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.

chair

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“We are all just humans.”

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

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

Required reading.

Let's not rule anything out

So last night, this happened.

untitled

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…

View original post 611 more words

So You Think You Can Dance (a poem for the Random Man in my inbox)

Oh, Honey, NO.

Not here
Not me
Not today
… or any other, for that matter

Yeah, there’s a dance
and yeah
my round ass is shaking
to the tune that’s playing
but nobody invited you
and I sure don’t want
your skeeze
in my dance space
Like Jennifer Grey
and her spaghetti arms
not knowing
what the fuck she was doing
but trying hard to act
just like she did

See
I *been* dancing this dance
long
long
before you
came along
and I know the tune
I know the steps
this tempo
runs in my blood
frantic
pulsing
pounding
flowing
invading already
all without your
pathetic assistance

See
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
no more
*no more*
*NO MORE*
Even when
all you really ever wanted
was to lie down
and make the spinning stop
and silence the beat

But I did
we did
we danced
because we had to
danced
until our feet bled
until our legs were weak
like gelatin
tears flowing
rage-spittle flying
dancing
for our fucking lives
for the lives
of husbands and wives
of children and parents
of sisters
brothers
friends
lovers
cousins
and kin not even blood

And now you
wanna storm in here
while I’m dancing
demanding
that I teach you the steps
then spouting off
about how these steps are wrong
how the dance would be
done better
the way *you* want to see it
about how
you ought to get
a spot in the pattern
and be able
to change the moves
slow down the tempo
because your tender feet-
unaccustomed to
the stamping
stomping
hard-driving beat-
can’t handle these
grunts of effort
the sweat flying
from our cheeks
or are those tears of exhaustion
frustration
rage
You
and your tender feet
know nothing of this dance
because luck
because
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
keep stomping
keep stamping
keep spinning

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 are
that have always been
a part of this dance
that ain’t
fucking
yours

Nah, homeskillet.

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
for 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

(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

to coerce

to chase

to push

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

pursued

 

One day, perhaps

those boys won’t know

what it is to taunt each other

to destroy one another’s humanity

for show

no one will say

“Man up”

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

 

Perhaps

One day

the norm will be

to teach little children

boundaries and agency

to tell them

that their tiny

growing bodies

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

suffer slimy

wet

uncomfortable kisses

from aunts who wear

too much lipstick

or grasping

groping

squirm-making hugs

from the uncle nobody likes

just to spare their

oversensitive entitlement

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

with him

doing that

to her

for even the thought

of her attire

to come to mind.

And perhaps one day

sexual will not

equal shameful

when we talk to our children

our partners

our peers

so that we can be honest

instead of posturing

be safe

instead of threatened

be fulfilled

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

here

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

for good

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

here

and another

there

and perhaps one day

that will not be enough

 

…but that is not

the when I’m in.

That day is not today.

 

 

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.