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.

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Why I Need Feminism

I have recently started spending an inordinate amount of time on Twitter. A year ago, I would have believed that to be a waste of time. A year ago, I was uninformed.

Twitter, largely thanks to the efforts of Black Lives Matter activists like  Johnetta Elzie, DeRay Mckesson and Zellie Imani, has become the active, vibrant, effective hub of social change. It’s strange to say, but I sometimes feel like I didn’t really grow up, didn’t really mature in my own feminism, until I found Twitter. Sure, I sort of understood my own white privilege, but I didn’t really know even a third of the racial history of this country. I believed in intersectionality, but I had not quite internalized it.

Twitter changed that, 140 characters at a time. Not to mention all the links to mind-blowing, mind-expanding studies and articles, op-ed pieces and blog entries. It also introduced me to a host of amazing people who are doing some very difficult, often thankless, sometimes risky even to the point of possible death, activism work.

Aside from the cat pics and joke memes (which, let’s be clear, I enjoy more than I should), Twitter has mostly been a feeling of community I’ve missed for a long time. It has given me something I thought I’d lost, before: a place to talk about my personal feminism, without feeling like I was constantly under attack. A place to learn from other people, without feeling completely disconnected from the teachers. A place to debate, where the trolls can fairly easily be dismissed (at least, they can for me; I know others’ experiences haven’t been that at all) by the simple click of a mouse.

And there are the question tweets. Mostly, the questions aren’t original. Often, they’re things I’ve seen a million times, and just haven’t bothered to address or answer, for myself. Simple questions, with maybe not-so-simple answers.

Tonight’s simple question, from Feminist Gals an account created mostly (from what I can tell) to educate teens and college-aged adults about feminism, was this:

Why do you need feminism?

I responded twice, and I’ll include those answers, here. But there is so much more than I could put into tweets, even if I filled that text field over and over again, all night long. I decided to start a living, updated-as-necessary list of all the reasons why I need feminism.

I need feminism…

  • …because before I was old enough to legally buy a drink in a bar, I’d been molested for five years, gang raped while on a vacation, abused by two different partners, and roofied and raped at a party where I had one drink.
  • …because my family didn’t believe I’d been molested.
  • …because I chose a boy I didn’t really care about, to lose my virginity, so that the grown man who was molesting me wouldn’t take it from me, without my consent.
  • …because virginity has become so commodified in our culture, I actually believed I would lose value as a human being, as soon as I was no longer a virgin.
  • …because from the moment I had sex with that sweet boy, I was labelled a slut.
  • …because my best friend at the time was also gang raped, that night, and blamed me for it. Because she and her friend beat me in a parking lot for not saving her.
  • …because I was taught to question and doubt the validity of my own lived experiences, by people not believing my accounts of them.
  • …because of gaslighting.
  • …because, when I told my boyfriend (at the time) about being raped, he blamed me for it, and immediately explained how he would leave me, if I pulled away from him the next time he tried to kiss me or initiate sex.
  • …because I was still so unsure of my own value as a human being that I stayed with him, anyway.
  • …because my sexual orientation has been dissected, ridiculed, picked apart, and even been deemed imaginary or non-existent, since I was outed in high school.
  • …because not all of that came from straight people.
  • …because a high school guidance counselor told me that I shouldn’t be “shoving it (my sexual orientation) in everybody’s faces, when I spoke to her about the bullying.
  • …because I was quietly steered away from the hobbies and careers I wanted, when I was young, because of my gender.
  • …because my childhood religion taught me both that I was the source of all evil, and that my only legitimate purposes on this planet were to make babies and take care of them. And men. To take care of men.
  • …because my emotions, even when their expression is both logical and appropriate to the situation, are often used to discredit my words. I am neither hysterical nor oversensitive.
  • …because I had an easier time getting booze at the liquor store, when I was a teenager, than I did getting birth control.
  • …because I grew up believing that women weren’t supposed to enjoy sex.
  • …because all the heroes in my books, movies, and TV shows were men and boys, beyond Nancy Drew.
  • …because I was taught all about all the things I was supposed to do to keep myself from being raped, without ever hearing a thing about consent.
  • …because my male friends and cousins were never taught not to touch me, if I said no.
  • …because I was never taught how to set boundaries, or even that I was allowed to do so. In fact, I was made to accept kisses, hugs, cheek-pinches, and to sit in someone’s lap, even when I’d said I didn’t want to do so.
  • …because parents are still forcing their kids to accept touches and physical affection from people who make them uncomfortable.
  • …because, until I was in my late twenties, I believed that if I “led a man on” to a certain point, I owed him sex.
  • …because girls – and more importantly, boys – are still being taught that lie.
  • …because too many people believe they are entitled to my attention, time, respect, affection, body, and intimacy.
  • …because girls are still made to choose their clothes for school based upon whether or not the boys might find them “distracting.”
  • …because the vast majority of legislators making policy and funding decisions about women’s health in the US are male.
  • …because I’m afraid to post face or full-body pictures of myself online, due to the possible commentary.
  • …because my clothing does not indicate consent
  • …because my alcohol consumption doesn’t, either.
  • …because one in five women will be raped in her lifetime.
  • …because 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are molested as children
  • …because our country provides those child victims with neither justice nor adequate treatment for their trauma.
  • …because a child victim of sexual abuse is almost twice as likely to be sexually assaulted or raped, later in life, as someone who was not molested as a child, yet there is no ongoing support system.
  • …because children almost never lie about sexual abuse, yet are rarely believed.
  • …because women almost never lie about rape, yet are rarely believed.
  • …because police officers often interrogate reporting rape victims as if they were the criminals…
  • …and only about 3% of rapists ever see the inside of a prison cell…
  • …and victims are revictimized by the court system, during trials…
  • …and by their communities…
  • …and by the media…
  • …yet too many people, when told by a woman that she was raped, refuse to believe her unless she goes to the police.
  • …because people like RooshV and Donald Trump exist.

And that’s all I’ve got the spoons to type, right now. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I will be back.

Allies, privilege, amplification, and self-care

Yesterday, New York Magazine went live with an article which was focused on amplifying the voices of 35 women. These women are only a portion of the total number of women who have come forward in recent months, detailing the sexual assaults they suffered at the hands of Bill Cosby. The cover photo, seen here, shows each of the 35 women, sitting in a chair, in stark black and white. There are 36 chairs. The last chair in the image is empty. That chair is haunting. That empty chair sparked a hashtag on twitter, #TheEmptyChair, which has become a platform for women who feel like that chair belongs, at least in part, to them. A platform from which they are telling their stories, explaining why their chair is still empty. At least one man on Twitter, Elon James White, offered his own profile as a part of that platform. He invited victims who felt the need to tell their story to send him private messages, which he would then post without their names, twitter usernames, or identifying information.

It probably won’t come as a surprise that his inbox was immediately flooded with responses. Accounts of some of the most vile bits of humanity, repeated and expanded upon beyond the capacity that any one human brain can reasonably hold. He will never know what it is like to be a woman in America. The best he can do is listen to the people who do know, and believe what they tell him, and magnify their voices from his male-privileged position. That isn’t as dangerous for him as it is for those women.

In the last few years, institutionalized racism has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the light. Into a place where even the most isolated, oblivious white person can’t possibly be unaware of the inexcusable, abominable acts being perpetrated on black people by a white-dominated society. In the wake of Michael Brown’s murder, and the fallout in Ferguson in reaction to that murder, and the seemingly endless murderous rampage of the US police force, directly after, I stopped just shaking my head, then turning away. I spent days watching the live feed videos from Ferguson and St Louis. Watching police hit peaceful, law-abiding protesters with pepper spray, rubber bullets, tasers, and various other military operational equipment. What we were being shown on mainstream media was an unruly crowd of mostly black youth, vandalizing and burning shops and police cars. What wasn’t being shown, on most TV stations, but was being shown in a host of live streaming feeds on the ground, was an entirely different story. Police inciting, rather than responding to, outbreaks of violence. Protesters demanding justice they wouldn’t receive, and being taunted, derided, ridiculed, infantilized and demonized in the press and by law enforcement in the streets.

I watched until my eyes hurt from weeping. A human being had been murdered. An innocent black man shot down by a white cop in the streets of his own hometown. And the mainstream media was undeniably bending over backwards to excuse it, to justify it, to explain it away. Pundits debating the existence of racism, as if there was any doubt that it still exists.

I wrote some things, like you do. I talked to my friends, and lamented the fucked up state of the nation. I cried some more. I agonized over what I might be able to do, from my perch as a disabled woman in a small town in the racist-as-fuck south.  I debated with my partner. I listened to black people. I asked questions. Then I listened some more. I’m white. I have white privilege. These are undeniable facts. I will never know what it’s like to be black in America. The best I can do is listen to the people who do know, and believe what they tell me. The best I can do is amplify their voices, to help the things they say be heard by people who may not listen to them. I can argue against the people who may not even give them the time of day, because of the levels of melanin in their skin. I can use my white privilege to speak to intractable, ignorant white people. That won’t be as dangerous, for me, as it would be for a black person.

Look, I’m what the relentlessly oblivious refer to as an SJW. A “Social Justice Warrior.” They mean it as a derogatory term, an insult that usually implies some sort of weakness, some sort of bleeding-heart liberal status that is, in their terms, indicative of a “pussy,” a “bitch,” a “beta.” I don’t care how they mean it. I am a Social Justice Warrior. To me, it means that I refuse to limit my noise-making and calls for attention only to problems that affect me, personally, or people like me. Intersectionality. It’s a thing. There are so many justifications for oppressing people, so many ways people are held down due to factors beyond their control or agency, and I’m not okay with any of them. I’m not affected, personally, by racism. It can still fuck right off. I’m not personally affected by transmisogyny or cis-sexism, but that can fuck in the general direction of off, as well. I will speak out against oppression, wherever I see it, in whatever form, no matter who I see perpetuating it.

I do it because I actually believe that human beings are all equal, and all deserve equal rights, equal treatment, equal representation, equal consideration. For me, that’s not just some easy history class recitation. It’s immutable fact. I have empathy for my fellow human beings who are being oppressed, no matter what form that takes. That empathy requires me to stand up when and where I am able. That may not mean much, all by itself. It’s a very small droplet in a very large ocean, especially when the town in which I’m frustratingly stuck is practically Wonderbread, USA. But it still matters.

I may be disabled, but I can still amplify the voices of black people who speak out on the various social media sites I utilize on a daily basis. Perhaps I expose one white person to something that makes them unpack their own privilege, or previously unexamined ignorance. Perhaps I get one previously cis-sexist person to recognize the harm they’re doing to transpeople. If I’m very fortunate, I can manage that much. In the meantime, I can keep on speaking out, keep on amplifying.

I may not get out much, or see many people in real life, but my biological family is almost entirely made up of a bunch of people who are bigoted at pretty much every point on the axes of oppression. At Christmas dinner last year, when the talk turned to Ferguson, the things my father and aunt were saying made me physically ill. We left, and they were informed as to the reasons why we refused to be around anyone spouting such insidious justifications for hatred. Maybe I didn’t change their minds at all. I kind of doubt it. But I can absolutely refuse to associate with anyone who behaves this way. If they care about me, they’ll be willing to have a conversation, and examine the reality from outside their normal lens.

I can call out any and all instances of racism, transmisogyny, and other bigotry and prejudice and unexamined privilege I see, in online forums. I can educate.

But, as Elon Jame White mentioned in the ThisWeekInBlackness Prime broadcast dealing with #TheEmptyChair, this shit is exhausting. There is such a dizzying array of rampant oppression going on in our country, and it never sleeps. When you step in to speak against it, you will meet resistance. You will have your resolve and will and empathy tested, again and again. You will tire of hearing the same horrible stories. You will tire of arguing the same tired old oppressive rhetoric that the oppressors have been using since time began and an ‘other’ existed. You will be attacked, shouted down, spoken over, condescended to, and bullied. It is inevitable.

It is okay to take a break. 

I know, we often have to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak. Individual stories of oppression only get traction through publicity for so long. It’s understandable to feel the need to run yourself into the ground, trying to stay right on top of every tweet, every DM, every news story, every untold horror. Sadly, though, no matter how many of these stories you amplify, there will almost assuredly be more, in the next breath. You can’t stay on top of it every waking moment. All that’s going to do is invite burnout, and then someone, somewhere has lost a valuable, meaningful ally. You can take a step back, take a breather, get some rest, and do whatever you need to do to recharge your batteries, before wading back in. Unfortunately, racism isn’t going anywhere, not in the time it takes you to eat, shower, and sleep, or even take a vacation and unplug for a bit. Rape culture isn’t going anywhere. Misogyny isn’t going anywhere. Cis-sexism isn’t going anywhere. Ableism isn’t going anywhere. You’re not going to hurt the progress of any of these social issues that much, by taking care of you for a minute. Or a week. Not doing so, however, could take you out of the equation, entirely, much sooner than you may have bowed out, otherwise.

So, no. Don’t just care about and speak about the issues that affect you, but do make sure that you take the time to deal with the ways in which all of the issues affect you. We all need those voices being amplified.

Why I Won’t Continue to Argue With You

I am a socially aware person. Which, if labels are to be trotted out, most often translates to “feminist,” “Social Justice Warrior,” “liberal hack,” “slacktivist,” or “Feminazi scum,” depending entirely on the beliefs of the speaker. With the exception of “feminazi” – which is utterly absurd and particularly hateful because no feminist or feminist group ever imprisoned and tortured and killed millions of human beings for their differences – I wear each one with pride. I know what they mean, what they’re intended to mean, and that the resentment behind them often indicates the frustration of the ignorant with inevitable social progress.

I didn’t just jump on this “bandwagon,” as so many opponents would call it, on a whim. I didn’t become this shining example of a “SJW” overnight. I got here through a very logical progression of questioning, seeking answers, and finding knowledge. It was an almost organic evolution. It was growth, and growth doesn’t happen without impetus, or all at once.

plant watering

It started when I was very young. I remember playing basketball in the Carolina summer heat, with my cousins, who were mostly boys. The hotter it got, the more shirts came flying off, to be discarded next to the red clay “court” in the backyard of the cousin who led the games. I was about six or seven. I hadn’t been taught anything about the differences between girls and boys, let alone about sex or sexuality. I got hot, too. I took my shirt off, too. And it was no big deal to me, or to the half dozen boys with whom I played. I took my shirt off, and ran around with the same sweaty, dirty abandon as all the other kids, and nobody cared. Until my father came running outside, red-faced and yelling. What the heck was I thinking??? What was the matter with me? He yelled and made me put my shirt back on, and go home, but he never explained why. From that day forward, I knew that girls couldn’t do everything that boys could do. That girls would get into trouble for things about which boys never had  to think twice.

I was also only seven years old when my family taught me to be a racist, and only about ten when I started to question that belief system. I found that I had a drive to learn more about other people, about how they lived in this world we shared, about how their experiences in that world were different from my own. I visited the school library. I read everything they had that related to my questions, then moved on to the county library. I talked to people. I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t, like me, white and protestant, at the time, but I asked questions, anyway. The answers I got were… dissatisfying. My parents and my preacher gave me biblical justifications for racism. So, I read the bible, cover to cover, for the first time. What I found was that the Bible doesn’t justify racism, yet it repeatedly urges us to love one another, regardless of our differences. I asked my teachers. Only one had an response that didn’t amount to a lackadaisical shrug of the shoulders. She pointed me in the direction of some amazing literature written by black authors, about their experience in this world. I devoured every one. Armed with this knowledge, I started questioning people, again. My parents eventually just shushed me with the equivalent of Because we said so. Now stop pestering us. My preacher brushed me off the same way.

I had encountered the first revelation of growing up: The grown-ups didn’t know everything, after all. They weren’t infallible. They could be wrong. But I’d also learned something of the utmost importance. I didn’t have to settle for their non-answers. There was a whole world out there, full of answers. I just had to find them for myself.

library

The next stage of this growth was related to sexuality. In a church where they managed to justify racism with bible verses, it’s no surprise that homosexuality was also sternly frowned-upon. This was problematic, for me. See, I was in kindergarten when I developed my first celebrity crush – on a woman. I was in first grade when I had my first real-life crush – on a girl. I later developed crushes on boys, too, both in real life and on TV (Doogie Howser, anybody?), but by then, I knew I was… different. I’d never associated my differences with “The Gays,” then. That’s how they were always referenced. Implied capital letters, and sneery italics in my head. The Gays. Also occasionally known as HommaSECKshuls. I didn’t connect the descriptions of those people with the difference I knew existed between me and other people, because of the way those people were described. Immoral. Sneaky. Dishonest. Sleazy. Perverted. Dangerous. Likely to molest small children and family pets, and steal the family television, while they were at it. I knew that wasn’t me, and hadn’t yet connected those labels to who I was.

I was in my teens before I knew what lesbian meant, and the first time I heard the word bisexual I was a freshman in high school. And it fit, for me, in a simple way that nothing else ever had. That was when the derogatory use of The Gays and HommaSECKshuls connected, in my mind, with me. This time, though, I knew it may be dangerous to ask questions of the same people. I knew where to find answers, and went looking. What I discovered was that there was no logical reason for anyone to hate or fear or abuse other people, based solely on their sexual orientation. I also discovered a need to hide. To conceal who I was. Until I couldn’t, anymore. Until I accidentally outed myself to my school and my family. I’ve since discovered that a prejudice against bisexual people exists in more than just the straight community. Like the other prejudices I’d discovered, like all prejudice, it is illogical. I know this not only because I happen to be bisexual, but because I did with that what I always did, when faced with such things; I educated myself.

It’s the method I’ve developed, over the course of a lifetime, when faced with beliefs that don’t make sense to me, for understanding those beliefs, and developing my own. Research, questioning, debating, reading, and learning as much as I can. Informing my opinion.

So when I encountered such concepts as privilege, institutionalized racism, rape culture, misogyny, transphobia, and patriarchy, I approached those in the same way. I talked to people who knew more than I did. I talked to people who believed those things, to understand where those beliefs, however problematic, originated. I researched. Fortunately, by this point, I had access to all the information I could ever want, via the internet. I read academic articles, first-hand accounts, editorials, and blog posts. I devoured research studies and statistics, conducted and compiled by everyone from accredited universities to the Department of Justice to the Census Bureau. I ordered non-fiction books about the prison industrial complex, and civil rights battles, about the struggle for LGBT rights, about the ways in which US society is predisposed to actively disadvantage and oppress women, minority races, immigrants, and LGBT individuals. I read first-hand accounts and historical documents about protests and movements, the reasons they happened, and the motives of both those involved and those opposed. I participated in debates with other people who were seeking answers to the same questions. I sought out knowledge and understanding. I informed my opinion.

Which brings me to the point of this whole thing, far too late for a TL:DR warning. I do not disagree that everyone has a right to their opinion. You have the right to believe whatever you like. But we’re not talking about the existence of fairies in a J.M. Barrie story, here; your belief does not make a thing true. You can’t clap your hands loudly enough for racism or misogyny or homophobia to be a logical response to the world. You can’t generalize your personal feelings or experience, as a single human being, to all of humanity.

I am glad to discuss any of those topics, at great length, and mostly without rancor. They’re a particular passion of mine, and we all love to talk about the things that inspire that passion. What I am not willing to do is give an uninformed opinion equal weight to one that is based on a lifetime of research, study, growth, and learning. If you haven’t spent at least some tangible amount of time and effort learning about these things, chances are pretty good that I know more than you, about those specific topics. If you want to learn more, to inform your opinion, I will be happy to point you in the right direction to do so. To a limited extent, I will even be happy to teach you, myself. What I will not do, though, no matter how often or how loudly you rail, is let you shout down those years of hard-earned understanding with your gut feeling, your very deeply tinted personal lens, your unfounded and uninformed beliefs. What I will not do is engage with you, when you don’t want to learn, when you aren’t interested in understanding, when all you want to do is be right, without any basis in fact, without any research, without any logical basis for your determination of rightness, at all.

My refusal to discuss those things with you doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t like you. That I think less of you, as a person. It simply means that, until and unless your opinion becomes informed, I recognize the pointlessness of engaging with you on those topics. Doing so would be like inviting you to play soccer, when you’ve never played, then agreeing to play by the rules that you make up as we go along, and further agreeing that doing so makes perfect sense. It would be absurd, counterproductive, and demeaning to all the other people playing who took the time to learn the rules and practice, before that game began.

You do have every right to your opinion. I also have every right to refuse to discuss opinions that are uninformed, with people who refuse all attempts to learn.

not listening

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?

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.

How rape gets its foot in the door

Summer of 1994. I was fifteen years old. Like thousands – perhaps millions – of teenagers before and since, I lied to my parents. Told them I was going to the beach with my friend – we’ll call her Brittany – and her family. It was only a partial lie. Her brother and his fiancee, age nineteen, were our dubious chaperons. Her mother even lied to my mother, for us. Told her she was driving us down to the coast for a week, when she never planned to leave her home.

Instead, we rode down with the brother’s low-rider club. A bunch of ratty teenagers, looking for a good time. There’s never been a worse idea than a six hour road trip in a miniature version of a pickup truck, the vast majority of its suspension sacrificed for the low profile, except, perhaps, for cramming as many kids in every tiny cab as physics would allow. By the time we arrived, every single joint was buzzing, every muscle tight and achy.

But we were fifteen and easily passed for nineteen. We were at the beach, had money in our pockets, and were pretty much on our own, so who cared? Every day, we got dressed up, debated this top with those shorts, hands in or out of pockets, hair up or down. Does this makeup look too slutty? Does this bathing suit make me look fat? Is this too much cleavage, or too little? We’d stroll up and down the beach, or shop on the strip, or pour quarters into the crappy little bar tables and well-stocked jukebox at the arcade.

We bungee jumped off a crane, without ever showing our IDs. We got our belly buttons pierced.

We behaved like teenagers.

Only a couple of days left in our trip, Brittany and I had a falling out. I honestly don’t remember why, but we were pretty angry with one another. We’d told her brother we wouldn’t go out alone. That we’d practice the “buddy system.” And she was going, whether I wanted to, or not. I was firmly in the “or-not” camp, but I pulled on clothes and followed her onto the strip, anyway. She was walking quickly, and had a head start, so I was struggling to keep up, and maybe forty yards behind her. As we were walking towards one of the many aquamarine-painted-concrete motels, two things happened simultaneously. A young man in an orange VW Beetle pulled into the parking lot ahead of me, effectively cutting me off from my friend, and started to flirt. About the same time, a group of older boys and young men walked out from the motel itself, and started talking with Brittany, also effectively halting her.

I didn’t want to be rude, so I talked with the young man in the beetle. I didn’t find him attractive, and didn’t really care about hurting his feelings, as I’d been taken completely off guard. I was anxious, and unnerved, and worried about Brittany, who was suddenly surrounded by strangers. But I knew being rude could cause even more problems. I chatted – politely – for a moment, then told him I was sorry, but I couldn’t talk, because it looked like my friend needed me. I shuffled quickly around his back bumper.

By the time I caught up to her, Brittany was being … herded… towards a room in the motel. I jumped in, and tried to extract her from the situation, but she was still angry with me. She said she wanted to party, and they were having a party. I told her we could party back in our room, but by then they were ushering her through the door. My choices were to follow along, or to go back to our motel and try to find her brother. I’d promised not to separate from her.

I won’t go into many details, here, but we were both gang raped that night. Filled with booze, and possibly more, used, and quite literally dumped on a curb, wearing someone else’s clothing.

And it started with street harassment. It started with a demand for attention.

Rape got its foot in the door, the moment those boys and young men cut off our route, expecting us to be polite – and we were.

Really, though, rape got its foot in the door in so many ways. Ways that started long before that orange Beetle and that sleazy motel.

Rape got its foot in the door when our parents, who should have been teaching us about boundaries, who should have been keeping us safe, taught, instead, for us to be polite.

Rape got its foot in the door when we were forced to endure cheek-pinching from that dreadful great-aunt who smelled like mothballs and wore too much rouge.

Rape got its foot in the door when we were made to understand that it didn’t matter whether or not we wanted to hug the uncle who always hugged just a little too tight, held on just a little too long, we were going to hug him, and smile while we did it.

Rape got its foot in the door when those young men were little boys, being told by older boys, and sometimes even fathers, uncles, and other authority figures, that girls play hard to get, so “no” just means you’re not trying hard enough, not doing the right things.

Rape got its foot in the door when we were told that good girls didn’t enjoy sex, that sex was shameful, that talking about sex was bad, that learning about sex was tantamount to actually engaging in it. When we were only told that it was off-limits, while the boys were being told it was their job to talk us out of our “no.”

Rape got its foot in the door when we learned we were only allowed to have boundaries if they didn’t make other people feel bad.

So don’t tell me street harassment is a compliment. Don’t tell me it’s no big deal. I have seen and felt, firsthand, where street harassment can lead. It’s not a compliment; it’s a threat. It’s rape, shoving its foot in the door, demanding access. If some strange man shoved his foot into my home in that way, I’d be baffled to find a single person who thought it was then my job to make the invader’s feelings my first priority, my job to be polite to someone who was intruding on my home. In fact, there are laws on the books in most states in the U.S. that grant citizens the right to use up to lethal force, if they feel their home is being violated. And we’re talking about houses, here. Brick and mortar, wood and stone. Things.

How, then, can you excuse someone commandeering my agency, and tell me to be polite, lighten up, it’s just a compliment? Maybe not every stranger who shoves a foot in your door is a threat. Could be a salesperson, or someone handing out religious literature. Are you willing to take that risk, and welcome them in, once they’ve shoved a foot in there? Once they’ve pushed past polite, as if they were entitled to access to your home, are you willing to then offer them tea and cookies, just to be polite? Of course not. The very notion is absolutely absurd.

And so is the notion that we should have to be polite to those shoving their feet into the door of our very ability to determine to whom we wish to speak, or how we wish to spend our time, or whether or not we wish to have company at our table, or at the bus stop, or on a stroll. Whether or not we’re okay with you standing so damned close. Whether or not we want to have a drink with you, or hear your opinions about our bodies. When you assume you are entitled to someone’s attention, and demand that without concern for what they want?

That’s rape, shoving its foot in the door. And we have every goddamned right in the world to crush its fucking toes, as we slam that door in whatever way we choose.