self

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.

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The fairy tales we still believe

alien          trent mays

Over on my kink blog, I posted about an abusive relationship. It’s mostly grounded in personal experience, but the point is so much larger than that.

We live in a world full of nuance. Every division, every ethical spectrum, is composed of infinite shades of grey, but we insist on seeing things in the stark contrast of black and white. Right and wrong. Good and bad. Heroes and villains. Humans and monsters.

The majority of us probably see ourselves as one of the good people. We see those who do horrible things – like rape, child abuse, torture, and mass murder – as the bad people. We create this narrative that good people don’t do bad things, so we believe that bad people don’t ever do good. Deep down, most of us know it’s not that simple, but we still cling to that narrative, because it’s what separates US from THEM. We read the news, and we shudder, and some part of our minds reassure us that we are the Good Guy, so we could never do such a thing.

Of course, the people who rape and abuse and murder are the Bad Guys, but not because they are all that different from us. Not because they’re fairy tale monsters whose only ambition is running around, creating mayhem, destroying lives. In reality, they’re just people. Just like us. Humans, just like us. They work and play, laugh and cry, create and destroy, and everything in between, just like us. They don’t look, from the outside, discernible from the rest of humanity.

In fact, they most often look like… oh… our neighbors and our coworkers. Our friends. Our parents. Our children. The nice lady at the coffee shop who holds the door for an elderly couple. The man who waves at us while he’s mowing his lawn. Our celebrity idols and friendly acquaintances. Us.

When we hear about someone we know, or someone we feel like we know (like a celebrity who plays the perfect dad on TV), doing some horrible thing, it is often nothing more than instinct to react with incredulity. After all, they’re just like us, right? They’re Good Guys, like we are, so they couldn’t possibly have done such an awful thing. It challenges our belief in ourselves. Most of us are convinced that we’re decent judges of character, when even the basic idea behind that presumption is always deeply flawed. We can only judge other people based on the parts of themselves that they choose to share with us. Sure, occasionally someone will just… put off a weird vibe, or rub us the wrong way. Even more rarely, that vibe or discomfort will later turn out to have been, coincidentally, predictive of observable behavior. The majority of the time, though, we judge people based solely upon what we see of their character, their choices, their actions, and their interactions.

All of those behaviors change, for all of us, depending on the company we’re in at a given moment. The celebrity consciously, deliberately builds a marketable image, and very few outside their closest friends and family ever see behind that facade. Logically, we know this, but we tend not to correlate that with the images we all build, in our everyday lives. It may be nothing at all, for instance, to share sort of gross bodily function concerns with our siblings, parents, or partners, or juicy gossip with our closest friends, but we generally recognize that it wouldn’t be beneficial to us, to share those things with a client or an employer. We might share our sexual fantasies or adventures with our closest friends or partners, but we understand that it would be odd to do so with the neighbor down the street. There are things we keep entirely to ourselves. Maybe we shoplifted, once, or treated an ex partner terribly, or bullied someone else in elementary school. Perhaps we have some sexual fantasies that we believe are too taboo to share with anyone, even our partners. No one person ever gets to know us beyond what we’re comfortable sharing with them.

There’s really no way to truly know another person, the way we know ourselves. And truthfully, very few of us even know ourselves all that well. Few ever take the time to pick apart their own motivations, thoughts, insecurities, or emotions. We generally just convince ourselves that we’re the Good Guys. By extension, we would certainly never be close to one of the Bad Guys. Since only Bad Guys do Bad Things – like rape, child abuse, domestic abuse, etc. – then the people we know couldn’t possibly do those things. Because… Good Guys, right?

Unfortunately, the world only ever works that way in comic books and children’s tales, animated movies and young adult novels. Reality isn’t so simple. The people we see as both Good Guys and Bad Guys? They’re just… people. Someone, somewhere, loved Jack the Ripper. Someone thought he was swell. Someone, somewhere else, thinks that John Oliver is a total douchebag.

People are neither all good, nor all bad. They’re varying degrees of both, depending on the circumstances.We, on the whole, need to learn to accept that we can never have a complete picture of the people we think we know. That the people we call friends may be entirely different when they’re home with their partners, or behind closed doors with a date, or left alone with a child. We need to learn this, because we are doing a great disservice to the victims of horrific and heinous things. Things done to them, not by gnarled, inhuman monsters, but by other people, much like us. People who may be kind and charming, may seem open and harmless, when we see them out in the world. People who choose to do awful things to hurt other people, when we can’t see them act.

Child molesters don’t molest every child they encounter, and they don’t often do so in front of witnesses. If they did, they’d get caught far more quickly, and they’d lose access to any other potential victims. Domestic abusers don’t just run around, willy-nilly, heaping abuse on their friends, coworkers, or random people they meet at the grocery store. They don’t often beat or terrorize their partners when we’ve come around for game night, or when they’re out in public. We’d recognize that behavior pretty quickly, and they would be unable to get away with harming their partners or spouses, and unable to draw in new partners, once the old ones escape. Rapists don’t rape every person they know, or rape where someone could see, for much the same reason. And when any of these people aren’t busy molesting, abusing, or raping people, they are probably doing … a range of typical people stuff. They’re teaching Sunday school. They’re watering the neighbors’ plants, while the neighbors are on vacation. They’re at the coffeemaker in the break room on Monday morning, asking how your weekend was, and if you watched the game. They’re helping someone move. They’re volunteering in a soup kitchen. They’re inviting you over for a beer. They’re leading their high school football team to victory.

snidely       huxtable

They’re not walking around with a cartoon Snidely Whiplash mustache, rubbing their hands together in evil glee. They don’t walk around looking like we convince ourselves monsters must look. They’re just people who were, like all of us, capable of monstrous things. The only difference between us and them is that they chose to act on those capabilities.

When victims of rape or abuse speak out against someone we know, or think we know, we need to remember how little we actually know anyone. We need to remember that the monster faces don’t come out indiscriminately. We need to remember that, behind closed doors, with someone they can overpower, we have no idea what they might do. We need to understand this, as a society, so that we stop putting so much of the burden for our belief in fairy tales on the shoulders of those victims.

When we respond to victims revealing their account of abuse by talking about what a Good Guy the alleged abuser is, we’re putting our own feelings ahead of the right thing to do. After all, if that guy who helped you move into your new apartment, and hung out with you at parties, was terrorizing his girlfriend the whole time, then what does that say about you? Humans are too often enslaved by their own egos and insecurities. We don’t want to admit we might not be able, on the basis of our limited interaction, to judge the entirety of a person’s character. We don’t want to admit we would be friends with an abuser, or a rapist. So, instead of showing support to the victims, we shield our own emotions. We defend ourselves, our judgment, by defending the person who harmed them.

It’s time to get over ourselves, and recognize that doing what we’ve been doing is contributing to the trauma inflicted on the victims. Time to recognize that, in defending abusers and rapists, we’re showing, quite clearly, our own capability to do harm. We’re showing our own human infallibility, and hurting people who are already suffering, in the process. We’re admitting that we’d rather let someone get away with causing another person serious, lifelong harm, than to examine our own blind spots. We’re enabling abuse and rape and other heinous acts, just so we can avoid admitting we may have been wrong about someone. So we can still feel like the Good Guys.

But we know that Good Guys and Bad Guys are just for fiction, right? We know that humans are, by their nature, fallible. So, why don’t we learn to forgive ourselves for the flaws in our perception, for being vulnerable to being deceived by someone? Why don’t we support the victims, and stop pretending someone has to be good, just by virtue of their acquaintance with us?

Instead of becoming our worst selves, by associating our egos with the abusers and rapists, we need to start having empathy for the victims. Put ourselves in their shoes. Imagine going through whatever they’ve described, and then imagine working up the enormous amount of courage it takes to speak out. Imagine, instead of support and assistance, you’re met with derision and disbelief. Imagine having to hear a litany of the good things the person who harmed you has done. Try to put yourself in that place.

This isn’t a fairy tale. There aren’t any Good Guys, or Bad Guys. There are people who are being harmed, people who harm others…

and bystanders who have a choice. Make the right one.

 

An apology, and an (optional) explanation

I don’t generally go in for long explanations, when harm has been done. I did harm, this morning, with some heartfelt but thoughtlessly expressed sentiments and poorly chosen words, which conveyed nearly the opposite of what I intended. I screwed up in about a dozen separate ways, and people were offended and possibly hurt by that. For that, I am truly sorry. Period. Insofar as the apology goes, that’s all that really matters, and no one owes my explanation any attention, if they prefer not to hear it. I fucked up, I’m sorry, and I intend to do all that I can not to fuck up in that way, in the future.

Someone in my Twitter timeline retweeted the following tweets from Yves, regarding the revelation that Sandra Bland was homophobic:

yves

There was a tweet before these two, which apparently had a link to an article that I somehow missed. I replied with the following:

sandra bland mistake tweet

…and was soundly and deservedly reprimanded by three separate people.

Not having read, or even been aware of the article, my response was dismissive, and likely painful for some who read it. I wish I could rewind, and repair that. Stop and read the original tweets more carefully, from a more mindful, less emotional place, and either not respond at all, or respond with a better understanding and more thoughtfulness. Since I can’t, I’ll offer what explanation I can, here. Not as an excuse – I was wrong, and nobody is obligated to excuse that – but merely as insight for anyone who cares to have it. And this will be long. There’s a whole lot that went into the feelings that inspired those badly worded tweets, and I don’t know how to condense this, without losing the essence.

I’ve been really disturbed by this never-ending pattern of media and public response to state sanctioned murder of black men and women, and other people of color, in which the “they were no saint” rhetoric gets trotted out and paraded around every article, every television news feed, every sound bite, every comments section and social media discussion. It makes me physically ill to read, over and over again, the picking apart of every single personal choice, belief, and behavior of the victims of these crimes, as if smoking weed, or refusing to put out a cigarette, or speaking rightful challenge to over-reaching authority, or shoplifting, or being fucking rude, somehow justifies their murders. It’s the same damned thing that I, and other victims of sexual crimes, have to face when we come forward to either report those crimes or seek social support. It’s victim blaming, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter whether or not Sandra Bland put out her cigarette, when the cop told her to do so, any more than in matters what a rape victim was wearing, when some rapist made them his prey. It doesn’t matter whether or not Michael Brown had ever smoked weed, any more than it matters whether a woman had one too many drinks in a bar, if somebody assaults her. It doesn’t matter what the fucking VICTIMS did, before they were made victims, whether the person who victimized them was a rapist or a trigger-happy racist cop. The victims deserve our support. So, the whole not-a-saint thing hits me pretty hard.

Homophobia does, too. It has been a fact of life for me, since I realized I was something other than “normal,” something other than straight, when I was in my early teens. I’ve written, here, about what it was like for me, growing up bisexual in a bigoted, shitpot, southern town, and here, about how some of that bigotry was shoved down my throat, growing up. And here, about sexual abuse, rape, and victim silencing. About hate, racism, homophobia, erasure, shaming, indoctrination, and how all of those things have been a part of my history, a part of how I became who I am, now. If you don’t want to read them, I understand. None of them is an easy read. All of them come with possible triggers, especially for anyone who is marginalized, harmed, and/or oppressed by racism, homophobia, or rape culture. In a nutshell, I’ve faced homophobia for most of my life. I still face it, now. The memories of the ways it has been weaponized against me are still nearly as painful as its current presence. The fears of what that same homophobia, and the usually accompanying transphobia, may do to my teenage, transgender son, are ever-present and often overwhelming, even in the obvious context of my own undeniable white privilege.

Since my unavoidable return to that shitpot town, all of those things, and a sweeping culture of racism that pervades nearly every single facet of life, here, have made me all but a shut-in. I can’t go to the grocery store, without running into someone who bullied me in high school for being bisexual. I can’t stop to put gas in the car, without seeing a handful of bigoted, hateful stickers on cars, or an overblown pickup truck with a full sized confederate flag hanging from a jury-rigged flagpole in the back. Christmas dinner with my family ended with me, my partner, and my child walking out fifteen minutes into the meal, because of the blatant, unapologetic racism in my family’s conversation. My facebook, on June 27th, was FULL of right wing rhetoric about how conservatives and Christians were being oppressed by “that Muslim traitor in the White House.”

Living here, it is utterly inescapable, and for at least a few more years, I can’t leave.

So, I turned my facebook, where my friends are family and what few locals I didn’t have horrid associations with, from before, into a platform. Nearly every day, I comment on other posts, trying to simultaneously maintain composure, and fight against the all encompassing culture of hate-infested, cis-hetero, christian, white supremacy that permeates everything. I post educational things about the history nobody taught us in school, the one in which slavery was literally the ONLY real reason for the Civil War (and that, alone, is usually a brick wall), about how community policing, as we know it, has always been inherently anti-black, about how Jesus never condemned homosexuality, about how love between consenting adults is never either a sin or a crime, about how transpeople deserve the right to not be murdered by bigots, about how people of color deserve to live in a place where the police aren’t the enemy.

I have NO community, in real life. Aside from the two other people who live in my house, I have a sister and a former stepmother I barely see, and one old high school friend, with whom I find I have less and less in common. My father and extended family refuse to see their unconscious racism, transphobia, and homophobia, so I don’t feel safe in their presence. There is literally nothing to do, here, no place to go, that isn’t at least a 45 minute drive, which doesn’t involve associating with dangerously hateful bigots. I’m disabled, so travel isn’t something I get to indulge in, much, even just to the nearest city.

In the last two years, over and over and over again, I have either lost friendships, or chosen to dissociate myself from people who refused to see their victim blaming, predator enabling behaviors were a problem. So the vast majority of people I knew, people from my former home whom I considered friends, are no longer a part of my life. And that one former high school friend I mentioned? He’s a white, cis-, gay man. Recently, he was here, visiting, and dropped the phrase, “playing the race card,” into a conversation about politics. It was kind of the last straw, for me. I’m basically a hermit, now.

See, bigotry has been a fact of life, for me, ALL of my life. I am always the most upset and offended by that bigotry when it comes from someone who is also marginalized and/or oppressed by the current status quo. Hearing my gay friend express something so blatantly racist was enraging and devastating. The one person I believed I had, here, the one person I thought was more evolved, and beyond all that bigotry, had just revealed that he wasn’t. It felt, as it always does, when that happens, like a betrayal.

Oppressed people actively participating in or perpetuating the oppression of other people is the one thing I simply can’t ever wrap my brain around, can’t ever stop feeling astonished and hurt by, when I hear or read it. It rips into me like a dull knife, every single time.

What happened to Sandra Bland, even though we don’t know all of the truth, yet, was horrific and inexcusable. I’ve argued with idiots about this until I could barely speak. Idiots who trot out that ridiculous line about how, if she’d just obeyed the nice white policeman, she would have been fine. Idiots who spout the suspicious evidence of marijuana in her system as proof that she was to blame, somehow. Idiots who are just exhausting, and pretty much everywhere I go. I’ve argued until I wept, in frustration with them, and in utter despair of our culture as a whole. I haven’t been able to march. I can’t go to where the protests are, but I’ve been working towards educating other white people about the white supremacist reality of present day America, nearly every single day since last August.

So, when I saw that Sandra Bland was homophobic, it felt like a kick in the gut, on a day when (for a host of unrelated reasons I won’t even get into, here) my guts had already been pummeled. My initial emotion was that same sense of betrayal I felt when my friend revealed his racism. Then, a little bit of anger, and the return of that overwhelming sadness and despair for what our culture is, despite the fact that it’s the 21st century.

If the people I know, here, discovered this, they would undoubtedly use it as a sort of gotcha. They would use it as yet another reason why they think I’m wrong to believe that her death was not fucking okay, or in any way justifiable. They would do this, even while believing that I, and my son, are fundamentally less worthy, as human beings, because of our sexual orientation and gender identity.

And all those things were swirling in my head, as I realized that it didn’t matter whether or not she would have fought for me, or for my son. She did not deserve to die, alone and unjustly imprisoned. When I said that “homophobia isn’t a lethal offense,” I did not mean that directed homophobia doesn’t kill, because it absolutely does. I know why that seemed dismissive, and it is entirely the fault of my own hastily worded reaction. I only meant that her being homophobic was not reason enough to justify locking her up and taking her life. When I said what I did about her not having the opportunity to learn and grow, I said it from a place of someone who was raised to hate, raised to be racist and bigoted, and learned better. Someone who, through life experience and age and seeking knowledge and understanding, overcame some busted beliefs that were carefully cultivated in my young, formative mind. Someone who believes that we all have the capacity to overcome our broken and damaging conditioning, to become more empathetic and humane and caring towards one another, no matter our lot in life.

If someone had killed me, when I was a few years younger than Sandra Bland, I would never have been shown my internalized racism, either. I think that unjustly depriving someone of that chance is every bit as tragic as killing someone more socially enlightened, more empathetic to the ways in which people unlike themselves are oppressed.

So, yes. I will continue to demand answers and accountability from the people responsible for Sandra Bland’s death. Her homophobia didn’t make what they did to her less unjust, and my support for that doesn’t hinge on what her attitudes towards me may have been. I don’t say that for anyone other than myself, though. It is completely understandable and justifiable for other LGBTQ people to wish to withdraw their vocal support for that particular cause, in light of this information, and I don’t judge them in any way. For me, her death didn’t remove homophobia from the world, or even my little sphere of it. It just denied her the chance to gain experience that may have shown her a better way to be.

So, I will still  say her name. Sandra Bland may never have been my friend, if we’d met, but what was done to her demands justice, and she should not be forgotten.

Again, if you’ve made it this far, I am so very sorry that my language was dismissive, offensive, and/or harmful. I can’t promise never to screw up again, but I promise to try harder to be more conscious of my words, rather than spewing complex emotions into thoughtless 140-character blurbs. And now I’m off to find the article that inspired all of this, and learn how to do better.

The problem with “drama”

Drama. It’s a term we hear quite often, in recent years. As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, in this context:

An exciting, emotional, or unexpected series of events or set of circumstances

As defined by Merriam Webster, in this context:

a :  a state, situation, or series of events involving interesting or intense conflict of forces

b:  dramatic state, effect, or quality <the drama of the courtroom proceedings>

If we’re speaking literally, then, drama is really just a part of life, for everyone. Giving birth is drama. Dealing with a crying baby is drama. Getting married, beginning or ending a relationship or job, getting a promotion or a raise, being stuck in traffic when you’re on your way to something important, the loss of a loved one or pet, the first day of school, work, or marriage, a wedding, a funeral, a cat chasing a robot dog across your living room floor. All of those things qualify as drama, and all of them are perfectly normal, mostly necessary or unavoidable, parts of life. Without drama, there would be no life.

Recently, though, the word “drama” has taken on much more negative connotations. In order to explore those, we need to step into a slightly seedier (if occasionally more amusing) corner of the internet.

From urbandictionary:

The…

Wait… Jesus Christ. That’s a rather… dramatic… discovery. I had to go down thirteen definitions, just to find one that wasn’t completely loaded with misogyny, either in the definition, or in the examples. And number thirteen is so poorly written, I refuse to include it, here.

So, I guess we’ll just start with the number one definition:

Something women and especialy [sic] teenage girls thrive on. consisting of any number of situations that have an easy solution, wich [sic] would bring a fairly good outcome, but these girls choose another, shitty, bad way to deal with it, again consisting of backstabbing, blackmailing/gossiping/betraying their friends, or the all-too-common “I want to break up with him but i still love him!”
it drives men and what i like to call “normal” girls nuts.

Unfortunately, when people talk about drama, these days, the above definition is usually what they’re intending to convey. Unfortunately, it is very much a gendered issue. In fact, looking through the top 35 definitions, there are over 50 blatant misogynist, ableist, or homophobic slurs, or characterizations of women and girls as the main sources of all the “drama,” always.

Which is telling, really, and speaks directly to the point I wanted to make, when I opened up this post. I’d like to include the first definition listed, at number twenty-three, which I feel adequately describes what is actually going on, when someone tosses out the word “drama,” in conversation, especially around sensitive or controversial topics:

A way of referring to problems and other normal complications in life, typically of others; painting them in a negative light so that the person speaking doesn’t come off as being a self-interested jerk even though doing this inherently determines them to be so.

This definition is actually much closer to the truth, I think.

When victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment, or blatant misogyny speak out, or when someone speaks out on their behalf, there’s almost a guarantee that someone, somewhere, will accuse them of being drama queens or drama llamas, or of stirring up drama, or having too much drama, or of causing drama. Often, the people using the term will claim that the person’s tone is the problem, or their personality, or their past.

What this indicates is that the issues to which you are trying to draw necessary attention – issues like domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment – are uncomfortable for them to hear. It indicates that the person hearing about these important issues doesn’t want to face up to the reality of the problems, doesn’t want to admit that, perhaps, there’s something they may need to do, or change, or put some effort and empathy into, in order to fix the problem.

What it amounts to is fear. They’re afraid of things changing. More often than not, they are comfortable with the way things are. Either the situation isn’t harming them, personally, or they have internalized the harm to a point where they are unable to see how damaging it is, to them, to others, and to their culture as a whole. Or, perhaps for some, they are well aware of the truth of the matter, and don’t want anyone to take what you’re saying seriously, because it might reveal them to be the abusers, rapists, harassers, or violators that they are.

It’s fear, manifesting as intimidation, and it is one of the favorite weapons in the arsenal of the victim blamers, abusers, misogynists, and cowards of the world. It is almost exclusively used against marginalized or victimized people, to discredit them, to silence them, to shame them into not saying things that might make somebody look bad. To make them shut up. To make them question themselves. It’s their way of saying,

STAHP!! Stop saying these things that I don’t want to hear about! Stop trying to take away my illusions or my nice-person mask! Stop telling me things that make me ashamed of things I might have done, or might do in the future! Stop making me have to actually think about what my actions, my choices, my words, or the actions, words, or choices of the people I support and defend, might be doing to other people! Stop pointing out my utter lack of empathy for my fellow human beings!

The worst of it is, in many situations, it works. Often, a victim will speak up to a community, to tell them that their policies aren’t good enough to keep the members safe, or they will give an account of something that another community member did to them, which caused harm, or they will notice a Missing Stair, and ask that someone make the needed repairs. They will be met by an onslaught of criticism, insults, attacks, and threats. They will be accused of being drama queens. They might face entire groups of people, loudly demanding that they stop lying, stop stirring things up, stop causing trouble, stop making noise. They will be met with such ferocious resistance, at a time when they are already vulnerable and raw and afraid… and they will back down. They’ll shut up. They’ll stop trying to draw attention to the problems that need to be recognized and addressed. Sometimes, they’ll simply pull away from the community in which the problems exist, often losing important social support networks in the process. Sometimes, they will internalize what is being thrown their way, and begin to doubt themselves, blame themselves, and by extension, begin to blame other victims, in later problematic situations.

That’s just not okay. Silencing and shaming people who are speaking to legitimate issues, by using the word “drama” as a weapon, is not okay.

So, do me a favor. Stop that. Have a little more empathy.Understand that anyone reporting someone or something which is causing harm isn’t a “drama queen.” They’re a brave, hopeful, empathetic person, trying to keep other people from being harmed, often in ways in which they already have been. They deserve your attention. They deserve to not be invalidated with words like “drama.” They deserve your gratitude, instead of your ridicule.

When you say, I don’t do drama, what I hear is, I am more invested in being comfortably ignorant, and utterly selfish, than I am in showing empathy to my fellow human beings, or taking some responsibility for shaping the culture in which I live. 

And I think that most of us want to be better than that. Don’t you?

How you might STILL be victim-blaming… and how to stop

Originally posted October 31, 2014


A friend of a friend wrote about something that happened to her, recently. She was attending a party. Someone asked for her consent to kiss her. She refused. They asked again. She refused again. I don’t know how many times this cycle repeated, but the person kissed her, anyway.

When she posted her account of what happened, there was a comment, asking if she thought it would have happened, had she been there with a partner, or simply been attached. The person commenting was really persistent about the question.

Now, I don’t know any of the people involved. The victim and many of the other people commenting who do know everyone involved seem to believe that the commentator’s questions were likely not intended to be victim-blaming, and I’m inclined to take their word for it. The thing is, it really doesn’t matter whether or not they meant for it to be.

Because it IS.

In another thread, someone about whom I care a great deal, someone I never expected to see blaming victims, even in the most circumspect fashion, wrote:

You are responsible for not being the easy target.

Knowing this person, I honestly do NOT believe they intend to blame victims. But it doesn’t matter. Because they are, with those words, whether they mean to do so or not. It doesn’t matter whether they mean their statement to be victim-blaming.

Because it IS.

I could intend to bake a lemon cake, and use orange zest and flavoring by mistake. My intent doesn’t change the result. I made an orange cake, and no amount of me seeing a lemon cake is going to change that. No amount of me denying that it is an orange cake is going to change that. No amount of trying to explain what my intent was is going to magically turn it into a lemon cake. Period.

It’s an orange cake. And I need to own that, and if lemon cake was my intent, but everyone around me is telling me that it tastes like orange cake? I need to figure out how not to make that mistake again, don’t you think?

The following comes mostly from a comment on the first post I mentioned.


Whenever a person who is any gender other than male is sexually assaulted, the Twenty Questions game almost inevitably begins.

Were you drinking? What were you wearing? Were you leading him on? Were you there alone?

What this line of questioning does is twofold.

First, it takes the focus away from where it belongs. In this specific instance, it takes the focus off the person who kissed someone, even after specifically being told “no,” numerous times. That information, just the last sentence before this one, is ALL THAT MATTERS. Period. He did not have consent. He was even explicitly denied consent. He did it, anyway. It doesn’t matter what she did. It doesn’t matter what she wore. It doesn’t matter if she was drinking, or if she was standing completely naked right next to him. It does NOT matter whether or not she was alone. What she did, or didn’t do, or with whom she attended the party, is irrelevant.

He asked. She said no. He did it, anyway.

Which brings us to the second point. Putting the focus on anything that she did or did not do makes it easier for some people to rationalize what he did. It puts the onus for controlling his behavior on her. Making it her job to alter her own behavior, in order to somehow control his. It’s the same thing schools do, when they create a dress code that prohibits strappy tanks or skirts more than two inches above the knee, on girls, in order to keep boys from behaving badly.

See, whether or not you’re right about what, hypothetically, may have happened, if she’d had a partner present, or if she was wearing more conservative clothing, or didn’t have that drink, it doesn’t matter. And you’re basically saying that she could have done something (not attended alone, etc.) that would have possibly made him not do something (kiss her without consent).

He is the one who chose to ignore her “no.” He is the one who chose to kiss her, even though he knew it wasn’t okay with her. He is the one who ignored consent. Therefore, his behavior is the only behavior that needs to be questioned, here. Period. To do otherwise is to relieve him of the burden of being held fully accountable for his own choices, his own behavior. And if you’re doing that, then you are, whether intentionally or not, putting some portion of the responsibility for what he did on her shoulders.

And that is why people tell you that you’re victim blaming. Not saying that you are a person who actually believes that victims are at fault, but that line of thought inevitably puts responsibility on someone other than the person who chose to act. And doing so, regardless of intent, IS victim blaming.

So, instead, why don’t we focus on the person who kissed her without her consent? Why don’t we ask what he could have done to prevent what happened? …what choices he could have made that would have kept him from violating someone’s consent? …what behaviors, and possibly patterns of thought, heneeds to work on changing, in order to not do that again? …and, in the immediate circumstances, what he’s going to do to make amends to the person he has already violated?

Because those are the questions that really need to be asked, and discussed, and analyzed, if we’re going to put a stop to things like this happening.

Not the ones about what she did, or didn’t do.

A response to “We don’t teach men to rape.”

Originally posted elsewhere, August 5, 2014


I posted most of this as a comment on a post, elsewhere, in response to another comment. (What follows has been slightly edited, and expanded from the original.)

The comment basically said that men who rape are abnormal, and that what they do isn’t a learned behavior.

I beg to differ.

I would agree that no man who molests children is ‘normal.’ As to the men who rape women, well, I see that a bit differently. Some of the men who do these things aren’t normal. But not all, by far. Many of them are as normal, as statistically average in every way, as they can possibly be, and are simply the end products of societal conditioning that shows them, over and over and over, that they don’t have to be held accountable for their aggressive behaviors when it comes to relating to women, or transpeople, or anyone who isn’t a man.

See, we (society) have this picture of “RAPIST” that is the stranger lurking in the bushes, or behind a parked car, waiting to jump out and attack us, and drag us off into some dark, dank space to have their way with us. We (society) have this picture of “REAL RAPE” as something that is always a violent attack, with brutal, aggressive force, weapons, masked men, which takes place between strangers in dark alleys.

The statistics do not support that picture. The vast majority of rape is perpetuated by people known to the victims, trusted by the victims. It is more likely to be coercive, or the result of more subtle intimidation and power-play, than brute physical attack.

People say that the behavior hasn’t been taught to them. Actually, it has, in many, many cases. Sure. Someone, somewhere, told them “don’t rape.” Maybe. But the real messages coming from society aren’t so black and white. They are taught, over and over and over and over again that their aggressive sexual behavior is either perfectly okay, or not their fault or responsibility. That they can’t be expected to control their sexual impulses or desires, because … cavemen, or something?

  • If she was wearing a short skirt, or tight jeans, or a revealing top, or makeup, she obviously wanted to draw attention from men. So, if they catcall or approach her, if they get all up in her personal space, she must have wanted that, right? Because she wore those clothes that drew their attention, so that’s her responsibility.
  • If she went to a bar and sat down to have a drink alone, she obviously wanted their ham-handed come-ons and PUA bullshit. She obviously wants someone to pursue her, even if she says no. She couldn’t just be there to enjoy a drink, either alone or with her friends.
  • If she’s rejecting their advances, she doesn’t really mean it. She’s only saying no to be a tease, to make them pursue her, to play hard to get, to tantalize and inflame men’s desire for the chase. Because her behavior is all about them, doncha know.
  • If she’s passed out drunk, or so intoxicated that she slurs her words and stumbles when she walks, then it’s all on her if he has sex with her. She shouldn’t have had so much to drink.

See, ^these are the things we have really been teaching men. That “boys will be boys,” and aren’t responsible for their behavior. Look back, really LOOK, at all of those scenarios. In each case, someone is acting, and someone is being acted upon. Yet, in each case, society tells the person who is acting that it is the “personal responsibility” of the person being acted upon to play gatekeeper. To not wear the clothes or the makeup that ‘entice men.’ To not have a damned drink in a bar. To be blunt to the point of cruelty if they want their rejection taken seriously (which can then bring on even more aggressive, violent, threatening behavior).

But we absolve the person who is acting, in each scenario, of any accountability whatsoever.

So, yeah, in many cases, they ARE being taught that it’s okay to ignore boundaries. That it’s okay to push past them. That it’s okay to get in someone else’s personal space, even when the person is expressing distaste or unease or discomfort or outright rejection. They are being taught that it is not their responsibility to not rape. They are not being held accountable for acting, and they are being shown, repeatedly, that when they do act, the responsibility for their behavior is on the person at whom the behavior is directed.

Under the he-had-a-weapon-and-was-a-stranger-and-she-was-beaten-into-submission model, sure. Very few men do that.

But LOADS of men who don’t fit that “REAL RAPIST” false archetype are raping women. They rape their wives and girlfriends. They rape passed out girls and too-drunk-to-consent women at parties. They refuse to take no for an answer, and coerce and intimidate and bully and push and push and push until she gives in, not actually consenting, but unable to withstand the onslaught.

And we (society) overwhelmingly blame her. Even though he was the one pursuing, he was the one acting, we blame his victim. And he knows it. He may not think that he’s raping someone. He may think this is just how sex works. HE. IS. WRONG. And so is the society that teaches him that he isn’t.

No. We may not explicitly teach men to rape. We just teach them that, if they do, it’s perfectly understandable, and not their fault. Which amounts to the same damned thing.

When I say, “I can’t”

… I mean that I can’t. Whatever it is, I am absolutely incapable of doing it.

There’s this thing that happens, for me, since the seizures actually started having an impact. Too much auditory stimulation makes my head all splodey. I can’t listen to music above a very soft level, and simultaneously carry on a conversation. I can’t chit chat at a concert. I can’t keep up with a discussion while watching TV. I can’t handle being involved in a conversation with people who talk over others, monopolize conversation and do not grasp the natural give-and-take of communication.

CAN’T.

If at all possible, I get rid of one type of stimulation, to let another in. I turn off the music, or pause the movie, or ask my friend to hold the conversation until the concert is over. I ask people involved in conversations with me to be courteous, of me and one another.

When that isn’t possible? I have to shut something out. I have to ignore something. I have to somehow close down that part of my brain, or I go bugnuts.

It’s a physiological thing, over which I have very little control. It leads to me being somewhat easily overwhelmed or frustrated. I’m sure it is frustrating for those who are close to me. Fuck. It’s hell, for me. I didn’t ask for this, I didn’t choose it, and I don’t fucking want it, but I’ve got it, anyway. So, I deal the best that I can.

Part of that is stating that I need something to stop, or to have a break in the onslaught, for a bit. When I do that, I need to be heard. I need for the conversation or music or wtf-ever to fucking STOP. RIGHT. NOW.

NOT when you finish your thought… or the next one… or the one after that. Not when the song ends.

NOW.

If you can’t manage to do that, after repeated reminders, I cannot, for the sake of my own health, be around you. Period.

Can. Not.

Originally posted elsewhere, December 24, 2013