Dear America: a letter from your future self

not-ok

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This place was once a sundown town.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 pech 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.

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.