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.

How not to be a friend to an escaped abuse victim

When I left my abusive ex, I also decided to make it very clear to the community in which he was participating that he was a danger. See, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one he’d abused. In fact, I’d say anyone would be hard-pressed to find anyone with whom he’d ever been in a relationship, whom he had not abused. And the people to whom I was giving warnings were people I cared about a great deal. People I knew, people I’d loved as chosen family, friends, and part of a community I once cherished and called home.

This all set me on a path to consent activism. I’ve been doing that ever since.

One of the most hurtful things to ever come out of that was a message I received from a friend. At the time, I considered her my best friend. It was a message in which she explicitly withdrew her support for me, and what I was doing. It led to a conversation in which she very clearly stated that she didn’t believe I was ‘actually’ abused. In which she described what was the result of a typical behavior, by abuse victims – namely, covering up for their abuser, until the abuse is over and they are safe – as the reason she didn’t believe that I had been in an abusive relationship.

What seems to be happening is all these little changes and edits are merging together to create an inhuman monster out of a guy who is merely a selfish loser douchebag.

And there were no changes. No edits. No creation of anything. Only revelation of the way things actually went down, when I was in a place too frightening to be able to speak out.

I wrote the following, then, as a response to every single piece of it that she brought up, claiming I was lying. Just recounting it, now, leaves me trembling and aching, not only because of what he did, but because of how the loss of my friend hurt me.

What follows was originally posted elsewhere, January 9, 2014. I almost chose to simply delete it, but it is very illustrative of the things you shouldn’t do, as a friend to an abuse victim seeking support. 

I was warned about the ex. His ex warned me. Her friends warned me. I didn’t listen. That is on me.

Of course, he made it a very convincing case that she was psycho, and all her friends were just jumping on a bandwagon, but I did make the decision.

I agreed to move him into my home. By the time I did so, I had determined to put as happy a face as possible on it, because I knew some of my friends would be trying to poke holes, and I didn’t want holes poked. I was in dire straits, and needed this to work. Which, of course, he well knew.

Of course, by then, I’d been through a long campaign to convince me it would be okay, and every concern I brought up was either pooh-poohed or brushed aside or handled with explanations that rang true at the time. He decided that was what he wanted long before I got on board. There’s a witness to that, in case my credibility is that far gone in your eyes.

But I did make the decisions, both to agree to it, and to keep perceptive friends from poking holes. I needed this to be good, and he was saying all the right things. I didn’t want holes. I didn’t want to see holes.

He and I, together, figured out a way to trigger my seizures for a purpose. I knew one was coming, sometime around the court date I had for my stepfather’s bond reduction hearing, and I couldn’t afford to have a seizure in court, or to be in a brain-fog, the day of. This kind of triggering worked by me lying down on the bed, and him flickering lights in my face. We used it a handful of times for important occasions, for times when I had to be okay, but my seizures would probably get in the way of that. Triggering a seizure in time for me to recover kept me  from worrying about the seizure happening in the midst of those important things.

I never believed he would take that to a different place. I never even imagined he would figure out that stress triggers could be manufactured, if he just didn’t give me an avenue to walk away, and yelled and cursed and called names and got all up in my face with a barrage that wouldn’t stop until I spazzed out, seized, and later forgot the fight. I never imagined anyone would do something like that. I mean, who would?

But, because I cooperated with it the first way, I must have been on board with the second, right? …even though I wasn’t sure it was happening until it had been going on for months? No. But hey, I was on board with one, so why not the other, right? This seems to support the whole idea of Well, she let me kiss her, so why did I need to worry about getting consent to do more?

Yes. I actively encouraged him to find other partners. At first, I did this without knowing how bad things really were. How awful he really was. I was simply happy to be experiencing compersion for the first time, and I liked the women he was meeting.

Then I started having a much harder time not seeing what he was. Much harder. I was still entirely on board with him being with other people, but for much more selfish reasons. I needed a break, now and then. I needed rest that wasn’t me sleeping with one eye open, and time in my house that wasn’t eggshells and hot coals all the time. Maybe that was “stupid or cruel,” as you called it. Perhaps I should have just fought tooth and nail against him getting what he wanted, to protect all those women from the things I was already suffering. I was too weak. I was too worn down. I was too afraid. Maybe I even hoped that some of the bad would stop, if he got his girl, and got back to the NRE that allowed our first two or three months to be okay.

I didn’t just let it happen, though. I warned them. ALL of them, personally, if I had any contact information at all. I warned them of badness in general, and gave specific details, when appropriate. I’ve maintained friendships with the two most notable ones, to this day. I call them friends. I’m pretty sure they call me the same. Both have mentioned red flags that came up, that they didn’t ignore because of things I said. Both have thanked me for making them aware enough to do so. But hey. I let him date them, right? That must prove he wasn’t abusing me. Uh-huh. Sure.

I was stupid and vulnerable and I loved the man he showed me, far past the point when his actions, and the abuse, had made it clear that man was never coming back, at least not for me, no matter how ‘good’ I was, how compliant.

I covered up the abuse because I was scared. He’d charmed the pants off a very close friend. Hell, he is a great friend, as long as you don’t get any closer than that. I was assured that no one would believe me, and he proved it with her. The more time they spent together, the less she seemed to care about me. I became paranoid. I stopped telling any of the bad stuff to anyone that he might talk to, though I had to sneak to talk to people he didn’t like. But hey, I chose to be there, right? That must mean there wasn’t any abuse, right? I mean, victims of domestic violence and emotional abuse don’t ever choose to stay with their abusers, right?

I smiled and acted like everything was hunky-dory, made excuses for his behavior, explained things in the best possible light…

I kept doing this, even when he was throwing hands full of pennies at the person who cut him off on the highway, after chasing them down and passing them at 90 mph. I kept doing this even when he broke my daughter’s cello in a fit of rage. I kept doing this even when he took the dinner I’d cooked him and threw it across the room, breaking the plate, scaring the kids, and leaving food on the floor that wasn’t safe for the dog to eat, then raking the carpet like a madman, when I insisted that he clean it up. I kept doing this when he was telling me what a bitch my daughter was, and what a cunt I was and how lazy and useless and worthless and crazy I was.

I kept doing this right up until that became impossible, which happened pretty much all at once.

I went to a con with him. Where he violated my consent, then spent three days laying on the thickest coats of victim-blaming bullshit you could possibly imagine, before posting a bogus apology online, trying to save face with the community, that he hadn’t even given to me, in the next room, in person. But hey. I chose to play with him, right? That must mean that he wasn’t abusive, right?

So. There you go. All the things that make me either a liar, or a willing participant in my own abuse. Since they’ve been thrown in my face, I thought I may as well own it all.

Do me a favor, okay? If any of ^that^ makes you think of me as a liar, or a manipulator, or whatever other hurtful words you wanna toss my way, just keep it to yourself. Un-friend me. I don’t even want to know why, anymore.

You wanna kick somebody? Well, it’s the kink community, after all. I wish you luck finding someone who’s into that sort of thing. Me? I’m not.