Dear America: a letter from your future self

not-ok

 

Image description: Image is a US flag, upside down, with the words underneath reading “We are not OK.”

 

TW: racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, rape culture, rape, domestic violence, etc.

This town is a cesspit of all that is wrong with this entire country. A microcosm of the hate, ignorance, poverty, religiosity, meanness, insularity, and dehumanization that has characterized the rest of the nation for the past two years.

The only difference is, it’s never not been on the surface, here. I mean, I know it’s always been there, everywhere. Here, though, it was never hidden. They never had to hide. They never needed Trump and his white supremacist, misogynist ties to parade their hatreds around in public with pride. And they were – are – a point of pride. The guys driving the mud-splattered pickups with the lift kits – and, often as not, homemade Krylon camouflage paint jobs – compete to see who can be the most publicly hateful. The confederate flag bumper sticker is child’s play. The vanity plate with the same thing, emblazoned with sayings like, American by birth, Southern by the grace of God, Rebel by choice, are a matter of course. The winners of this hate game, for as far back as I can recall, were the ones who had the flagpoles in the back of those despicable pickups, the hateful white starred blue cross on its red field flying in the wind of speed, the bigger the better. Some of the flags are as big as, or even bigger than, the cabs of the trucks themselves. They seem to defy physics, alongside decency. The drivers wear their realtree baseball caps with the bills bent almost in an upside down “V”, fishhooks and budweiser caps attached gods know how. They rev their engines and squall tires pulling out of parking lots in such a way that I always think – and often say – So sorry about your tiny penis.

This kind of hate is easy for them, here. There aren’t very many black people in this shitpot town. At the last census, the numbers were less than 4%. Only 5% were Hispanic or Latino, and less than 3% were any other race besides white. Overt racism, here, doesn’t have many consequences. It’s one of the reasons I left with my kids, when I did. They needed to know something I didn’t, growing up – that not everyone looked like them, and that treating people badly because of that was not only shitty and wrong, it was stupid.

Homophobia and transphobia are also pretty easy for them to get away with, here. It’s expected, in a town where probably 80+% of the population is evangelical, and believe that not being cishetero is a one way ticket to the eternal fires of hell. In 1996, I was the one of two non-hetero women I knew, and one of only about eight or nine non hetero people of any gender. I didn’t know any transgender people until I was well into my twenties, and far gone from here. They all left here as soon as they could, running like their hair was on fire and their ass was catching, in the local parlance, and never came back.

The female population here, in 2010, was exactly half. Fifty percent. But somehow, that didn’t stop – and still doesn’t stop – the misogyny from being as large a part of the local identity as the racism and homophobia and all the other bigotry. It’s a smorgasbord of hate, all you can eat. Or stomach. Those old bumper stickers with Ass, grass, or cash, no one rides free are still not old, here. The womenfolk are still oft referred to as the womenfolk, and they’re expected, de facto, to take care of the kids and the house, whether or not they work, which most of them do, often being the sole breadwinner and sole functional housekeeper and parent.

It’s what made it so easy for me to recognize that rape culture was a very real, very present thing. Catcalls are still not challenged, here, almost ever. Men and teenage boys still high five one another in public places – not even confined to locker rooms – about that drunk, passed out chick they all managed to bang on Saturday night. Husbands and fathers still treat wives and daughters like property, and sometimes their mothers, too. Property to be dealt with, and disposed of as they see fit, when they feel like it. Or ownership transferred, like livestock. Boys on the football team who raped another boy with a broomstick as a part of what seems to have been an ongoing, traditional “hazing” ritual, gone only slightly wrong from its intended ends, were only charged with misdemeanor assault. Like kids who’d had a quick shoving match in the schoolyard. Women and girls who are raped sort of just… know there’s no point to telling anyone. Best case, someone might shake their head and wonder aloud what is wrong with the world, these days, as if it hadn’t always been like this. Worst case, the victim is blamed by police, blamed by family, blamed by boyfriend or husband, shunned by friends, family, church, or anyone else who’s important in her life, and treated like a pariah, as if she’s wearing a scarlet letter “V” on her chest, wherever she goes.

In this town, the evangelicals have always run the show, back when nobody called them evangelicals. Then, they were just different forms of Baptists. Freewill Baptists. Independent Baptists. Independent Freewill Baptists. Some variations, with the occasional Pentecostals thrown in for good measure. In this town, churches have been screeching at their parishioners for decades that we didn’t come from monkeys, and that believing in such bunk was grounds for… you guessed it … hellfire and damnation.

They’ve also been preaching hate. Straight from the pulpit, pure, non-watered-down, high test hate. When I was ten, my dad’s second cousin preached from his pulpit that the hommasexshuls were going to bring on the rapture with their sinful ways, that their Sodomite behavior would bring Jesus down from heaven, full of rage and ready to party like Mao Ze Dong. He preached from his pulpit – to a small congregation which included children as young as three – that black people were supposed to be slaves, and that’s why our nation was in so much trouble, to begin with. That their blackness was a punishment from god for Noah’s son, Ham, who gazed upon his drunken father in his nakedness. He preached from his pulpit that Catholics and Atheists (nearly indistinguishable in the eyes of most more hardcore evangelical types, for reasons which utterly defy logic) were hellbound idolators and heathens, ruining everything with their secular ways, which just might include such horrors as Satan worship, cannibalism, and ravishment of “our” women, not to mention corrupting the fragile and malleable minds of the youngens. He preached from his pulpit that women were born evil. They couldn’t help it. They were born carrying within them the root of the sin of all mankind, and it was a man’s duty, as a father or husband, to root out that evil, no matter what it took. Daughter wearing makeup? Beat her with a belt. Wife daring to question her husband’s judgment? Same thing.

Immigrants were supposed to come in only as servants, required to be indentured until they’d earned the right – always and only given by a white man – to be treated with anything even resembling dignity.

And Islam? They were so alien as to not even matter, aside from the occasional sneer of “sand-n*****,” tossed out without a moment’s hesitation. Because, you know, all Islamic people were Arabic, and Arabic people were just bizarre and impossible to comprehend.

That was back in the eighties and early nineties. Children, here, pounded on bibles outside elementary schools, screaming at their classmates that they were whoremongers and sinners, bound for a lake of fire. Children as young as five, both doing the screaming and being screamed at.

And the world largely ignored places like this. The rest of the country occasionally looked on in bemused horror or benevolent condescension. Because they were better than that, doncha know.

Except they weren’t. We weren’t. And those of us who knew better ignored them while they grew, as a movement, while their numbers swelled… until they took over. Until they found themselves a demagogue who had fuckall to do with their poison religion, but knew precisely how to use the hate it generates to whip them into a feeding frenzy of hate.

This place was once a sundown town.

This place’s past is quickly becoming our nation’s future.

And none of us are ready. Most of us still aren’t taking this seriously. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone – almost always a cishet white man – say something along the lines of It won’t get THAT bad. There are checks and balances. There is more than just Trump. The rest of us, by and large, don’t say such things. We see that the checks and balances were taken over, already, well before Der Trumpenstein was elected. We see that our entire government is in the hands of the enemy, and that we’re all in danger.

And we see that we’re not ready. That we should have been, but we’re not. Aside from a very small minority, largely made up of BIPOC and queers and transgender people and a handful (relatively speaking) of white women who’ve been active for a while, who’ve been in the know for a while, nobody was prepared for this to get this bad.

I’ve lived this before. This country is now the town where I grew up. I ran as soon as I could, and was devastated when I had to come back, but there’s nowhere to run, now. All of us are living in that place, now.

And we have to fight. We have to be better prepared than we are, and fucking fast. We have to stop giving them inches, stop compromising, stop allowing our moral and ethical snobbery (but we have to be better than them! We can’t stoop to their level!) to get in the way of the single most important thing we’ve ever, as a nation, needed to do – defeat this. No matter what. No matter how. Whatever it takes. However brutal and frightening that may be. We’ve handed the keys to our country to its lowest common denominator, and we have to take them back, no matter what it takes… or we’re all going to be living in the church I grew up in. Where all is hate, and all is suppression, and nobody who isn’t straight, cisgendered, white, male, Christian, healthy, and financially stable will be safe. To some degree, it’s always been this, everywhere. But even those who recognize this must also recognize that this? This is worse. This is not only endorsed by the most powerful, it’s being intentionally, publicly, unashamedly pushed by the most powerful.

And trust me. You don’t want to live where I grew up. No matter who you are.

Wake up, fellow white people. Time to get to work.

Reblogged from my DailyKos.
White Privilege card

image credit: TransGriot on DKos. Image description: Mockup of an American Express card, with “White Privilege” where the card title would be, and “B E AWARE” in place of the name.

Time to use your points. 

Another morning, another young black man murdered by police for… what? For the crime of being born black in the US. And another day when white people all over the country will shake our heads, avoid watching the video or reading the horrific details, and at best, post a little something on social media.

I am a train wreck. I am always a train wreck when someone else is gunned down for no fucking reason. Other white people I know inevitably ask me, “If it bothers you so much, why do you keep reading the stories? Why do you keep watching the videos?” Some of you may be asking the same thing, right now. Why bother doing something when I know it’s going to tear me up emotionally, and I’m going to cry, and rage, and be a triggered pile of nightmare mess for who knows how long? Why not just put it down, turn it off, walk away?

Because not everyone gets to walk away. 

Sure. I can walk away, if I choose to do so. I can distract myself with kitten gifs and YouTube videos of talking porcupines, and do my dead level best to forget that another young man was killed. I would probably be fairly successful. Because I’m white. Because when I go to bed tonight, I don’t have to worry if tomorrow morning’s headline will be my brother or my sister, my partner or my child. Because I have the privilege of being able to assume that if any of those people get pulled over by the police, even if they have a gun in the car, they are seven times less likely to be killed by the badge wearing bastards who are allowed to murder without consequence, day after day after day. If they are charged, they are much less likely to be convicted of a felony, or serve prison time. Because they’re white. 

If they got arrested, chances are pretty good that the media would find some cheery, innocent-seeming social media photo to flash across the screen with the headlines, if it were to be covered at all, instead of digging up some years-old mugshot from a minor drug offense and preaching about how they were no angel. Because they’re white. 

There is no longer a legitimate excuse for ignorance. There is no longer a legitimate denial that there is systemic racism in our “criminal justice system.” Just typing those three words makes my stomach churn for the sick, tragic irony. There is no “justice” in this system.

If you’re a white person who is still denying the problem, you are a part of the problem.

If you’re a white person who is using your privilege to turn away from the images, the stories, the reality then you are a part of the problem.

If you are a white person who will just shake your head, and do nothing, you are a part of the problem.

Sure. I could walk away. But then I would be a part of the problem, too. Hell, no matter what I do, I am a part of the problem, simply by benefiting from this system. The price I pay for living on this planet, for being a human being, is using the privilege I have to make a difference.

Maybe it won’t be much. Just me, a disabled queer lady in a small southern town. But it will be something. And no matter who you are, white person sitting comfortably on your sofa or at your desk, reading this in air conditioned safety, you can do something, too.

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”
~Edmund Burke

Here’s what you can do:

  • The least possible effort you can make is sharing the accounts and posts on social media. Share them with your white friends and family members. Open up a conversation. I don’t care how awkward or uncomfortable it makes you. It is the smallest possible debt you owe for the privilege you’ve been granted by being born white in this country. Talk to the people you know who aren’t yet aware, or aren’t yet convinced. Argue with them, if need be. Show them the statistics, the videos, the comparisons of how white people who commit crimes and black people who commit crimes are treated by the media. Hit them with a barrage of information, until they can no longer deny that this is a systemic problem, and one which we as a nation are responsible for fixing. Let them know that, as long as they refuse to grasp this simple and undeniable truth, you will continue to shove it in their faces.
  • Write to and/or call your representatives.. Ask — no, DEMAND — to know what they’re doing, personally, in Congress, to address the rampant murders of people of color, especially black people, by the law enforcement officers who are supposed to protect and serve. Do some research. If there has been an LEO murder of a POC in their district (you can search by state, race, and armed/unarmed status, as well as access any news accounts), ask them whatthey’re doing to make sure the murderer(s) are brought to justice. Keep writing them and calling them. Make a nuisance of yourself. Put it in your Google calendar or your smartphone. Remind yourself to call them again, email them again, twice a week, every week, until you get a satisfactory answer, or you see actual change in policy. Do not believe that one call is enough. Your representatives receive hundreds and thousands of calls from special interest groups like the NRA every week. We have to make ourselves loud enough, annoying enough, uncompromising enough, to be heard above the din.
  • Support the activist groups doing the work out in the world. The groups protesting, like BlackLivesMatter. Put your bodies in the streets, if you’re able. Donate, if you aren’t able. If you’re poor and disabled, then do your best to spread the word, educate yourself, and educate others.
  • In short, USE your white privilege to fight anti-black racism.

I guarantee you there are at least two things on that list that every single one of us can do. So stop sitting there shaking your damned heads, and hop to.

DO.

SOMETHING.



To any POC reading this: I am, obviously, a white person, trying my best to be an active anti-racist. If there is anything I’ve missed, or any tone deafness on my part, or any other thing wrong with this that I’ve missed, please call me out. I will repair it ASAP. Thank you.

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

Image description: One person’s bare feet surrounded by footprints in blood across a hardwood floor.

 

Oh, Honey, NO.

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.

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

Image description: Twitter thread: Author- Yves@Adamant_Yves. Two tweets. Text in first tweet : “I mean, I suspected homophobia when I saw that this was her last post after same-sex marriage was legalized.” Image inset: Sandra Bland’s post – “Now legalize being Black in America.” Second tweet: “I always wonder if I’m marching WITH someone who doesn’t value my life & if I’m marching FOR someone who didn’t see value in my life.

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

Image description: Tweet thread. RainbowNinjaFeminist@fembecca – @Adamant_Yves @curlyheadRED – Perfection isn’t a prerequisite for value. Homophobia, while personally painful, isn’t a lethal offense. She was young and bright and should have had the opportunity to reach a better understanding of life and love. So I’ll still be sitting over here with my rainbows, and I will still #SayHerName. #SandraBland.

…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.

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.

Dear Fellow White People

Listen up, y’all. We need to have a talk. One of those real, no bullshit, tear-away-the-politeness talks that gets down to the actual meat of a thing, instead of dancing around it in pretty-shiny-white circles that pretend to mean something. This isn’t cotillion or cocktail party or church potluck talk – though it probably should be.

Mostly, white America has been fooling itself for a very long time. We’ve somehow managed to talk ourselves into believing that we live in a “post-racial” society, in which “color-blindness” can symbolize anything other than what it really is – a defect in our vision – and we can convince ourselves that racism was obviously bad, but that it only existed in the past. That once the Jim Crow laws were overturned, once schools were forcibly integrated, we could pat ourselves on the back for being enlightened and considerate, and go on about our business without worrying about race-based social injustice, anymore. We could gasp in horror at “the way things used to be,” and feel like good people, because we don’t act that way, now. Goodness no!

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Image description: Sepia tones photo of a white woman dramatically swooning.

Fairy tales are nice, sometimes, for children. Even as children, though, we learn that fairy tales are make believe. That there is reality, and there’s fiction, and that we can’t hope to live responsible and fulfilling lives, if we conflate the two. Somehow, though, we managed to miss the memo that the whole idea of the present as a “post-racial society” is a fairy tale, too. We know Santa Claus isn’t real, unicorns don’t exist, little green dudes don’t live on Mars, but we missed this hugely important thing about the reality in which we live. So, let me break it down for you.

Racism isn’t some monster under the bed we’ve managed to outgrow. Racism is real, it’s current, it’s still a problem right now, every day, right here where we live, no matter which part of the country that happens to be. It still affects a very large portion of our population, on a daily basis, in damaging and horrific ways. Pretending we can’t see that won’t make it go away. Pretending we, as white people, haven’t all benefited from its presence won’t make those benefits – or the corresponding hardships placed on minorities as a result – cease to exist.

Now, this doesn’t mean that your life doesn’t suck, too. Maybe it does. The fact is, though, that our ancestors were given advantages that the American ancestors of people of color were simply not able to access. I’m not talking about the folks who fought in the Civil War, either, but people who are most likely your parents or grandparents, who had opportunities available to them that were categorically denied to people of color, often through cleverly worded prejudicial clauses in law or policy.

Let’s look at housing, for instance. Where we live largely determines what kinds of services and opportunities we are able to access. That’s just simple fact. Another fact: home ownership has always been a part of the path to financial stability, in this country (and the burst of the housing bubble in the 21st century doesn’t negate the advantages of home ownership, currently or throughout history). When programs were established to lend money to people for the purpose of purchasing a home, beginning with the New Deal in the 1920s, and continuing beyond HUD programs in the 1990s, the programs were blatantly racist in practice. Loans that were made available in the mid-twentieth-century went almost exclusively to whites. And when I say almost exclusively, I’m talking over 98 percent, before 1968. This little bit is only one tiny part of how the US, as an institution, privileges white people over people of color, in housing. There is an ocean of historical evidence of much more widespread, race-based housing discrimination, and that little bit I just mentioned is only a drop in that ocean. It isn’t just historical, either. Housing policies, while much more circumspect in their racism, are still quite racist, still quite biased towards white people, and still oppressive to the “Other.”

Image description: Illustration of a house with a white picket fence, under the words, “The American Dream”

...but only if you're white.

So, there’s one way in which our forebears had a leg up, whether or not they were racist. They still reaped this benefit of a society which clearly and unapologetically favored whites over people of color. One way in which we, as white people in the US, now, still reap the benefit. It isn’t saying our lives are fabulous. Personally, I can’t afford to own a home. All other things being equal, though, I would be more likely to qualify for a home loan in a ‘good’ neighborhood than would a woman of color. Still. Now.  

Let’s consider another measure of quality of life: employment. Until 1964, it was in no way illegal to be openly discriminatory in hiring practices. That’s only 51 years ago. When either our parents or grandparents were very likely the majority of the workforce in the US. Again, not ancient history, even for those who don’t think that the phrase American history is an oxymoron. Until 7 years later, in 1971, businesses could still get away with creative policy-making, skirting the non-discrimination laws by making rules that were unrelated to the actual requirements of a job, yet would disproportionately disqualify minorities seeking employment. Cute little tricks like in-house “intelligence tests” that were specifically written to favor whites’ education and experiences over those of minorities, yet bore no relation whatsoever to the job being sought. For all this progress, the laws established in Griggs v Duke Power, in 1971, were put in a stranglehold in two 1989 rulings. One of those, Wards Cove Packing Co. v Antonio, basically flipped the script. Instead of requiring companies to bear the burden of proof – in other words, making the companies prove the policies in question weren’t discriminatory – it placed the burden on the employee being discriminated against, placing yet another barrier in the way of justifiable equal employment litigation. After all, many of these discriminatory policies rested on the disparities in the education received by white people, as compared to the education available to people of color. The decision in the other case, Patterson v McLean Credit Union, basically stated that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was only applicable to hiring practices, and held no sway over post-hire advancement or workplace harassment or prejudice faced after someone was hired. I hate to sound redundant, but this is NOT ancient history. This happened in my lifetime, and probably in yours. 1989. 

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Image description: White men in an office with cubicles and 1980s computers

There are SO many other ways in which institutionalized racism in this country has been and continues to be perpetuated. If I wanted to go into even a significant percentage of those, a blog post wouldn’t do it. I’d have to write an entire series of books. An encyclopedia of injustice. Aside from housing and employment, which I’ve really barely skimmed across, here, there are blatant and ongoing inequalities in education, historical representation within education, social support systems, law enforcement attitudes, prejudice, and approaches, prosecution, detainment, media representation… the list goes on and on and on. And in every generation since the grand old US of A became a nation, every single one of those things has been inherently, institutionally biased to benefit white people, and to oppress people of color. In spite of the big, flashy legislative signs of progress towards equality, every single one of those things is still biased towards white people. So, even if your own individual life sucks, even if you’re otherwise oppressed because you live in poverty, or because you’re disabled, or because you’re a woman, if you’re white, you’ve still benefited from generations of disparity.

An individual who has benefited from institutionalized oppression is NOT inherently a bad person. We don’t need to feel guilty or ashamed or like some kind of evil because the current system has given us an advantage, in comparison. Recognizing and owning the fact of your white privilege doesn’t mean you have to be ashamed of yourself. You probably didn’t create those laws. You probably don’t overtly discriminate against people on the basis of race. But let’s face facts, here. Chances are pretty high that, because of things like unequal historical representation in education, and biased portrayals in the media, and being brought up to believe, at least subconsciously, that all things white are inherently better, it’s very likely that you hold some internalized biases, yourself. Being brought up white in the US, it would be pretty miraculous if you didn’t. Again, this isn’t about making you feel bad, though your feelings are really not the point. Recognizing those little seeds of bias buried in the way you interact with the non-white world is a good thing. Unpacking those beliefs, examining them, picking them apart, and using the knowledge you have, now, to put them to bed, is essential in becoming a socially aware, socially responsible human being.

Now, this is where it gets a bit sticky. If you don’t actually care about your fellow human beings at all, you may just want to stop reading, right here. Continuing would only be a waste of your time and mine. As a matter of fact, if you’re that guy, then just “go away,and never come back,” Gollum. I’m speaking directly to white people who do care, who don’t want the system of institutionalized racism to continue to exist. This is where we put our money where our mouths are, so to speak.

If you won't listen, please just step out of the conversation.

If you won’t listen, please just step out of the conversation.

One of the reasons that the employment and housing discrimination is so easy to overlook, so easy to outright ignore, is because both things are often much less about what you know (i.e.- how qualified you are), and much more about who you know. Since these institutionalized advantages have been around pretty much as long as the US has been around, the people in control of such things as housing, employment, education, and legal proceedings are much more likely to be caucasian than any other race. Not just by a tiny margin, but by a whole damned book. We, as white people, are far more likely to exist somewhere within the six degrees of separation sphere of landlords, property managers, business owners, hiring managers, police officers, prosecutors, and judges. Even if we don’t, chances that they will give us a fair shake are pretty good, because we look like them. Because even progressive white people have often internalized a certain underlying conditioning, which exists in nearly every aspect of our culture, that tells them white is inherently better.

They are more likely to listen to us, to actually hear what we’re saying. More likely to give real consideration to a cause that has our voices raised in protest. This is where our privilege can do some good.

And this is where we, collectively, are failing our fellow human beings.

Black people are still not given equal employment opportunities, or access to equal housing or education. They aren’t being sentenced comparably to their white counterparts for criminal convictions. They make up roughly 13% of the population, yet they account for over 37% of the prison populations – and it is NOT because they commit a vastly larger proportion of America’s crime. Our nation’s police force is murdering unarmed black men and women in terrifying numbers.

Yet when they tweet #BlackLivesMatter, we respond with #AllLivesMatter. Which is missing the point. When white social media laments that a beloved lion was killed by a sport-hunting American dentist, black people are reasonably upset. After all, the same people who are crying over this lion killed on another continent often didn’t have a thing to say about Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Sam Dubose and so many more, when they were killed, right here at home. If they dare to mention this strange dichotomy, we respond with things like We can care about more than one thing at a time, you know, or You don’t get to tell us what to be passionate about! Again, because we are missing the point. 

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Image description: Stick figure draming of a man on a rocket whooshing by a dot labelled “The point.”

The point is, racism is alive and well in the US, and we don’t get to pat ourselves on the back for being allies, if we aren’t actually being allies. Tweeting #AllLivesMatter,  or getting defensive when someone is describing their lived experiences as black people, is missing the point. Getting pissed off when someone uses the term “privilege” is not being an ally. Allies don’t walk into a space that oppressed people have carved out to speak about their oppression, demanding that the oppressed people watch the tone in which they describe their experiences, or demand change. Allies do not walk into those spaces, demanding that the focus shift to their feelings. Allies are there to support, to amplify, and to listen. They’re not there to take charge, and make the rules. As white people, when dealing with matters of race, we’ve already been in charge for a very long time, and we’ve been royally mucking things up.

We’ve been mucking things up because, instead of listening to people of color, when they tell us what the issues are, we want to argue. No, no, that can’t be it. It must be this other thing over here. When they tell us how to address these issues, we create more by telling them that our ideas – you know, those ideas white people have been coming up with for decades, in response to racial inequality, the ones that haven’t actually worked? – are somehow better than theirs. We’re saying that what they really need is a white hero to ride in and save them from their own less valid ideas. In essence, what we’re doing, instead of being the helpful allies we think we are, is perpetuating the problem. We’re saying the same things that are born out of the roots of the very issues people of color are literally dying for. We’re saying that our feelings are more important, our experiences nullify their own, our defensiveness deserves more consideration than their oppression.

And that’s really not okay.

So, Dear Fellow White People:

Stop tweeting those awful banalities like #AllLivesMatter. Of course all lives matter. The whole point of the #BlackLivesMatter movement is that black lives haven’t mattered as much, in this country, as white ones. EVER.

Stop wailing when someone points out that you are using your privilege to silence them, or center yourself in a movement that IS. NOT. ABOUT. YOU. Recognize that it isn’t an insult, but a plea to stop using your experiences of our culture – which happened in a world where you,  by virtue of your skin color, are viewed as somehow more worthy as a human being – to negate theirs.

Stop trotting out tired old racist tropes without understanding where they originated, when faced with media accounts of people being murdered by the very people who are supposed to protect them from murderers.

Instead, educate yourself. Do your own damned research. This is the information age, so there is literally NO excuse for demanding that an oppressed person educate you on the history of their oppression.

Instead, speak up about the injustices you see. Nobody is saying you can’t, or shouldn’t, draw attention to animal cruelty or sport hunting. At the same time, though, use your white privilege to draw other white people’s attention to Sandra Bland, or Sam Dubose, or simply the fact that black women make only 64 cents for every dollar made by white men.

Instead, stop talking over them, and actually listen to what they’re asking. Put yourself in their shoes.

How about, maybe, you give us equal access to housing, jobs, and education? How about you start sentencing us by the same standards you use when sentencing white people for the same crimes? How about, perhaps, you get your police to stop killing our young men and women in the streets? How about you value our lives as much as you value your own? 

It’s really not that much to ask, is it?

Angry bitch

This one goes out to all my “Angry Bitches,”

to all the women and girls

who learned at young ages

to swallow their anger

to express it in tears

to pretend it was okay

to rage in whispers at mirrors or

into pink pillow cases

to scream only when alone in the car

on deserted roads

to school faces

not to show

their frustration

their annoyance

their anger

their ire

their boiling fucking rage

by even so much as a single raised eyebrow

a rolled eye

a twitch of the lip

not to allow a single crack

in the smooth

ladylike

facade

of tranquility that might

in any way

make someone else

uncomfortable

This one goes out to all those

who take their lumps

who gulp them down

and gulp again

and again

and again

until those lumps sit

tight

heavy

and painful

until they become

the pits of their stomachs

untouched by the acids

fertilized by the bile

heaped on their existence

their sameness

their difference

their pain

their anguish

their voices

their audacity

when they dare to speak

in less than palatable words

in less than pleasant tones

in more than the agreed upon phrases

about more than the approved subjects

allowed to their feminine minds

This one goes out to all those ladies

who got tired of the word

who outgrew the confines of that box

who flexed

and stretched

and pushed

and strained

until the box collapsed around them

who stepped away from the wreckage

and out of the room

only to realize the next room

was just a bigger box

where angry still tightened the walls

where they could still be

interrupted

talked over

shushed

silenced

belittled

battered

bruised

beaten back into silence

by the voices that refuse to hear

what’s being described

and use the word

“angry”

as a gag to stifle the sound

as an excuse

to ignore the words

who use their anger

to dismiss all the valid fucking reasons

they were angry in the first place

or to blame them

for the things they’ve endured

as if their anger…

at being ignored

held back

pushed down

condescended to

talked past

abused

gaslighted

leaned on

bullied

intimidated

made to feel afraid in the streets of their own cities

the classrooms of their own schools

the halls of their own houses

made to feel their good ideas

were bossiness

their assertive leadership

bitchiness

their focus on family

unprofessional

their focus on career

cold and calculating

their tears

manipulative

their joys

worthless

their fears

baseless

their goals

laughable

…as if their anger

retroactively

justifies every fucked up thing

the world has done TO them

as if the emotional response

created the thing

they were responding to

This one goes out to you

my Angry Fucking Bitches

It goes out to us

and I say

since when do men

have a monopoly on anger?

since when are slights against them

so much more offensive

than slights against us?

Since when do they get to tell us

where the line is

that when crossed

means we are

“too angry”

And I hear the whisper

the angry sibilance

coming back to me

Ssssince alwaaaayssss

And I say

fuck you.

Not anymore.

Love thy Neighbor?

June 26, 2015, is a day that will live forever, in the minds of many Americans. For some, it will live in a rainbow-colored glow that isn’t likely to fade anytime soon.

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I was personally overjoyed. Until last year, I honestly didn’t believe this was a thing I would live to see. I hoped that it could happen in my children’s lifetime, but I never really dared hope it could happen in my own. I spent much of the day, long into the night, and even a sizable portion of the next day reading stories, sharing joy, and just sitting in awe of the new reality.

I don’t know if you know me, but I was that bisexual girl who was outed in high school. The one who was incessantly bullied, mostly by people who justified their hateful behavior with a misunderstanding, or misinterpretation, of their religious text. I can say that because I was raised Christian – Independent Baptist, to be precise – and I know Bible better than most. I don’t believe in it, anymore, and haven’t in a very long time, but I know it. I read it, cover to cover, more than a couple of times – which is more than most Christians can say. And I’ve never ceased to be amazed and disheartened by the things people will do to one another, in the name of their God. Specifically, in this case, the Christian God. I’ve never stopped being baffled, bemused, and disappointed that they could cling to such ignorant and harmful hatred, and use that as their excuse.

I’m sure some of you are confused. You believe what you’ve been told, what you’ve been taught by people you know and trust. People, like pastors and parents, to whom you turn for guidance. It’s difficult to hear that the things they’ve been teaching you may be wrong, or that they may be mistaken. For the purposes of this post, even though I don’t believe in the Bible as anything other than a work of fantastical historical fiction, let’s just assume it is, instead, historical fact.

Many people who use Biblical verses as justification for their judgment and /or hatred of homosexuality reference Leviticus. In chapter 18, it states, You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. In chapter 20, we have If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

There are several problems with using this verse to back up your argument. One, it is being taken entirely out of context, and context is important. The context of both quotes was one of a list of rules for the children of Israel, specifically one tribe, the Levites. It didn’t apply to anyone else. It was a code of behavior meant to separate them, to distinguish them, in their purity, from other indigenous peoples. The punishment for committing any of those acts was simply being ostracized from that tribe.

The most popular biblical tale used to condemn homosexuality comes from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Again, context matters. The sins that led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah weren’t sins because they were homosexual acts. They were sins because they were rape. Biblical scholars largely agree that the cities were burned because of a lack of charity, a lack of care for social injustice. They were greedy, lazy, didn’t care for their poor, and tried to rape guests in their cities. The fact that the guests were male wasn’t even a part of the issue, and the person who actually ended up being raped, the night of the story, was a woman offered by Lot, to appease the roving band of rapists.

More importantly, these two instances were in the Old Testament, which became nothing but a history book, the moment Jesus was resurrected. This is the central tenet of the Christian faith, that up until that point, man lived by law, and after that point, man lived by grace. Yet it’s a thing so many Christians want to forget, in order to keep hating, judging, or condescending to anyone who isn’t straight.

The only reference regularly used from the New Testament is in the book of Romans. It comes in a list of “unrighteousness.” That list also includes such things as envy, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slander, haughtiness, bragging, and disobedience to parents. None of these things is distinguished as better or worse than any of the others. It should also be noted that the entire book was a letter, written by a man, to a very specific group of people – the Romans.

I explained all of that to illustrate a point: I don’t disagree with you because I don’t know any better. As a matter of fact, I do know, and know well, what the Bible does – and does not – say about sin and homosexuality.

I also know that Jesus, the man who is the basis for the entire faith, said the following:

  • He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…
  • It is not what goes into a man from outside that can make him unclean. It’s what comes out of him that makes him unclean.
  • But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.
  • If you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
  • Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

You could say I’m conversant with Christianity. Much like Inigo in The Princess Bride, though…

inigo-montoya

So, for the last two decades of my life (and for others, many decades before that), people have been treating me, and many other LGBT people, horribly. They’ve gone out of their way to bully, insult, demean, degrade, judge, injure, and even kill us. They’ve fought with the tenacity of bulldogs with bones, to deny us simple rights, like the right to marry the people we love, regardless of gender, and the right to equal protection, under the law. We could be fired from jobs, denied health insurance, denied the ability to visit ill and dying partners in the hospital, denied the right to shared and equal custody of children, denied the right to adopt children, denied the right to simply be listed as next of kin on a death certificate. There was no logical, non-faith-based reason for this to be so, yet these denials have been consistently, continually a part of governmental policy, and even codified law. Because of a misinterpretation of a religion whose two main tenets are grace and love. If you can’t see the irony in that, there’s a problem.

Finally though, finally, we’re really starting to make progress as a nation. We’re getting back to our foundation, our constitutional roots. This country was founded, to a large degree, on religious choice and equality. We’ve struggled to get it right, as evidenced by a host of social ills, from slavery to healthcare, which we’ve been notoriously slow to address and repair. But they’re still our foundation. The separation of church and state is indisputable law for a reason. Our government isn’t supposed to take its cues from religion, religious leaders, or gods of any stripe. It’s finally beginning to right that wrong.

Yesterday, on Facebook, a woman I know from high school posted a status, which I will paraphrase, here. She wrote that her feed was full of disappointing comments, from both sides, whether it was those of us who were crying tears of joy, or those who were ranting and railing against the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality. She urged those reading to stop trying to be right, or incite anger, to encourage one another, and “love thy neighbor.” The words, I’m sure, came from a good place, and were intended as nothing other than an entreaty for people to be kind to one another. I’m not angry with her, and I don’t think any less of her, really.

I do believe she’s being a bit dismissive, and not seeing the big picture.

Yes, those of us who believe that a person’s sexuality should not limit their basic human rights were given a huge victory, last week. To add to the overuse of an overused metaphor, we won a very important battle. The war, however, isn’t over.

In 28 states, employment discrimination laws do not include sexual orientation as a protected class. In three others, while sexual orientation is protected, gender identity is not. This means that, while LGBT people may now marry whomever they choose, they could still be legally fired from their jobs for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, and would have absolutely no legal recourse. Only 22 states protect us from being evicted from our homes, or denied housing, based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Only 32 states have laws that will classify a crime as a hate crime, based on sexual orientation, and 14 of those do not include gender identity. Transgender individuals are still prohibited from enlisting in military service. Transgender, intersex, and sexual orientation-specific training is not a requirement for medical professionals, so we can’t even reasonably expect decent treatment and an understanding of our health issues in the context of our lives from our healthcare providers. Only two states, and the District of Columbia, have banned the abusive and demeaning practice of so-called “conversion therapy,” and parents in the rest of the country can still force their children into what amounts to an indoctrination camp, designed for the sole purpose of denying them the most basic right to their own identity.

Again, none of these shortcomings is supported by any legal, medical, or scientific logic. The only reason these issues are issues is religion, and religious people, having undue influence over legislation.

We’re probably going to be pretty celebratory, sure. We may not be going out of our way to be nice about it. Can you really blame us? We’re still in the trenches, still being told that we are somehow less human, because of who we love, or how we identify. We’ve been meeting hatred and oppression with love and kindness for a very long time, and we triumphed, for once. I feel that asking for an overabundance of civility in our celebration is, in short, unreasonable.

We gained some ground, with our “neighbors,” but we’re still having to stomach an awful lot of dehumanizing behavior. We’re still struggling to take hold of a host of basic human rights that you, my kindhearted friend, are able to take for granted.

So I ask that you forgive us, if we’re not “loving our neighbors,” just yet. They’re still taking dumps on our lawns.

fence

Shoes

I was raised in a pretty oppressive environment. Racism was the norm, homophobia was expected, and sexism was just the way things were. My church had a biblical justification for racism. Every romantic couple to whom I was exposed was male-dominated, and not in a fun, consensual way. More like the barefoot-and-pregnant, wimminz belong in the kitchen kind of way. Sex-negative just doesn’t seem to cover the shamefulness of any sexuality related thoughts, discussions, ideas, or actions. Even non-sexual bodily functions were taboo. “Fart” was a bad word on par with any profanity bleeped out by network TV censors.

Some of this stuff stopped making sense to me when I was pretty young. Some of it took a little longer for me to question. Eventually, I got the hell out of that place, and away from the people who raised me in it.

But it wasn’t all that, all the time. There was a great deal of backwoods Appalachian compassion and empathy in my upbringing, especially from my grandmother.

I remember these ham-handed fables she made up, and told us as truth. She’d catch my cousin making fun of the fat girl, and tell a story about her uncle, who did the same thing, bullying and ridiculing a fat girl, then, later in life, became so very fat he couldn’t get up from his chair, and had to deal with all his kids making fun of him, too. Or she’d hear one of us kids talking about somebody with acne, and tell a story about her neighbor, who bullied a little girl with acne, who then got a horrific skin condition that caused him to erupt in boils all over his body, and little kids would run screaming from him on the street.

Morbid, and kind of obvious, I know. But there was always a little lecture tacked on to the end. It varied in the details, but one line was always present.

Don’t judge somebody until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

Now, on the surface, that was a good lesson to teach a bunch of little kids. Well, except for the part where the racism and sexism and homophobia and religious intolerance ran rampant throughout our daily lives, and even in her own speech. And, of course, I made those other connections, as I got older.

The line still applies, though, and to a lot of things that she never would have considered in her clumsy fables.

I don’t have any experience that would lead me to truly understand what it is to be black, or any race other than white. I was born with white ‘shoes,’ and had no choice in that. If I had been given the choice, though, with what little academic kinds of knowledge I do possess, I probably would have chosen them, too. They would have given me better traction.

I was designated female at birth. I have always felt like a girl or woman. I’ve never identified as a boy or a man. So, I don’t have any concrete experience with what it’s like to be trans, or to identify somewhere off the generally socially acceptable gender binary. Again, just going on what little knowledge I’ve managed to glean from reading things, I probably would have chosen to exist solidly on one end of the binary scale, had I been given the choice. Because those shoes are less likely to pinch.

I figured out I was bisexual when I was in my teens. I kind of knew it, before, but didn’t have a label for it, so I just thought I was weird, unnatural, and wrong. My experiences with that have been pretty rough. I’ve been treated in shitty ways, since coming to and identifying with that label, by both the heteronormative society in which I was raised, and by many of the people in the gay communities I first looked to for a sense of acceptance, for belonging. I’ve been told to make up my damned mind, already. I’ve been labelled as something I wasn’t, just because the people around me believed it had to be either-or. Either I was gay, or I was straight… and neither ‘team’ wanted me on theirs, so the straight people called me a dyke, and the gay people called me a confused straight girl.

If I had been given a choice, with the things I now know, I probably would have chosen some straighter shoes. They would undoubtedly have been less likely to trip me, and would have matched up with each other better.

I was born a woman. My gender has been used as a tool to keep me ‘in my place’ my whole life. There are so many pieces and bits and ingredients and backdrops and bad actors involved in that, it would take me about a bajillion hours to write about all of them. Even then, I’d probably miss at least a few, because there’s an awful lot of it that I’ve internalized. Digging all of that shit out takes time, and work, and loads of conflict, both internal and external, and I think it’s probably the work of a lifetime or three.

Knowing what I know now, had I been given the choice, I probably would have chosen man-shoes. Walking in them would have been undeniably easier, and probably safer for my toes. Not to mention the rest of my anatomy, both physical and emotional.

Now, none of this is to say that there aren’t shitty things about being white or existing on the gender binary or being a man or being straight. There are shitty things about each of those things. There’s almost always a mix of pros and cons to anything. Nor have I covered all the possible permutations, here. I’ve talked mostly about tennis shoes and flip-flops, boots and high heels. There are other kinds of shoes out there, and I haven’t worn them all.

But I recognize that. I understand that, no matter how hard I try to empathize, or how similar some bits of my experience are to the experiences of others, I do notknow what it’s like to walk a mile in all the different kinds of shoes. For instance, I’ve never walked a mile in Birkenstocks. So, when somebody who wears Birkenstocks tries to tell me about their experience, I tend to value what they describe, over whatever preconceived notions I have about wearing Birkenstocks. I’ve seen people wear them. I have friends who wear them. I may even be related to someone who wears them. I’ve read about them, and seen pictures and done research, but I. HAVEN’T. WORN. THEM.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’m automatically a bad person, just because I haven’t had to wear a specific pair of shoes. It just means that some of the shoes I’ve been given to wear, in my life, probably come with a lot more in the way of benefits than some shoes, and with a lot more disadvantages than others.

Those benefits? That’s privilege. The disadvantages? Those are oppression. Most of us have some combination of experiences with both sides, but neither one cancels out the other, nor does it make us more qualified to judge the oppression involved in wearing shoes we weren’t forced to wear.

I’m white. Being white comes with inherent privilege. I’m female. That comes with inherent oppression. But I don’t get to say to a black man, “Hey, that’s not so bad! You may be black, but you’re a dude! Your oppression is nothing compared to mine, as a woman.”

Why not? Because I don’t know that, and that’s fucking douchey. This isn’t the oppression Olympics.

I’ve lived either right at, or well below the poverty line for most of my life, and I’m disabled. I don’t get to tell a transperson that the oppression they experience is something I totally understand, since I’m poor and disabled. They’re different things, complete with a different set of obstacles and concerns.

Why not? Because it’s douchey. Intimate knowledge of some types of oppression doesn’t automatically make me an authority on all types of oppression.

There are many different types of privilege. It’s not inherently douchey to have privilege. What is inherently douchey is to tell someone who doesn’t share that particular type of privilege that their experience doesn’t count, or that it isn’t real, or that they’re being irrational or stupid or attention-whoring or just stirring up drama, just because I don’t have personal experiences that make my worldview gel with theirs. I haven’t walked in those shoes, and I don’t really get to make that determination. What’s douchey is taking the struggles of those who wear different shoes than mine, and claiming them as my own, without ever having been forced to feel what those shoes are like, when walking.

Of course, those aren’t the only bits of douchery that goes on around privilege.

Most people who have been oppressed (protip: that’s the vast majority of us, on one issue or another), get understandably touchy around the subject. Especially when facing off about that subject, with people who haven’t worn those shoes. Even more especially when those with the privilege trot out some worn out old lines that are often used by the privileged to hold onto that privilege, at the expense of the oppressed group.

Those folks wearing the less comfortable shoes will often build up a bit of a hair-trigger response to the clichés. Which is also understandable. Being stuck in shitty shoes is not conducive to never-ending patience with people whose privilege helped to put you in them, or to keep you there. It doesn’t tend to give you any motivation to indulge their ignorance, when they behave as though their lack of experience in that type of oppression somehow negates your own lived experiences of that oppression.

Some people use privilege as an insult. They hurl it at their opponents as if the opponent should apologize for having the privilege, which isn’t really the point. Most of us can no more help having privilege than we can help not having it. Those people, though, really are few and far between. They’re not representative, ever, of an entire oppressed class, or of the people fighting against oppression. They’re the exception, not the rule.

And this kind of brings us full circle, because there are folks who have privilege who believe that anyone trying to point out their privilege, anyone trying to get them to see that they don’t know what it’s like to wear these uncomfortable fucking shoes, are in that last tiny group. The vast majority of the time, they’re not, and it’s really douchey to treat them as if they are.

See, it isn’t about being a bad person, because you happened to get better shoes. It isn’t about hating the people who have better shoes than yours. It isn’t even about wanting to take away those much nicer shoes, or forcing the people wearing the better shoes to wear our uncomfortable fucking shoes, instead.

It’s simply about recognizing that the shoes are different, as are the experiences of the people wearing them. It’s about wanting everybody to have shoes that are as close to equally comfortable as possible. It’s about each of us accepting that the shoes we wear don’t really give us the right to be cruel or dismissive to those whose shoes aren’t as nice as ours, or to pretend that the very different shoes we wear give us a real understanding of what it is to wear someone else’s. It’s about pointing out the blisters our shoes are giving us, and figuring out how to make that stop. It’s not about villainizing the folks who aren’t getting the blisters, but about asking them to see the blisters, and maybe to help us get shoes that don’t do that.

And when your response to that, as a privileged person, is to screech about how you’ve never done a mean thing to anyone, and you didn’t make the shoes, and your feelings are hurt because NONE OF THIS IS MY FAULT STOP MAKING ME EXAMINE MY OWN INSECURITIES, then you really do need to step back and examine why you’re being so defensive about something no one is saying. You need to look to your feet, and look to the feet of the folks with the less comfortable shoes, and really ask yourself, would you be willing to exchange yours for theirs? Would you be willing, for the rest of your life, to be treated the way our culture treats queer people, if you’re straight? Would you be willing to be treated the way our culture treats transgender people, if you’re cisgender? Would you be willing to be treated the way our culture treats POC, if you’re white?

Of course you wouldn’t. You would never willingly give up the shoes you’re wearing to spend the rest of your life in those shoes. Because, whether you want to admit it or not, you know that your shoes are more comfortable, and come with more perks, and that the others are less comfortable, and come with more problems. You know, and you feel guilty about it. Which is not helpful. Guilt is a waste of time and energy and emotion. I doubt any oppressed person gives two shits about the guilt of the privileged. It’s useless.

What we do want is simple recognition that being in these shoes is shitty and unfair. What we do want is for those of you who have an easier time walking, because of the shoes you were lucky enough to be born into, to stand and walk and fight by our side, until we can all have more equitable footwear. Until we can all walk without living in so much pain and struggle.

It’s really just that simple.