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.

My own personal “fuck off” to Gamergate

TW: Child sexual abuse, online harassment, and fucking gamergate bullshit.

I’m not really a gamer, at least, not by the standards of most hardcore gamers. My NES was the most significant and best remembered gift I ever received as a child, a few years after it was released. My favorite memories of my father, from an otherwise strained and strange relationship, come from sitting together on the floor, playing marathon games of the original Super Mario Bros., with a little Duck Hunt thrown in, to break things up a bit. I’ve played and loved everything from the original computer-lab version of The Oregon Trail, to the Resident Evil on the original PlayStation. I was poor, though, and struggling to keep up a family, so I didn’t even have home internet access until 2008. I was nearly thirty, by then, and soon to become disabled, just as I was pulling myself out of poverty. So, I never got into PC games, or MMORPGs. I never learned the keyboard controls, or what the fuck ‘tanking’ is. I still enjoy the hell out of some old-school console games, or some quest-type games like Machinarium, but that’s about it. So, I hesitate to call myself a ‘Gamer,’ because I’ve seen what kind of insults come at women who actually are capital-G Gamers. The ones who have played MMOs since they were created. The ones who develop games for others to play. I’m already a woman, disabled, and a feminist, so I simply didn’t want to give them any more reasons to come after me.

I’m pretty well-versed, though, on Gamergate. As a feminist – hell, as a woman who expresses opinions online – it’s pretty relevant to me. So, I read up on it. It took quite a long time, and a bit of digging, to find all the relevant posts and counterposts, the incoherent video rages of those involved, the endless campaigns of harassment and abuse directed at women who didn’t do a single thing to deserve any of it. One was stalked by her abuser. One made some videos about problematic aspects of video games. Several others spoke out against the harassment and blatant abuse directed towards others. One of those was Sarah Nyberg. I had no idea who Sarah was, until someone online called me by her name, one day, in the midst of what might loosely be called a debate. I was pointing out that this guy was resorting to some really heinous tactics, such as using ableist, racist, and misogynist slurs, and saying I “needed to be raped, to be put in [my] place,” instead of using sound logical arguments, based in fact and reality. After he tossed a few more awful threats and abusive slurs my way, I told him I refused to continue the conversation, unless he stopped being abusive and bigoted in his language.

He said, “Sure, Sarah Nyberg. You’re a dog-fucking loser, anyway, coward.”

Since I was being compared to her, and even being labeled with her name, I thought I’d look her up. After all, anyone with whom I was being compared, because I refused to take abuse and argue with a juvenile fuckwit, was probably someone I wanted to know. I read up on all the horrors they visited on her, all the abuse they’re still throwing at her, and followed her on one social media platform. Unsurprisingly, I discovered a warm, witty, engaging woman. Someone who seemed to share most of my values. I engaged in a little back-and-forth with her, online.

Then, the DMs. The gators who urgently needed to tell me the SHOCKING! TRUTH! that Sarah was a pedophile. On its face, it seemed eerily similar to pretty much any reactionary smear tactic, such as the recent CMP smear on Planned Parenthood, or the Breitbart smear of journalist Shaun King. All flash, no substance, and a whole lot of vile verbal sewage.

I’ve seen the actual, un-edited transcripts of the conversations from which they carefully culled their bullshit accusations. And I’m still fucking furious.

Let me be as clear as humanly possible:

UNFUCK YOU, GG ASSHOLES. 

See, I was the victim of an actual pedophile. I was molested for five years by my stepfather. Five years of my childhood and adolescence that I will never get back, never be able to remember without pain, never be able to forget. Five years of being objectified and assaulted and abused by an adult who damned well knew better. I have lived with the after-effects of that abuse for over two decades. The gaslighting by family. The betrayal of a mother for whom money was more important. The whole extended family who didn’t believe me, either of the times I tried to tell, the failure of the responsible adults in my life to protect and defend me, and have my back when I mustered the strength to finally speak out. Being branded as “manic depressive,” and a “pathological liar,” by people who were not mental health professionals, and only using it as a smear tactic. Being harangued by other family members to “repair the relationship” with my mother, because she was the only one I’d ever get, in spite of the fact that she was the one who turned her back on me, in spite of the fact that she was the one who painted me as the villain to every single person from whom I may have received support.

I lived with this, virtually alone in the knowledge of what he’d done to me, what he’d taken from me, for seventeen years. I suffered secondary victimization on several levels. I spent years in therapy, and years researching the effects of child sexual abuse, to develop coping strategies for all of the lingering effects. I was doing pretty okay. It wasn’t tearing me apart, like it had in those earlier years.

I lived with this for seventeen years…until he molested a very young relative. Police and social workers got involved. When they asked the adults in the child’s life if the man had a history of molesting children, they were pointed in my direction. I gave a statement, and they offered to press charges against him for what he did to me, too.

That was three years ago. Three years ago, every single carefully cultivated scab was ripped right off. Every single emotional tripwire was restrung, just as tight as they’d ever been. And we’re still awaiting that bastard’s trial.

THAT is what pedophilia does. And consensual age play between adults IS. NOT. PEDOPHILIA. You useless fucking fecal stains.

WORDS.

MEAN.

THINGS.

You don’t get to dredge up a word like pedophilia, and use it to smear someone who isn’t one. You don’t get to use my personal hell, and the deeply personal suffering of roughly one quarter of the population, as a smear tactic in your pathetic little imaginary war to save video games from teh upstart wimminz. You don’t care about abused children. You don’t care about pedophilia. You don’t give any fucks at all about the damage you have done, or continue to do, with your endless, senseless abuse.

You can take your mindless, childish, incoherent, bullshit outrage, and shove it straight up your greasy, grimy, pasty, pathetic asses.

Nobody was ever coming for your stupid fucking epeens. Nobody was destroying gaming. Pointing out a problem with a thing does not equal hating the thing, or trying to destroy it. If you can’t grok that, you need to go back to grammar school and learn a few things.

And I hope you never have a not-solo orgasm in the entire remainder of your sad little lives. I hope your Cheetos all taste like chalk, and your Mountain Dew like dish soap. I hope all your bacon burns, and all your Hot Pockets sear your slimy fucking tongues. I hope you step on a Lego every time you go to steal mom’s cold cream, and that you accidentally grab Gojo, instead. I hope your PC crashes in the middle of every future raid. And I hope that people mock you for it until you cry into your peach fuzz neckbeards. If there was such a thing as hell, there’d be a special place in it for someone so low, so utterly without remorse, as to use such a real and horrific pain of millions to smear someone who isn’t guilty of anything but calling you out on your bullshit, you fragile, inadequate little manbabies.

Shame on you. Shame on you, forever. If you ever grow up, and learn the depth of the awfulness of what you’ve done to so many, I hope you feel that shame until you die. I hope it never lets you get another decent night’s sleep. I hope you suffer tenfold for every pain you’ve inflicted on others. Because you deserve nothing less.

Sincerely,

Someone who knows what pedophiles really are.

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?

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

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.

1024px-Rainbow_flag_and_blue_skies

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

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?

Alien Abduction

(originally posted elsewhere, February 2, 2013)

Imagine, for a moment, that a part of you – not the whole you, not your skin or hair or limbs or torso, not your body – could be abducted by aliens. Your consciousness, your brain, your mind, your heart, whatever you want to call it. All the parts of you that make you who you are.

Now, imagine there are two teams of aliens. We’ll call them the extraction team, and the demolition crew. The extraction team separates the consciousness from the body. They take it out, and put it in suspended animation, then they sit back and smoke a fine cigar, and watch the demolition crew at work, for a bit.

The demolition crew picks up the physical you, and rolls you down a long, narrow, enclosed flight of stairs, head over heels. They drag you by your feet across a few yards of carpet, or sometimes even through several rooms, and slam you into every wall, protruding corner, door, and piece of furniture along the way. Then, they pummel you with big, uneven wooden clubs until they get bored. They might stick a few oscillating icepicks into your skull, or shove you into a corner, or half under a dresser, or up under a desk or table or chair or cabinet. They might punch you in the eye, or bloody your nose with a two-by-four, or smash your lip into your teeth, repeatedly, until it’s bleeding and swollen and even your teeth are sensitive, or rub sandpaper on any exposed part of your body, until it’s pink and raw. They may twist your ankle, or pull your arm, hip, leg, neck, or back out of joint. They might even make you piss yourself.

Then, they animate just your body, and make you do a one hour, high impact workout, to amuse the extraction team while they relax.

Next, as the extraction team is finishing up their cigars, the demolition crew waits on them for the next bit. It’s a team effort, you see.

They return to the consciousness bit of you, and decide how to fuck it up. They really mix it up, here. Maybe they roll dice, or flip a coin, or rock-paper-scissors. They will almost certainly steal your memories of the time leading up to the abduction. The only question is, how far back will they go? Ten minutes? Forty-five? An hour? Sixteen of them? It depends entirely on their whims. Then, they might take away some of whatever it is that makes you able to focus, so that you zone out on people during conversations. It could be that they leave that alone, and take away your short-term memory for a while, or your ability to remember the things you have to do, or a five-item grocery list, or the plans you made over the phone yesterday, to have dinner with a friend today, or the list of tasks you’re supposed to accomplish, tomorrow. Hell, they might even take away your ability to remember that there ever was a list, so writing things down may not help. They might take the names of the last fifteen-or-so people you’ve met. They might take your ability to multi-task, or to focus on any given task while people around you are talking. They may take away your ability to find simple nouns, like bread or door, and decide to keep it for a while. It’s shiny, after all, and the little bastards are like magpies.

When they’re done fucking around with their own personal science experiment – you – the extraction team puts the two parts of you back together again. The two teams shake hands, and walk out of the room, knowing you’ll regain consciousness in a few minutes.

It takes you a couple of days, after the abduction, to get back to your baseline level of pain and confusion, let alone anything approaching pain-free and coherent and competent.

And the kicker? You know they’re coming back – and soon. If you’re really lucky, you might get four days from one abduction to the next, but they’ve been doing this for at least four years. They’re not likely to change it up much, now. After all, why change something that’s accomplishing your goals of crashing the party, really fucking things up, and leaving chaos and pain in your wake? So, they will most definitely be returning in a few days. About the time you start to think you’ve recovered enough to be an active and effective participant in your life, they’ll decide you’re getting a bit uppity, and that they need to take you down a peg or two. Four or five days (if nothing particularly stressful happens, and you don’t catch the flu, or a stomach bug, or a particularly persistent case of insomnia). Then they’ll be back, and the whole process repeats.

Forever.

You’ll almost never know precisely when it’s coming, although you occasionally get a few minutes warning. Not that bracing yourself will do any good. They’re going to take you down, anyway. They’re inevitable as death and taxes, and as inexorable as the sunset.

Can you see it? More importantly, can you feel it?

No? Well, then, move along. Nothing to see here.

Yes? Well, welcome to my world. That’s what it’s like, to have a tonic-clonic (in layman’s terms, Grand Mal) seizure about every four or five days. That is my life, and has been for going on since 2008.

I’m not asking for, nor do I want, pity. I’ve done pretty well at managing this, and not letting it control my life, for a while now. It was a long process, but I’ve figured out what my limitations are, what I can and can’t do, and how to change what few things are in my power to change, to make it less painful, less of an impediment, to myself and to others. When these first started, and they were much further apart, I’d be incapable of getting out of the bed for days. Now, while it still fucks me up as much as it ever did, I generally just push through whatever needs to be done, anyway. I get what’s important done, and have learned to let go of the rest, if at all possible, until I am feeling well enough to try to catch up. Preferably before the next seizure hits. I ask for help, when I’m coherent enough to recognize that someone can help me with whatever it is I need to do, and remember whatever that might be.

There is seldom a time when I am not exhausted and hurting. I’ve experienced many, many different kinds of pain. Back pain since I was 11, when the car I was riding in got plowed by a semi. Labor and childbirth, four times. Being beaten (not in the fun, consensual way) on a regular basis. Toothaches. Sporadic sciatica. Migraines that lasted for days, sometimes, in spite of medicine. The soreness of a seven-mile walk and hour-long workout. Five major car accidents. A twice-broken nose. And, of course, various types of S&M.

Each and every one of those pales in comparison to what I feel like the day after. I don’t know how much of that is the actual physical pain, and how much is the fact that I never get to fully recover, before the next one sets in.

I HATE ‘not braining,’ as we usually put it, here. My mind has always been the one part of me I valued more than any other, and it’s slipping. Not being able to do a cohesive, well-written research paper pains me more than I can describe. It’s endlessly frustrating to realize, over and over again, that I’ve forgotten something, or that the stupid word I want is trapped in my stupid brain, and I don’t have the key to unlock it and let it out. It makes me feel like a shitty person when I have to leave the room, or ask others to be quiet, or ask them to leave the room, until I can complete whatever task I am working on and can get a handle on that panicky, overwhelmed feeling.

I hate that I can’t be as independent and autonomous as I once was. I would so love to just decide I want to go for a drive, and go. I would love to have a job, again, and a reason to get out of my pjs every morning, and the income and social interaction that comes with it. I’d be happy to just not be so damned tired all the time. The bags under my eyes rival even the most extravagant mom-purse.

Now, this isn’t going to be all doom-and-gloom-and-woe-is-me.

This illness really showed me a few things I needed to understand. I have come to (halfway, at least) believe I am worth the effort, that I am worthy of that kindness and selflessness and generosity, and I have learned to prioritize my ‘spoons,’ so to speak (for anyone familiar with the spoon theory). I’ve found reserves of strength I didn’t know I possessed. I’ve learned to cherish every day, and find something in each and every one for which to be thankful. That happens when you realize that an illness is, more than likely, shortening your life span. You learn to value people more than things, and love and affection and friendship more than perfection. You learn to notice the good first, and to find the good in even bad situations. And to be grateful. Always. Strangely, having this kind of epilepsy helped me become a more positive person.

So, I don’t need sympathy or pity, or to be fixed by anyone other than me.

What I would like, though, is a little bit of understanding, when I just can’t push anymore. Or when I forget something, or can’t focus and screw up something simple. What I would like is a little less judgment on how I spend my time, and what I don’t do. A little less BS about being on ‘welfare’… you know, that system I payed into for many years, before I got sick?

What I’d like is to stop hearing various incarnations of ‘suck it up,’ when I’ve sucked it up as hard and as long as I could, and will do so again as soon as I’m able. I’d like to not hear anyone else talk about how much worse it could be (I already know), or start playing the my-body-is-mean-to-me-too-but-I-still-manage-to-do-yaddayaddayadda-so-why-can’t/won’t-you? schtick. What I’d like is to be able to push until I have to stop, without someone saying, the next day or week or whatever, “Well, how sick/tired/in pain/ can you really be, if you went to that party/went shopping/did that other thing, yesterday/last week/ a month ago?”

The seizures, and all of those direct after-effects, I can handle. They’re not pleasant, and it is a far cry from easy-peasy, but I’ve got most of that figured out, now.

What I can’t handle is this relentless questioning, judging, belittling, or minimizing of what I deal with, no matter how it’s done. What I can’t handle is constantly feeling like I have to explain myself, or defend myself, or isolate myself to keep my shit from inconveniencing or bothering other people.

It’s bullshit.

Unless you live my daily life, you don’t get it. You may be living with pain or illness or disorders or diseases of your own, and I don’t – CAN’T – know what that’s like either. You may run marathons or cook exquisite seven-course meals or build houses or kick the gym’s ass, in spite of whatever you’re suffering. I’m glad for you.

I can’t. This is how I deal with this shit, and it’s always to the absolute BEST of my ability. That may not be to the best of your ability, but you aren’t me.

Robin Williams – It isn’t about his fame. (TW)

In a post on another website, someone lambasted people who were publicly mourning the loss of one of the greatest actors of our time, one of our greatest artists, one of the few celebrities who has actually had real influence beyond just what it took to cash a paycheck. This post was my response.


 

Dead Poets Society came out in 1989. I was ten years old. I didn’t see the movie, though, until junior high. Eighth grade, I think. 1992. I was thirteen.

And I was miserable.

I was living in a town where gay was either the worst possible insult, or a whispered horror, like someone telling you that your aunt has cancer, when she’s standing in the next room, and they don’t want her to hear. I didn’t know what bisexuality was, yet, but I knew I liked girls, too. In my mind, I was “half gay.” And I couldn’t tell a single soul.

I was being raised by a father and stepmother who demanded obedience to an extremely rigid set of rules. The dishes had to be washed in a specific order, in water hot enough to burn my hands. The beds had to be made – complete with hospital corners – every morning, before school. I wasn’t allowed to watch movies above a “G” rating without explicit permission, and I’d learned not to ask. I was only allowed fifteen minutes of time on the telephone, twice a week, and only if one of them was sitting there, listening in. I wasn’t allowed to speak to a boy on the phone, not even for a group project for class. If the boy had to get information to me, or I to him, it had to be relayed through another female member of my group. I did a lot of projects alone.

I was forced to attend a church that was based more on hate than on faith. Everything was bad. Everybody else was wrong, and going to hell, and if I so much as put one toe out of line, I was bound for everlasting fire and damnation, too.

My stepmother picked out my clothes every night, the ones she’d chosen when she took me school clothes shopping in August. They were horrid. I went to school every day looking like one of those kids you see in sensational news footage, after the authorities have raided a polygamist cult compound. Long skirts or baggy pants, button-up blouses, and nondescript tennis shoes. No jewelry or makeup allowed. Couldn’t cut my hair. Face covered in horrible acne. Braces on my teeth. I got grounded for almost two months for my first “B.” So, I was a nerd. Always with better grades than most of my classmates. I wrote poetry, and won spelling bees, and always had my nose in a book.

There weren’t many people who would even talk to me, and I had even fewer friends.

One of those friends was Heather. I’d had a crush on her older brother for over a year. He asked me to be his girlfriend. Starstruck, of course I said yes. She stopped speaking to me for months.

I’d lived a very sheltered life, and didn’t know anything at all about relationships, let alone sex. He seemed to know all about it. And he wanted me. The girl no one would even speak to in the halls, and he would hold my hand, send me candygrams on holidays, pick me flowers.

One day, we were hiding, making out, hands in places they probably shouldn’t have been (but entirely over our clothes), and a group of the popular kids came around the corner.

By that afternoon, they were talking, you know, the way they do? Loudly enough for me to hear, to the whole class, like I wasn’t there, or was invisible? They were talking about “that girl who let that boy finger her under the bleachers.” I was labelled a slut, immediately. And this was the same boy who gave me my first kiss.

It never stopped.

Everything was about conformity. And I just couldn’t seem to get it right. Couldn’t pretend well enough. Couldn’t make anyone believe that I was just like them, even though everything around me screamed that such was the only appropriate way to be.

At the beginning of that year, my sister had gone to live with our mother. And our stepfather. The one who had been molesting me for two years, by this point. For the first four years of her life, I’d raised her, mostly alone. For the next four, I still had to be the parent, anytime we were with mom. As far as I was concerned, she was my responsibility. And she was gone. There. With him.

I was beyond miserable.

I spent most of the first half of that school year considering suicide. Thinking about how I could do it. About what the least painful way would be, and more importantly, the least messy. After all, I wouldn’t want to leave a mess for anyone to clean up. I was already too much trouble, as it was.

Worry about my baby sister stilled my hand, and stalled my plans, but the thoughts wouldn’t go away. I still couldn’t fit in. Couldn’t be what everyone wanted me to be, what it was obvious I was supposed to be. I was a failure.

One day, just before Christmas break, my English teacher rolled in one of the AV carts, and put in Dead Poets Society.

And I realized, for the first time, ever, that maybe… just maybe, it could be okay to be me. Maybe the people demanding that I be something else, that I round off my edges to fit in that round hole, were wrong.

I know that was a fictional character, and I know the writer is probably owed much of the credit for the role. But Robin Williams’ performance as Mr. Keating rocked my world. And changed my outlook. I decided to take charge of my own fate, albeit in a horribly misguided way.

At the end of that school year, I moved in with my mother. To protect my sister, and to try to figure out who I was, when I wasn’t trying so damned hard to fit in.

And the next year and a half were HELL. My sister didn’t want me. My mother didn’t care enough about me to even ask where I was going when I walked out the door with a friend. And my stepfather had continual access to me, in a house where none of the doors locked properly.

That movie was, again, a touchstone. Mr. Keating was my hero.

A couple of years later, and back in the shitpot little town, I was outed to my entire high school, and came out to my dad, about the time The Birdcage came out. Robin Williams, again, was playing characters which were SO very relevant to my life, and that silly, touching, wonderful movie was a part of what got me through that.

At the end of 2000, my second child was stillborn. I have never wanted to die as badly as I did, then. I don’t even remember most of that year. Just flashes.

But I remember discovering What Dreams May Come. I sobbed most of the way through that movie. Then I watched it again. And once more. I watched it until I could stop crying, and get up off of the couch, and do something besides just wanting to die. I shared the movie with my sister, after her boyfriend, and the father of the child she was expecting, committed suicide. I held her as she sobbed, and we watched it until she was all cried out.

A year or so later, I was the one who put people into action, when no one could reach my sister, and her last communication to anyone, to me, sounded suicidal. I’ve talked people off those ledges, metaphorical and literal.

There were … attempts… during all of those times. Moments when life just seemed too damned difficult, and not at all worth it, besides. And I won’t say that Robin Williams is in any way the main thing that stopped me. But he helped. Every single time. He helped, even if only by giving me a safe reason to cry until I felt a little better. Some catharsis. And that isn’t even counting the laughs he gave me at so many other times.

So, today, I was heartbroken. No, I never met him. No, he wouldn’t have known me if we passed on the street. But the mere thought that someone who has, in some weird, secondhand way, been instrumental in helping me through those times when I wanted to give up, gave up, himself, is awful. Every time I hear of someone’s suicide, I am saddened by it. I know what it is to be mourning the loss of a loved one because life became too much. I know what it is to want to just check out, just stop trying. I ache for every single person who finds themselves in that place.

But, as much as I didn’t personally know Robin Williams, this one hit me pretty damned hard. He helped me, when I didn’t feel like I had anyone to turn to, and when things got bad for him, he didn’t feel like there was anyone there to call for help.

If you want to insult those memories, by saying or implying that the only reason I care is because he’s a celebrity, go right ahead.

Or you could, you know, stop focusing on just the pain of those left behind, and realize that the pain he must have been in, the pain that anyone who commits suicide must be in, is probably far greater. Yeah, he was a celebrity. So what? He was another person, floating around on this rock with the rest of us, and in a pain so unbearable that he chose to hit the emergency exit door, rather than keep suffering.

And I feel for him. Not more than I do for any other person who reaches that point, because of his celebrity status, but certainly not less, either.