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.

Advertisements

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.

We need more than a week

Trans awareness week is November 14th through the 20th. Yeah. I hear you.

But it’s February! Why are you talking about this, now?

Well, maybe because I don’t think a week is enough. Maybe because transpeople and other gender-non-conforming people, are dying in absurdly, terribly, high numbers. Here we are, at the end of the second month of the year, and there have been at least six murdersand at least three suicides.

That’s nine deaths. Nine lives snuffed out, at least in part because of their gender identity.

And that?

IS. NOT. OKAY. 

So, I say that a week isn’t enough. I say that we need to be raising awareness, educating, advocating, and supporting transpeople EVERY DAMNED DAY.

We need to be letting transpeople know that they have our support, and that we will back them up against the judgment, bigotry, hate, and fear that they face in the wider culture. We need to be advocating for tougher laws, concerning hate crimes. We need to be speaking up, every day, until this horrible pattern is no longer a real thing.

 

So, I don’t really want to wait until November rolls around again. And I don’t want you to, either.

There IS a “B” in There, You Know. I’m More Than “an Ally.”

In the following piece, I refer to my oldest child as my daughter. My child has since come out to me as trans, and we use only male pronouns. I’m leaving the piece as-is, at his request, but I didn’t want any new readers to come away with an impression that participates in his erasure, either. Thanks.


bisexual1

Image is bisexual pride flag emblazoned with the words: I am not a whore. I am not confused. I am not “going through a phase.” I am not invisible. I am not unfaithful. I am not alone. I’M BISEXUAL. And that’s really all there is to it.

This town to which I recently returned, the shithole where I spent the first twenty-five years of my life, is a hotbed of ignorance and bigotry. I know, I know, I live in the south, blahblahwhatever. Even compared to the rest of the state, this town is about as bass-ackwards as you can get. Just a few current county demographics to help you out, and some anecdotal stuff from my younger years:

  • 92.8% white
  • per capita income: $16,109
  • 8 public elementary schools, 2 public middle schools, 1 high school, yet…
  • FOUR private christian schools, all administered by baptist churches
  • Completely dry county until 1984, when wine, beer, and liquor sales were finally allowed. “Liquor by the drink,” and beer/wine served in restaurants were not voted in until 2008.
  • City water wasn’t flouridated until 2004.
  • The book, “A Separate Peace” was challenged in a school board meeting, here, in 1996. (I was a junior in high school, here, then.)
  • Only 9% of the over-25 population has at least a bachelor’s degree (vs. 31%, nationwide), and less than 70% have a high school diploma (vs. 88%, nationwide).
  • There is one church for every 38 people or 10 households.
  • There is one Baptist church for every 93 people, or 25 households.
  • I was the first female outed as non-heterosexual at my school, ever, in 1996. There were two males who had been, during their attendance there, and no transpeople.

I was sixteen years old when I was outed at school. I’d made the classic mistake of coming out to my three closest friends, who were sworn to secrecy.

Of course, they told their other closest friends. And swore them to secrecy. And so on, and so forth. In less than a week, it seemed, everyone knew. And every single day was suddenly a gauntlet.

People didn’t seem to understand the distinction between bisexual and lesbian, and I was suddenly the resident “dyke.” And that was one of the nicer words.

I was bullied in the hallways, from straight-up assault and battery, to being “accidentally” shoved against lockers by other students passing by, to large groups waiting for me around corners, to shout slurs and other sexual insults, to groups of just guys waiting to tell me how quickly they’d fuck me straight again, given the chance. Or even given a half hour alone with me in a locked room, whether I gave them the chance or not.

I was bullied in the classroom, with teachers sitting idly by, or sometimes even laughing along. My junior year, I was in two different choral classes with the same group of girls. They taunted me every day, telling me how much God hated me, how I was going to burn in hell, how I’d better not even look at them, or they’d be sure to get me there early. The teacher ignored the whole thing, except to invite me to attend her church with her (soul-saving at its finest), and reporting all of us, me and my tormentors, to the administration for disturbing her class.

The guidance counselor told me that I shouldn’t be “rubbing my sexual preference in everybody’s faces.” I should just be keeping it to myself. As if I had been running around, pounding my chest, screaming out, HEY, EVERYBODY! LOOK AT ME! I’M NOT STRAIGHT, instead of mostly keeping my head down, and defending myself only as necessary.

bisexual2

Image is titled “Bisexuality at a glance.” Underneath the title, it is divided into four columns. Column one: POPULATION – 9 million. Among adults who identify as LGB, bisexuals comprise a slight majority (1.8% compared to 1.7% who identify as lesbian or gay. Or roughly equivalent to the population of New Jersey. Column two: MEN AND WOMEN – Women are substantially more likely to identify as bisexual. Bisexuals comprise more than half the lesbian and bisexual population. Conversely, gay men comprise substantially more than half of gay and bisexual men in seven of the nine surveys. Column three: ECONOMICS – Bisexuals have lower incomes than heterosexuals, gays, and lesbians and are significantly more likely to be living in poverty, have lower levels of education, and have more children in the household. On average, bisexuals earn 15% less than heterosexuals over their lifetime. Column four: HEALTH AND WELLNESS – Bisexuals face greater physical and mental health disparities than lesbians, gays, and the broader population. Bisexuals are also less likely to have access to insurance or financial resources for healthcare and are more likely to have considered or attempted suicide than heterosexuals, gays, and lesbians. UNDER ALL FOUR COLUMNS: 19 million Americans (8.2%) report that they have engaged in same sex sexual behavior, and nearly 25.6 million Americans (11%) acknowledge at least some same sex sexual attraction. Source: Brown University’s Health Concerns for Bisexuals report. Source: Northwestern and Kinsey Institute Study of bisexuality. Source: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Bisexual Health Report. http://www.oneequalworld.com

After that, I stopped trying so hard to be liked. I had this friend, one really amazing friend who was an awesome ally. She was straight, but didn’t care at all if the assholes who were making my life miserable thought otherwise. She came up with this idea. She would walk me to class, holding my hand, or carrying my books, and kiss me on the cheek at the classroom door. We figured, they were going to make my life miserable, anyway, so we may as well just put it out there, and I should stop acting like it bothered me. And I did. And it still bothered the hell out of me, and the bullying never got any better, while I was there, but I did the best I could with it. I avoided being alone in the hallway when I could help it, especially while classes were in session and they were mostly empty. I ate lunch in a classroom, most days, where I was a proctor. I walked down the middle of the hall during class changes, to avoid being shoved against the lockers. I kept a towel and a change of clothes in my backpack, in case someone dumped a surprise can of tuna on me.

I lost a lot of friends, but solidified a few other friendships, after answering some really awkward and personal questions. My one awesome friend introduced me to her cousin, who was gay, and introduced me to the half-dozen or so semi-out people in the county. At first, I was really happy about that. I thought I’d found a safe space to be me, to be accepted, to stop having to hide, or be careful about what I said, or to have my defenses always on high alert. After a couple of months, not so much.

I was playing pool with them, one day, when my friend’s cousin said, So, have you made up your mind, yet?

I just stared at him, eyebrow raised, confused.

What was the question, again? I was waiting on the punchline, when it came like a punch in the gut.

Well, are you gay or not?

Um… I was struggling. I hadn’t expected the question, and didn’t know what the hell to do with it. Um…neither? Both? I’m bi.

Oh, honey. Nobody’s really bi. People just say that until they figure things out. So which is it gonna be?

Um…no. I… already figured things out. I’m bi. End of story.

It was the first of several conversations I had that went basically the same way. Finally, I just stopped hanging out with them, because they would never ever let it drop. They insisted I had to choose.

bisexual3

Image is titled: WHAT CONTRIBUTES TO BI ERASURE, and what are YOU doing to promote BI VISIBILITY. Image is a five circle Venn diagram. The center circle is pale blue and says Calling bisexuals allies. Top left circle is hot pink and says mislabelling people as lesbian, gay, or straight even when they are out as bi, i.e. Alan Cumming or Lady Gaga. Top right circle is dark blue and says Denying bisexuality exists. Bottom left circle is pale blue and says, Using non-inclusive language: gay marriage or gay/lesbian couples even when a bi person is in the couple. Bottom right circle is purple and says, Only considering a person gay or straight, depending on the sex of the person’s partner. Underneath image is logo for BRC – Bisexual Resource Center, and the words Bi the way, our health matters too.

When I was 17, I came out to my dad. I’d gone to a rally with a friend who was questioning his sexuality, and had found myself in a heated argument with a scripture-shouting bigot, just as the TV news cameras showed up. The cameras belonged to the only station that shows news for our county. Dad was a pretty hardcore baptist, and an unapologetic, all-around bigot. Racist. Homophobe. Misogynist. You name it, if it ended in -ism, he was probably a poster boy.

I went home and packed my bags, stashed them under the bed, and chewed my nails down into the quick while I waited on him to get home.

He didn’t throw me out, but he berated me for “the bad choices I was making,” and for the “impact on the family this decision of yours is going to have.” A few days later, he came back to me to let me know he’d “talked to his gay friends,” who’d told him that there was no such thing as bisexuality. That people claiming to be bisexual were actually just sluts or sex addicts, trying to get their rocks off in as many ways as possible. He told me he was ashamed of me, but that he still loved me.

I moved out, for the second time, a couple months later. (The first time had been a year and a half before, and my friend’s parents didn’t want to get into a fight with my dad, so they sent me home.)

The people I was living with, at first, kicked me out when their mother found out I was bi.

My first girlfriend cheated on me with her ex, then dumped me, claiming it was because I wasn’t a “real lesbian.”

The next guy I dated dumped me when he found out.

The next guy was to be my future husband. An abusive asshole who looked at my sexuality (because I refused to lie about it, or hide it, from the people closest to me, even then) as a prize he’d won. He badgered me about having a threesome for the first two years of our relationship. The one time I caved in, just to make it stop, I ended up being so disgusted by the whole thing that I nearly vomited before it could even get started. He kept badgering me, but I never caved in again, so he spent the rest of our seven year relationship using my bisexuality as an insult, as a weapon. When I left him, he threatened me with the specter of him bringing it up in custody court. I’d seen people in this town lose kids because of things like that, and I was terrified.

I left him. I moved to another place, one of the seven counties out of the hundred in the state to vote against amendment 1, several years later. Things were pretty awesome. I got involved in the lifestyle. I became a long term substitute teacher in the next county over. When the GSA lost their sponsor, and no one else would step up, I did. I immediately made an enemy out of the principal of the school. I later learned that the reason they lost their sponsor was because of him. There were ostensibly other reasons I was fired, but that was where it started. He made me cry five times over the course of my employment, there. Three of those were about the GSA.

I made good friends in the lifestyle, people who I soon considered my chosen family. I learned the term, “pansexual,” and identified with it.

I had four relationships I would consider at least somewhat long term, two with men, two with women, and four short flings, one with a man, the rest with women. The last one was abusive, and tore my world apart. My kids, mostly to get away from him, decided to move in with their father. Back in that town. I refused to be so far from them, so I began making preparations to move, too.

In the week leading up to my leaving, some of my friends had a farewell karaoke thing. It was an event I started, and had handed over to the woman who hosted that night. Her partner went on a tirade about how I didn’t know shit. I wasn’t in the armed forces before DADT, or on a police force in the 80s, so I didn’t get to have a voice.

It was a hell of a sendoff.

Now, I’m back in that shitpot town. Things have improved, some. I’m very, very glad for the improvements. I make sure to remind myself of them frequently, because I’d not survive the next eight years, otherwise. I try to remind others, too, because it points to progress, to hope, to things not always being as hellish as they were for me.

But it’s no cakewalk.

Mini-me, that brave and wonderful young woman, came out to her father. With predictable results. He dismissed it as a phase, when he wasn’t busy telling her how awful and wrong it was. His whole family started preaching at her. His mother brings up how she doesn’t want to “get lumped in with those lesbians,” in every damned conversation they have, while still pretending that she hasn’t been told about the coming out. Then she tries to badger her into going to church (mini-me is an atheist, btw.).

She team-wrote some fanfic, when she was living there, with her tumblr friends. It had, as do many fanfics, some guy-on-guy romance. They found it, and flipped shit, and grounded her from the internet, phone, and pretty much everydamnedthing else. That was before Christmas. She still can’t use the internet, there, nine months later. Not even to do her homework, which is ALL online, at least, so far.

They didn’t tell me about her being grounded, and neither did she, for over three months. When I found out about it, they told me it was because she was “having that cybersex with grown adults.” Which, you know, she wasn’t.

They accused her of stealing things, because, well, you know how those queer people are. They bullied her constantly.

She had a girlfriend. She introduced us. We hung out, on one of her weekends here. She was sweet, and they were adorable together, and I was so happy for my girl.

While she was gone to her dad’s for a couple of weeks, over the summer, she visited her grandmother, who let her get online for a few minutes.

The girlfriend got scared. She was too afraid of being outed to her mother, or at school. She had broken up with mini-me, via tumblr, five days before.

Mini-me called me, crying. I had to move mountains, and endure a great deal of verbal abuse, just to get her dad to let her come and stay the night. See, she couldn’t even mourn her breakup, there. She couldn’t cry. She couldn’t ask anyone for a hug. She couldn’t even admit she’d had a girlfriend in the first place, let alone seek comfort or consolation from anyone, for her first real breakup, ever.

She lives here, now. And she’s happy. But she has to go back there every other weekend. This was one of those weekends.

She was gone less than four hours, last night, when she called me, crying. She was at her grandmother’s. They had all been ganging up on her, bullying her, again. Even my son (who I’m worrying is being brainwashed into bigotry). Her grandmother had been there to see it, and took mini-me back to her place. And then brought her back home, here.

I provided what comfort I could, and she went to bed. Then I got online. On my other blog. And found some bullshit about my “passing privilege.”


Now. Let’s talk about “passing.”

Fuck the whole fucking concept. What passing means to me is going back in the fucking closet. I’m NOT INTERESTED. Everyone I know in this town already knows that I’m bi. Small towns (under 8,000 people in the city limits) don’t just forget such abnormalities, or the people who display them. And everybody knows everybody else, and their business.

But even if I could somehow make them forget my past, I wouldn’t. I despised hiding who I was from everyone. It is a horrible feeling. It’s even more lonely than losing an entire community for standing up for your beliefs about something important, like consent. And I should know, because I’ve done both.

Do you know what actually happens, when someone sees me with my kid, and/or my partner? The whispers start.

Oh. I thought she was Gay.
I guess she’ll just fuck anything. Whore.

You know how I know that? Because even though I don’t get out much, this shitstill gets back to me. Or I see it on the Topix discussion boards. My name among a bunch of slurs.

What most people who accuse someone of passing seem to be saying is, Hey, you! You must be getting the best of BOTH worlds, and I don’t like you/you’re not really a part of my community/you’re only an honorary member/you don’t know what it’s really like/I think you’ve got it better than I do and that’s not fair and I’m going to lash out at you for it whether you are trying to pass or not/you’re with a guy, so your LGBT card has been suspended until you’re out making huge displays of PDA with a female, preferably butch.

Well, maybe not. I don’t know what they’re actually trying to say, but that’s how it feels, and it’s BULLSHIT.

I don’t get “the best of both worlds.” More often than not, I get the worst. Some straight people think I’m too queer. Some queer people think I’m too straight. I can’t really be LGBT, as long as I’m with someone who has a penis, or as long as I’m presenting as femme, or as long as I am out in public with a guy and my kid.But I’m still that chick. The one everyone here knows is “a dyke.” The one who is going to hell. The one who is a slut, and ought to be ashamed of herself. And now, I’m watching my daughter going through THE SAME FUCKING BULLSHIT. I’m fighting the battles all over again, at her side, or as her shield, when I’m able.

So. That thing my high school guidance counselor accused me of? I’m going to do that, now.

I’M. NOT. STRAIGHT.

You know what else I’m not? A lesbian.

I self-identify as pansexual, because the gender of a person has precisely dick (pardon the pun) to do with whether or not I’m attracted to them. I’m okay with being called bisexual, too, though. I was that for a long time, first, and there’s a lot of overlap between those identities. (Because this has become necessary, I’m clarifying a point, here. I in no way believe that bisexuality is some “larval stage,” from which people “evolve,” into more enlightened pansexuals. They are separate, yet overlapping identities, both of which are valid and should not need to be defended from one another. I switched from identifying as bisexual to identifying as pansexual as soon as I heard the term for the first time, in my thirties, and had no idea how many people believe that, in itself, was biphobic, because of my reasoning listed above. I’ve been shown that, since at least 1990, at least some bisexual people have been defining bisexuality as attraction to one’s own gender, and genders other than their own. That’s news to me. It still doesn’t change my identity, but I felt some clarification was in order. Bisexual is not code for less enlightened than pansexual. I am leaving my above statement, because I don’t believe in hiding the stumbles we make as we learned to walk. That is all)

And I don’t care if you’re het, cis, genderqueer, gay, trans, lesbian, or a goddamned cerulean polka-dotted purple plaid rhinoceros. You do NOT get to make assumptions about whether or not I belong in the community. You do NOTget to minimize the lifetime of fighting I’ve had to do just to be me, and continue to do so that others, including my own child, get to be themselves.

I’m not just “an ally.”

Ally: Typically any non-LGBTQIA person who supports and stands up for the rights of LGBTQIA people.

L

G

B

T

Q

I

A

There’s a “B” in there. See it? Loud and proud, and been there for years. You don’t get to tell me that my struggles don’t count, that I’m not a “real” member of that club, that I can only ever be an ally. I fought for that shit. I earned it.

AFTER I was born with it. I fought to be able to have the basic human dignity of being me. I’ve done it for nineteen years, and will keep doing it as long as that is being denied to anyone.

You do not get to marginalize me by talking about a thing I’ve never been able to do. So what if I could pass, if I were traveling. I don’t get to travel. I’m lucky to be able to visit another town, let alone another country. This is where I am, and this is what it’s like being me, being here, being pansexual.

If that’s not good enough for you, if my queer credentials aren’t strong enough for you, then that’s not my fucking problem. Perhaps you should examine yourassumptions, because I’m not assuming shit.

I’m still too busy fighting.

To All the Daniels in the World

 

Dear Daniel,

I wish I could have been your mother. There are so many things I would have said and done.

I would have raised you with the knowledge that people are people are people, and that bigotry is never okay.

I would have assured you, at every stage along the way, that you are beautiful, worthwhile, valuable, and loved.

I would have provided for you, not so that I could later act as though you owed me something, but because that would have been my job, as your mother. I would never have equated providing the most basic of human needs to a debt you owed to me.

I would have taught you to think for yourself, to question things like tradition, to form your own opinions and values based on logic, and your own instincts. To choose and walk your own path with your head held high, regardless of what the people around you might think, as long as you weren’t causing harm to others. I would never have demanded blind faith in either me, or in some bogus religious tradition that many people use to justify despicable things like hate, bigotry, homophobia, sexism, racism, and xenophobia.

I would have earned your respect, by treating you with empathy, kindness, nurturing, understanding, and love, and by teaching you how to treat others the same way, regardless of any inborn characteristics they might possess.

I would have let you tell me about your life, your feelings, your reasons for choices you made, or the person you are. I never would have dismissed or belittled you for being who you are.

I would have made damned sure you knew how very proud I was of you, for having the remarkable courage to stand up in an environment where so many stand against you, and refusing to back down. I would have had your back against any who might try to deny you the right to be whomever you are, to love whomever you love, and to be treated with dignity wherever you go. I would have taught you how to weather those horrible challenges, while making sure you knew that you didn’t have to weather them all alone, not while I lived.

I would have been proud to tell people that you were my child. Proud  to be seen with you. Proud to have everyone know that this brave, amazing soul was my son.

I would have fought for your right to not have to hide one of the most basic aspects of yourself from the world, whether in school, in our neighborhood, in church if you chose to attend, or in any other situation. Anyone trying to force you to conform to some bigoted standard, anyone trying to deny you of the dignity of your basic human rights, would have faced, in me, a tireless and passionate and unyielding advocate who would never be silenced while your rights or dignity were threatened.

I would have given you all the love every child should have from their parents, and never wavered in my commitment to see you grow into a happy, self-confident adult who would never doubt his mother’s pride and love for him.

I would have loved you. I would have nurtured you. I would have helped you find your own path, and learn to walk it unapologetically, sure of your place in the world. I would have given you a soft place to fall for those times when you failed, and all my admiration and praise for your successes. I would have given you the encouragement and guidance you needed to keep trying.

Dear Daniel, I am so very sorry that you didn’t have a parent who would do all of those things. I am sorry you aren’t my son. I love you, even though I don’t know you, and I ache for the horror and struggle that must have been your life, until now. I’m not your mother, but I am so very proud of you. You are a brave, strong, beautiful person, and you deserve a family who is worthy of that beauty. I hope that you understand that family doesn’t necessarily mean relatives, and that you find a family who will give you all the love, encouragement, and support that your relatives never did.

Please know that you are not a disgrace. You are an exemplar. You can move mountains, and no hell can hold you. There is no god worth worshiping who would promote anything other than loving and supporting you.

Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is someone to be pitied. They are simply small, frightened, ignorant little cowards who are intimidated by your light.

Screw them. You do you.

SHINE.

 

 

Consent and Conditioning

When I was a small child, I was surrounded by extended family, and family friends. My parents pretty much sucked at being parents, but they did keep us involved with all of our relatives.

There were Sunday dinners, and summer cookouts, picnics and gatherings, or just a bunch of the neighborhood kids running wild in the woods around the holler.

And everywhere we went, there were things that took away our agency.

That old lady that wanted to pinch your cheeks? It was rude not to let her, not to smile, while she did it, not to thank her for compliments that felt… greasy.

That other old lady who gave kisses that left a snail-trail of doublemint-scented slime on your cheek when she kissed you? Same thing. Smiles, gratitude, not pulling away. Waiting to wipe the ooze off your face until you could get into another room.

That creepy old great uncle or older fourth cousin who always wanted to pull you up on his lap, and tell you long, involved, boring-yet-slightly-creepy tales about his first love, and how much you remind him of her? Yeah. You get the picture.

That cousin who bullied you relentlessly when out of visual range of the adults, but patted you condescendingly on the head, and gave you rib-crushing hugs when they were around? Even him. And he knew the rules, knew you couldn’t get away without being chastised. He took advantage of it on purpose.

From my earliest memories, I was being taught that my comfort didn’t matter. That people, grown-ups and bullies, could invade my personal space, touch me in uncomfortable ways, give me all kinds of sleazy, slimy, or threatened feelings, and that it was my job to not only stand there and take it, but to smile about it. To say thank you. To pretend that it was not only okay, but that I wanted it.

I’ve talked to loads of other people who were raised the same way. It seems that, though boys weren’t entirely immune, especially from the cheek-pinching aunt, most of the folks I know who experienced this were girls. It was part of teaching us how to be proper ladies. Demure. Acquiescent. Pleasing. Polite.

No one ever made the distinction, for me, between those uncomfortable touches and kisses and hugs, and the ones I was supposed to repel. Except for strangers. Especially strangers asking directions, or for help with a lost dog, or handing out candy. Yet the very same people who would insist that politeness required allowing people to touch me when I didn’t want to, tend to be the types of people who blame victims when they don’t fight back enough, don’t say “no” in just the right ways to count as a clear denial of consent.

So, when my stepfather, who was obviously in the class of people to whom I wasn’t to say no, started touching me in ways that made me uncomfortable, I did precisely what I’d been taught. I was only eleven, and my fondest wish was to be a good girl. To do what I was supposed to do, enough for everyone to love me. That was my sole purpose for existing, as far as I knew.

It took me two years to figure out he shouldn’t be touching me like that. Shouldn’t be exposing himself to me. That he was the bad guy, and not me, for him “sharing” his Penthouse Forums, because he knew how mature I was, and how much I loved to read.

It took me another three years, after that realization, to be able to speak up, to stop what was happening. And in light of my upbringing, I wasn’t really all that surprised by what happened next.

My mother and stepfather, when they weren’t busy denying it altogether, blamed me.

They said, “Well, if he did do anything, it must have been her fault. You know how she walks around the house in nothing but an oversized T-shirt and panties. You know how she flirts with every male in sight.”

My uncle even agreed to say I’d made a pass at him, in court, to try to save my stepfather’s reputation.

All of this just reinforced everything I’d been taught. My boundaries didn’t matter. As long as I kept up the appearance of purity, no one cared if someone else was doing things to me that I didn’t want.

And it took much, much longer for that lesson to be un-learned. Even when I thought I was past all that, somehow above it, there were times that it reared its ugly head.

The time that guy kept bugging me to play, and I kept trying to tell him no, but in a ‘nice’ way, even though he wasn’t taking my polite no for an answer. Even when he was pointedly and purposefully trying to talk me out of my no, like I was wrong for saying it. Like I needed it to be justified.

The time that my now-ex-husband told me he’d leave me if I so much as cringed when he tried to fuck me, less than a month after a brutal rape.

The myriad occasions when someone touched me without consent, and I just let it pass, to avoid making a scene.

That creepy douche who kept scooting closer and closer to me at a munch, pinning me to the wall on the inside of the booth.

It isn’t an easy thing to overcome. Many of us are steeped in that shit from the time we’re born. And if you weren’t? You just can’t possibly understand the pervasiveness of it. The way it seeps into interactions without you even knowing it’s there. The way it keeps trying to come back, no matter how many times you think you’ve killed it off.

And then there’s the fact that we know what a “no” looks likeeven when it isn’t an outright “no.”. Yet even when people indicate very clearly that they don’t want to participate in whatever it is that’s being done, others will inevitably say that it’s their fault it happens, without that explicit “no.”

All of this is a huge part of the reason why the concept of “enthusiastic consent,” or whatever other emphatic word you want to use, is so important. It’s another reason why “no means no” is not enough, and “only yes means yes,” has become such an important distinction.

Is it on me to overcome my conditioning? Sure it is. And I own that. I am responsible for un-learning this busted lesson.

As ethical people, though, it’s on every single one of us to be aware that this happens. It happens to a lot of us. And it might impede our ability to speak out, when we need to say no, sometimes. It’s everyone’s job to understand that, and to work towards better communication, and providing a place where the person saying “no,” knows that their no will be heard and respected.

So, my thought is, maybe we could work at this from both sides. Maybe we could stop making it a win-lose situation, and get on board with trying, instead, to understand and aid one another in becoming better communicators. Maybe we can start making sure that our partners know that we want to hear their “no,” if they need to say it, and that we will respect it. That we won’t try to push past it. That we will be grateful for them defining their boundaries, so that we’re not in danger of pushing past them accidentally. Maybe we can learn to take no for an answer, without demanding explanations, without arguing against it, without trying to nullify and push past it for our own gratification. Maybe we can start asking, if we aren’t absolutely certain, or if body language or verbal cues indicate doubt.

It’s not about blaming either person involved. It is about working together to understand why sometimes, “Just say ‘no,'” isn’t setting the bar high enough.