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

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

 

Oh, Honey, NO.

Not here
Not me
Not today
… or any other, for that matter

Yeah, there’s a dance
and yeah
my round ass is shaking
to the tune that’s playing
but nobody invited you
and I sure don’t want
your skeeze
in my dance space
Like Jennifer Grey
and her spaghetti arms
not knowing
what the fuck she was doing
but trying hard to act
just like she did

See
I *been* dancing this dance
long
long
before you
came along
and I know the tune
I know the steps
this tempo
runs in my blood
frantic
pulsing
pounding
flowing
invading already
all without your
pathetic assistance

See
THIS dance is a dance
you don’t know
you *can’t* know
you never ***had*** to do it before
even when your legs were aching
and your back was sore
even when your heart was tired
and your mind was screaming out
no more
*no more*
*NO MORE*
Even when
all you really ever wanted
was to lie down
and make the spinning stop
and silence the beat

But I did
we did
we danced
because we had to
danced
until our feet bled
until our legs were weak
like gelatin
tears flowing
rage-spittle flying
dancing
for our fucking lives
for the lives
of husbands and wives
of children and parents
of sisters
brothers
friends
lovers
cousins
and kin not even blood

And now you
wanna storm in here
while I’m dancing
demanding
that I teach you the steps
then spouting off
about how these steps are wrong
how the dance would be
done better
the way *you* want to see it
about how
you ought to get
a spot in the pattern
and be able
to change the moves
slow down the tempo
because your tender feet-
unaccustomed to
the stamping
stomping
hard-driving beat-
can’t handle these
grunts of effort
the sweat flying
from our cheeks
or are those tears of exhaustion
frustration
rage
You
and your tender feet
know nothing of this dance
because luck
because
accident of birth
which made you white
made you born-man called-man
made you comfortable
made you straight
made you healthy
because of *nothing* you ***did***

you know nothing
but that privilege shuffle
with its mellow groove
and its easy softness

And we ain’t got time
for your feet to catch up
because we gotta keep dancing
keep stomping
keep stamping
keep spinning

because this dance
is the only way we got
to change the tune
to slow it down
we gotta dance
until we can all shuffle
or maybe find some ditty
somewhere in between
a nice waltz, perhaps
that won’t crack our bones
on the downbeat

we ain’t got time
to teach you all the steps
and how they came
to be part of the pattern
and we *sure*
ain’t got time
to argue you
out of your wrong
out of your sweet, easy shuffle
that keeps you from seeing
the horror and pain
the blood and the death
that are
that have always been
a part of this dance
that ain’t
fucking
yours

Nah, homeskillet.

Shuffle your shuffle
right on outta here
and come back when you learned
come back when you worked for it
come back when you got some way
to make this easier
not for your shuffling feet
but for our bleeding ones
or when you’re ready
to bleed with us
for us
until we’re all doing the same dance

Don’t come around here
demanding I do your dance your way
when my ass been shaking
since I was born.

The when I’m in

Image description: Pale blue background with words which have been made to look as if the letters were torn from newspapers or magazines, forming a quote – “Activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.” – Alice Walker

 

(For Bill, among others)

 

One day, perhaps

I will lay down my arms and my words

One day, perhaps

I will not need them anymore

Perhaps there’s a time coming

when the words are common

and the arms have rusted from disuse

in some old cellar I don’t yet own

… but that day is not

the when I’m in.

 

One day, perhaps

girls won’t still be taught

that if they don’t

dress how they ought

then they’re asking for something

they only barely understand

waving the red flag of their flesh

in front of the animals who can’t help it

and the boys and men

who aren’t animals at all

won’t be taught

that they’re too weak to resist

the temptation to take

to coerce

to chase

to push

won’t be taught that

it’s only in their nature

to pursue the things they want

even when those things are not things

but people who

do not wish to be

pursued

 

One day, perhaps

those boys won’t know

what it is to taunt each other

to destroy one another’s humanity

for show

no one will say

“Man up”

because no one will have taught them

that feelings are unmanly

or that all things feminine

are worth about as much

as tits on a rooster

…but that day is not

the when I’m in

 

Perhaps

One day

the norm will be

to teach little children

boundaries and agency

to tell them

that their tiny

growing bodies

belong to them and them alone

and that nobody gets to tell them

when they should be touched

that nobody gets to make them

give hugs to be polite

suffer slimy

wet

uncomfortable kisses

from aunts who wear

too much lipstick

or grasping

groping

squirm-making hugs

from the uncle nobody likes

just to spare their

oversensitive entitlement

Perhaps one day

no woman will reach adulthood

without being shown

that it is okay to say no

and mean it

and not back down

no matter how they are pushed

no matter how they are cajoled

no matter how very rude

they might seem

to the person hearing.

One day, perhaps

boys will be taught

to hear a no

as something more

than a challenge

…but that is not

the when I’m in

 

Perhaps one day

we won’t ask

how much she had to drink

or why she wore

whatever she had on

because we will be too busy

demanding of him

the origin of his conviction

that she ever said yes

that she wanted to be there

with him

doing that

to her

for even the thought

of her attire

to come to mind.

And perhaps one day

sexual will not

equal shameful

when we talk to our children

our partners

our peers

so that we can be honest

instead of posturing

be safe

instead of threatened

be fulfilled

instead of obligated

without shame in our pleasure

without justification for our need

without fear of speaking up

when somebody turns our pleasure

into their weapon against us

…but that just isn’t

the when I’m in

 

Until it is

I’ll keep on standing

right on this spot

where everybody can see

I’ll keep right on shouting

about the things

they don’t want to hear

because they are

too uncomfortable in the silence

to care about anyone’s pain

 

Until the when I’m in

looks more like the way it should be

than the way it once was

(back before we understood

that woman doesn’t equal weak)

 

Then I will stand

here

loud and proud

in this when we’re all in

until I can help to drag us

forward into the now

that we should always have known.

 

One day, perhaps

I will give up the ghost

for good

and stop making waves

making people uncomfortable

with words that expose

the danger and wrongness

Because I can’t change the world

but maybe only one part

here

and another

there

and perhaps one day

that will not be enough

 

…but that is not

the when I’m in.

That day is not today.

 

 

The fairy tales we still believe

alien

Image description: An alien from the “Alien” movie franchise, Black, shiny, toothy creature, with another creature coming out of its mouth, covered in saliva.

 

trent mays

Image description: Trent Mays, one of the Steubenville rapists. Young white man with a brown buzz cut, wearing a blue dress shirt and pale yellow and blue argyle sweater vest.

Over on my kink blog, I posted about an abusive relationship. It’s mostly grounded in personal experience, but the point is so much larger than that.

We live in a world full of nuance. Every division, every ethical spectrum, is composed of infinite shades of grey, but we insist on seeing things in the stark contrast of black and white. Right and wrong. Good and bad. Heroes and villains. Humans and monsters.

The majority of us probably see ourselves as one of the good people. We see those who do horrible things – like rape, child abuse, torture, and mass murder – as the bad people. We create this narrative that good people don’t do bad things, so we believe that bad people don’t ever do good. Deep down, most of us know it’s not that simple, but we still cling to that narrative, because it’s what separates US from THEM. We read the news, and we shudder, and some part of our minds reassure us that we are the Good Guy, so we could never do such a thing.

Of course, the people who rape and abuse and murder are the Bad Guys, but not because they are all that different from us. Not because they’re fairy tale monsters whose only ambition is running around, creating mayhem, destroying lives. In reality, they’re just people. Just like us. Humans, just like us. They work and play, laugh and cry, create and destroy, and everything in between, just like us. They don’t look, from the outside, discernible from the rest of humanity.

In fact, they most often look like… oh… our neighbors and our coworkers. Our friends. Our parents. Our children. The nice lady at the coffee shop who holds the door for an elderly couple. The man who waves at us while he’s mowing his lawn. Our celebrity idols and friendly acquaintances. Us.

When we hear about someone we know, or someone we feel like we know (like a celebrity who plays the perfect dad on TV), doing some horrible thing, it is often nothing more than instinct to react with incredulity. After all, they’re just like us, right? They’re Good Guys, like we are, so they couldn’t possibly have done such an awful thing. It challenges our belief in ourselves. Most of us are convinced that we’re decent judges of character, when even the basic idea behind that presumption is always deeply flawed. We can only judge other people based on the parts of themselves that they choose to share with us. Sure, occasionally someone will just… put off a weird vibe, or rub us the wrong way. Even more rarely, that vibe or discomfort will later turn out to have been, coincidentally, predictive of observable behavior. The majority of the time, though, we judge people based solely upon what we see of their character, their choices, their actions, and their interactions.

All of those behaviors change, for all of us, depending on the company we’re in at a given moment. The celebrity consciously, deliberately builds a marketable image, and very few outside their closest friends and family ever see behind that facade. Logically, we know this, but we tend not to correlate that with the images we all build, in our everyday lives. It may be nothing at all, for instance, to share sort of gross bodily function concerns with our siblings, parents, or partners, or juicy gossip with our closest friends, but we generally recognize that it wouldn’t be beneficial to us, to share those things with a client or an employer. We might share our sexual fantasies or adventures with our closest friends or partners, but we understand that it would be odd to do so with the neighbor down the street. There are things we keep entirely to ourselves. Maybe we shoplifted, once, or treated an ex partner terribly, or bullied someone else in elementary school. Perhaps we have some sexual fantasies that we believe are too taboo to share with anyone, even our partners. No one person ever gets to know us beyond what we’re comfortable sharing with them.

There’s really no way to truly know another person, the way we know ourselves. And truthfully, very few of us even know ourselves all that well. Few ever take the time to pick apart their own motivations, thoughts, insecurities, or emotions. We generally just convince ourselves that we’re the Good Guys. By extension, we would certainly never be close to one of the Bad Guys. Since only Bad Guys do Bad Things – like rape, child abuse, domestic abuse, etc. – then the people we know couldn’t possibly do those things. Because… Good Guys, right?

Unfortunately, the world only ever works that way in comic books and children’s tales, animated movies and young adult novels. Reality isn’t so simple. The people we see as both Good Guys and Bad Guys? They’re just… people. Someone, somewhere, loved Jack the Ripper. Someone thought he was swell. Someone, somewhere else, thinks that John Oliver is a total douchebag.

People are neither all good, nor all bad. They’re varying degrees of both, depending on the circumstances.We, on the whole, need to learn to accept that we can never have a complete picture of the people we think we know. That the people we call friends may be entirely different when they’re home with their partners, or behind closed doors with a date, or left alone with a child. We need to learn this, because we are doing a great disservice to the victims of horrific and heinous things. Things done to them, not by gnarled, inhuman monsters, but by other people, much like us. People who may be kind and charming, may seem open and harmless, when we see them out in the world. People who choose to do awful things to hurt other people, when we can’t see them act.

Child molesters don’t molest every child they encounter, and they don’t often do so in front of witnesses. If they did, they’d get caught far more quickly, and they’d lose access to any other potential victims. Domestic abusers don’t just run around, willy-nilly, heaping abuse on their friends, coworkers, or random people they meet at the grocery store. They don’t often beat or terrorize their partners when we’ve come around for game night, or when they’re out in public. We’d recognize that behavior pretty quickly, and they would be unable to get away with harming their partners or spouses, and unable to draw in new partners, once the old ones escape. Rapists don’t rape every person they know, or rape where someone could see, for much the same reason. And when any of these people aren’t busy molesting, abusing, or raping people, they are probably doing … a range of typical people stuff. They’re teaching Sunday school. They’re watering the neighbors’ plants, while the neighbors are on vacation. They’re at the coffeemaker in the break room on Monday morning, asking how your weekend was, and if you watched the game. They’re helping someone move. They’re volunteering in a soup kitchen. They’re inviting you over for a beer. They’re leading their high school football team to victory.

snidely

Image description: Cartoon character Snidely Whiplash. Caricatue of a villain with a long nose, a top hat, a handlebar mustache with curled ends, grinning and rubbing his hands together.

 

huxtable

Image desciption: Actor and comedian (and rapist) Bill Cosby. Black man with short hair, smiling. Wearing a multicolored sweater.

They’re not walking around with a cartoon Snidely Whiplash mustache, rubbing their hands together in evil glee. They don’t walk around looking like we convince ourselves monsters must look. They’re just people who were, like all of us, capable of monstrous things. The only difference between us and them is that they chose to act on those capabilities.

When victims of rape or abuse speak out against someone we know, or think we know, we need to remember how little we actually know anyone. We need to remember that the monster faces don’t come out indiscriminately. We need to remember that, behind closed doors, with someone they can overpower, we have no idea what they might do. We need to understand this, as a society, so that we stop putting so much of the burden for our belief in fairy tales on the shoulders of those victims.

When we respond to victims revealing their account of abuse by talking about what a Good Guy the alleged abuser is, we’re putting our own feelings ahead of the right thing to do. After all, if that guy who helped you move into your new apartment, and hung out with you at parties, was terrorizing his girlfriend the whole time, then what does that say about you? Humans are too often enslaved by their own egos and insecurities. We don’t want to admit we might not be able, on the basis of our limited interaction, to judge the entirety of a person’s character. We don’t want to admit we would be friends with an abuser, or a rapist. So, instead of showing support to the victims, we shield our own emotions. We defend ourselves, our judgment, by defending the person who harmed them.

It’s time to get over ourselves, and recognize that doing what we’ve been doing is contributing to the trauma inflicted on the victims. Time to recognize that, in defending abusers and rapists, we’re showing, quite clearly, our own capability to do harm. We’re showing our own human infallibility, and hurting people who are already suffering, in the process. We’re admitting that we’d rather let someone get away with causing another person serious, lifelong harm, than to examine our own blind spots. We’re enabling abuse and rape and other heinous acts, just so we can avoid admitting we may have been wrong about someone. So we can still feel like the Good Guys.

But we know that Good Guys and Bad Guys are just for fiction, right? We know that humans are, by their nature, fallible. So, why don’t we learn to forgive ourselves for the flaws in our perception, for being vulnerable to being deceived by someone? Why don’t we support the victims, and stop pretending someone has to be good, just by virtue of their acquaintance with us?

Instead of becoming our worst selves, by associating our egos with the abusers and rapists, we need to start having empathy for the victims. Put ourselves in their shoes. Imagine going through whatever they’ve described, and then imagine working up the enormous amount of courage it takes to speak out. Imagine, instead of support and assistance, you’re met with derision and disbelief. Imagine having to hear a litany of the good things the person who harmed you has done. Try to put yourself in that place.

This isn’t a fairy tale. There aren’t any Good Guys, or Bad Guys. There are people who are being harmed, people who harm others…

and bystanders who have a choice. Make the right one.

 

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.

A response to “We don’t teach men to rape.”

Originally posted elsewhere, August 5, 2014


I posted most of this as a comment on a post, elsewhere, in response to another comment. (What follows has been slightly edited, and expanded from the original.)

The comment basically said that men who rape are abnormal, and that what they do isn’t a learned behavior.

I beg to differ.

I would agree that no man who molests children is ‘normal.’ As to the men who rape women, well, I see that a bit differently. Some of the men who do these things aren’t normal. But not all, by far. Many of them are as normal, as statistically average in every way, as they can possibly be, and are simply the end products of societal conditioning that shows them, over and over and over, that they don’t have to be held accountable for their aggressive behaviors when it comes to relating to women, or transpeople, or anyone who isn’t a man.

See, we (society) have this picture of “RAPIST” that is the stranger lurking in the bushes, or behind a parked car, waiting to jump out and attack us, and drag us off into some dark, dank space to have their way with us. We (society) have this picture of “REAL RAPE” as something that is always a violent attack, with brutal, aggressive force, weapons, masked men, which takes place between strangers in dark alleys.

The statistics do not support that picture. The vast majority of rape is perpetuated by people known to the victims, trusted by the victims. It is more likely to be coercive, or the result of more subtle intimidation and power-play, than brute physical attack.

People say that the behavior hasn’t been taught to them. Actually, it has, in many, many cases. Sure. Someone, somewhere, told them “don’t rape.” Maybe. But the real messages coming from society aren’t so black and white. They are taught, over and over and over and over again that their aggressive sexual behavior is either perfectly okay, or not their fault or responsibility. That they can’t be expected to control their sexual impulses or desires, because … cavemen, or something?

  • If she was wearing a short skirt, or tight jeans, or a revealing top, or makeup, she obviously wanted to draw attention from men. So, if they catcall or approach her, if they get all up in her personal space, she must have wanted that, right? Because she wore those clothes that drew their attention, so that’s her responsibility.
  • If she went to a bar and sat down to have a drink alone, she obviously wanted their ham-handed come-ons and PUA bullshit. She obviously wants someone to pursue her, even if she says no. She couldn’t just be there to enjoy a drink, either alone or with her friends.
  • If she’s rejecting their advances, she doesn’t really mean it. She’s only saying no to be a tease, to make them pursue her, to play hard to get, to tantalize and inflame men’s desire for the chase. Because her behavior is all about them, doncha know.
  • If she’s passed out drunk, or so intoxicated that she slurs her words and stumbles when she walks, then it’s all on her if he has sex with her. She shouldn’t have had so much to drink.

See, ^these are the things we have really been teaching men. That “boys will be boys,” and aren’t responsible for their behavior. Look back, really LOOK, at all of those scenarios. In each case, someone is acting, and someone is being acted upon. Yet, in each case, society tells the person who is acting that it is the “personal responsibility” of the person being acted upon to play gatekeeper. To not wear the clothes or the makeup that ‘entice men.’ To not have a damned drink in a bar. To be blunt to the point of cruelty if they want their rejection taken seriously (which can then bring on even more aggressive, violent, threatening behavior).

But we absolve the person who is acting, in each scenario, of any accountability whatsoever.

So, yeah, in many cases, they ARE being taught that it’s okay to ignore boundaries. That it’s okay to push past them. That it’s okay to get in someone else’s personal space, even when the person is expressing distaste or unease or discomfort or outright rejection. They are being taught that it is not their responsibility to not rape. They are not being held accountable for acting, and they are being shown, repeatedly, that when they do act, the responsibility for their behavior is on the person at whom the behavior is directed.

Under the he-had-a-weapon-and-was-a-stranger-and-she-was-beaten-into-submission model, sure. Very few men do that.

But LOADS of men who don’t fit that “REAL RAPIST” false archetype are raping women. They rape their wives and girlfriends. They rape passed out girls and too-drunk-to-consent women at parties. They refuse to take no for an answer, and coerce and intimidate and bully and push and push and push until she gives in, not actually consenting, but unable to withstand the onslaught.

And we (society) overwhelmingly blame her. Even though he was the one pursuing, he was the one acting, we blame his victim. And he knows it. He may not think that he’s raping someone. He may think this is just how sex works. HE. IS. WRONG. And so is the society that teaches him that he isn’t.

No. We may not explicitly teach men to rape. We just teach them that, if they do, it’s perfectly understandable, and not their fault. Which amounts to the same damned thing.

How rape gets its foot in the door

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

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

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

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

We behaved like teenagers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50 Shades of Fuck It. My take on EL James’ trilogy o’craptasticness

(Written by me; originally posted elsewhere)

Someone on another site asked why so many people were so down on Fifty Shades. This was my answer, and the reason why I urge everyone to not spend any money supporting the books, or the upcoming movies.

(Trigger warnings all around for stalking, rape, and domestic violence. Please do not read this if such discussions upset you.)

I’ve been actively kinky for over a decade. Actively involved in the BDSM community. I had one Dom/sub relationship, in which I was the sub, that lasted over 7 years. Following that, I was in an abusive relationship that masqueraded as a D/s dynamic, for almost a year. I’m in another healthy D/s relationship, now, and a vocal feminist and advocate for consent, so I think I’m at least decently qualified to explain the difference between healthy BDSM and domestic/partner abuse.

The difference is informed, ONGOING, enthusiastic consent.

As a feminist, I believe that the only way it is okay for a woman to be subjugated in any way by a man is if she chooses to do so, from a place of empowerment and knowledge.

That is absolutely NOT what is portrayed in the books… and yes, I’ve reluctantly trudged through reading all three. So, I will tell you why it is glorifying abuse, and how that is insulting to me, personally, as a feminist, as a woman, and as a submissive in a D/s dynamic.

1. Christian isn’t a romantic. He’s a stalker. His being rich and handsome doesn’t change that. Without asking her outright for the information, he uses his sooper-dooper-sekrit ring of wealthy acquaintances to find out where she works, and when she would be on the clock, and just… shows up there. Three hours away from his home. To buy ROPE and ZIP TIES.

A tailor-made kidnapping kit. Because that’s not creepy at all. O_o

2. He’s a jealous, power-mad control freak, which he freely admits in their first meeting, and demonstrates in an admirably despicable fashion during his little kidnapping preparation trip. At this point, he and Ana barely know one another, yet the mere implication that some other dude may have some importance in her life, even just as a friend, already infuriates him. HUGE red flag. Healthy, secure men – hell, healthy, secure people, do NOT freak out if someone they barely know has a conversation with someone else – of any gender. PERIOD. It’s not sexy, it’s fucking dangerous.

He stalks her again when she’s at the bar, by tracing her cell phone, and shows up, ordering her around. That wasn’t a rescue, folks. It was a territory-marking pissing contest. Again, not a thing that healthy adults do.

He practically threatens her when she takes a phone call from a male friend. He tries to control her visits with her family, what she wears, what she eats, when she sleeps. And SHE HAD NOT CONSENTED TO THIS. Which brings me to…

3. Consent. THERE ISN’T ANY. One, she never signs the ridiculous contract. Two, she isn’t well enough informed to give informed consent. Three, he is manipulating her from the very beginning. Four, there’s a HUGE power imbalance between the two of them. He’s older, much more sexually experienced, much more experienced with (his fucked up version of) s&m, rich, powerful, and persuasive. Decent people who have that much power do not use it to manipulate, deceive, and control people who don’t. You know who does? Sociopaths.

4. RAPE. Yeah. That’s right. I said it. He rapes her. She is actively telling him no. And he threatens to tie her down, if she fights. He’s bigger, stronger, and more powerful in every way, and she’s already revealed that she’s terrified of him, and he’s ignoring her wishes, ignoring her struggles, and RAPING her. Furthermore, EL James has the nerve to portray a very clear rape… then tell her readers that the victim liked it. She should be strung up and beaten within an inch of her talentless life, just for that.

I’ll be honest. What’s known as “rape play,” or consensual non-consent, is a thing that exists. It’s a thing many people, myself included, actually enjoy. But that isn’t what was portrayed in that godawful account. In order for that to be something that is in any way morally defensible or ethically justifiable, both parties have to be on the same page. Something like that has to be discussed at exhaustive lengths. Negotiated. I’ll try to break it down as simply as possible, and give you a hypothetical example.

Let’s say I want to try this with my dominant boyfriend. He needs to know which things are on the table, and which aren’t. I might, for instance, be fine with him slapping my face with an open hand, but not punching me. I might be okay with him putting a blindfold over my eyes, but not a hood over my whole face. I might want him to ignore it if I say “no,” but that would mean I’d need a safeword that actually means stop, and does NOT get ignored. We need to discuss possible triggers this might set off, and what I might need from him, in order to handle them, afterwards… or vice versa. He might be triggered by it, too, and need comfort from me, after. After all, this is a deep dark thing to do with anyone, and he loves me. As a decent human being, he might very well struggle with feelings of guilt and worry and shame, even if he knows I wanted it.

Christian does nothing of the sort with Ana. What he does to her is actual, prosecute-able, first degree rape, in all fifty states. Inexcusable, and horrifying – in context or out.

He bullies her into the relationship, all the while warning her against it. Which, if you ask professionals, is one hallmark behavior of a sociopath. One of their favorite manipulation tools. A thing abusers do, in order to suck in their victims.


Outside of my utter outrage at EL James for totally, unabashedly, horrific accounts of abuse and rape, disguised as BDSM, I hated the books for many other reasons.

  • As a feminist, I am just disgusted by her portrayal of every woman in the story. Ana is a flighty, ignorant, naive, deliberately helpless, indecisive, flaky, little prat, with no self esteem, who is completely out of touch with her own sexuality, her own better instincts, and just plain common fucking sense. Christian’s ex-mistress is a pedophile, and a manipulative, controlling ice queen. His former submissive is completely crazy, mentally and emotionally incapable of functioning without this man in her life, telling her what to do. Ana’s BFF is almost a non-person, as are most other female characters. They all seem to need men to take care of business for them, in one way or another. You can practically hear the Scarlett O’Hara Fiddle-dee-dee of the damned early 20th century, before women could even vote, in every single description, speech, or dialogue.
  • As a writer… oh, holy hell. It’s hard to even know where to begin, it’s so terrible. First of all, Twilight was pretty awful. Of course, Twilight was written with preteens in mind. 50 Shades is openly nothing more than a shoddyTwilight fanfic. And the writing is even worse than Stephanie Meyer’s Mormon Vampire Tales. I swear to all things sacred and good, if I ever have to read one more Holy crap!, one more inner goddess, one more improper use of the word subconscious, I am going to puke up every meal I’ve eaten in the last eight months, all over Ana’s Inner Goddess.
  • As a reader of erotica, I am beyond underwhelmed. I’m whatever is under underwhelmed. No adult woman should, during a sexual encounter, refer to her vajayjay as down there. And does anybody actually call their hooha, their sex? James may as well have actually written vajayjay and hooha, coochie and vagoo. And that goes double for the descriptions of Christian’s throbbing meat hammer, which is referred to as his erection, his manhood. I’m sorry, but when I read smut, I want to hear about cocks and cunts, dicks and pussies. I don’t want some pseudo-clinical, dry-as-a-bone (pun intended), watered-down language that sucks (pun still intended) all the sexy right out of the sex. She made it sound like some fucked up story for kids. Richard Scary’s Trip to the Family Planning Center, or Dr. Seuss’s Better Beware of the Weather Down There.
  • As a kinky person, a member of the BDSM community, I am just pissed off. She makes it seem as though the only way anyone would have a desire to engage in kink would be if they were fucked up. Crazy. Mentally ill. This is both a blatant falsehood and a disservice to mentally ill people (as if mental illness wasn’t already stigmatized enough). Kink does not equal abuse, but her books make them seem the same. And mental illness isn’t fucked up-ness. It’s a thing 95% of us will experience, at some point in our lives.

As I mentioned above, engaging in kink requires informed, ongoing, enthusiastic consent from all parties involved. Do some assholes, abusers, and predators abuse people, under the guise of kink? Of course they do. There are dangerous assholes in every subculture. Just ask the Pope. But that’s still abuse. Calling it BDSM doesn’t make it so. Kinky people aren’t fifty shades of fucked up; they’re just aroused by different things. There are ethical ways to engage in that, and it’s irresponsible not to make that distinction, when so many vanilla soccer moms are now clamoring for their very own GrandMasterHighPoobahOfPain. If someone hits you without your consent, it’s assault and battery. If someone penetrates you without your consent, that’s rape. Legally. Literally. Everywhere.


So, there you go. The relationship portrayed is physically, mentally, sexually, financially, and psychologically abusive,by definition. The writing is inexcusably bad. And kink isn’t really like that.

Does that harsh some folks’ lady-boners? I’m sure it does. Sorrynotsorry. There’s much better smut out there, and a ton of it is written without glorifying abuse. In a time when women in the US are having to fight for the reproductive freedoms that were already won, we shouldn’t be giving this sort of thing any kind of financial support.

I urge you, instead of spending your money on such trash, to rent a decent movie, and donate the money you save to a domestic violence organization of your choice. And if you’re just hard-up for wank material, hit me up. I’ll point you in the direction of some erotica that will have your inner goddess saying much more raunchy things than Holy crap.

The word is the problem? (tw: rape)

audio


Let me tell you about
the power
in a word
because the word
IS
a problem
just not the way
you mean it

The word
is a problem
because it does not travel
alone
or arrive
with courtesy
because it doesn’t always
give forewarning
before
it brings in all its baggage
before
it rips you back through
memory’s door
puts you in that flesh again
in that fear again
in that shame again
in that moment
when you
became a vessel
and nothing more

Back
to that moment
when some small
desperate piece
of your mind,
insistent,
whispered
But I
I am more
I am more than this
to the next moment
when you shushed it
gagged it
strangled it
killed it off
in order to fucking survive
when they made you
a sin eater
to carry all the fucking guilt
and the shame
and the pain
of the wrong
for the rest of your days
because you know
he never will
and no matter
what pretty lies
you tell others
or tell yourself
that small dead part of you
which insisted
it was more
will haunt you with guilt
and shame
in the quiet of those infinite
sleepless nights
for always

Because once you know
that word
once you really
get acquainted with it
once it’s pushing
into your mind
every time
he
looks at you
across the baked chicken
and mashed potatoes
in the way he ought only
to look at your mother
as he sits
right beside her
and she pretends
not to see
and you know
that it could be coming
you know
that there is
not enough vigilance
in a whole fucking army
to keep him from being
the first
if he wants to
because he is patient
and will wait
for his optimal moment
like a hyena waiting
hunched over and drooling
in tall grass

So you make the decision
at fourteen
years
old
to keep that one small bit
to lay claim to
that one experience
to have that one piece
be yours
your choice
to steal away his chance
by giving what’s left
of your innocence
to the boy who looked
like Kurt Cobain
but cleaner
to the boy
you didn’t love
but who had a dimple
in his chin
and the name of a
famous funk singer
and the boy
treated you
with kindness
with gentleness
and awkward
fumbling sweetness
but all you could think
the whole time
was
HA!
He doesn’t get to take
this part from me
too…

Not realizing that
is exactly what happened

Once that word is pushing
into you
on heavy
humid
waves
of burrito-scented breath
and the smell of Cool Water
against a cheap bed
with a broken spring
while you lie
still as you can
still as you can
addled by booze
and maybe a little
something extra in the solo cup
lie as still as you can
and wait
for it all to just
be over for them all
to have their turn
because when
you tried to run
naked
out the door
three of them
pulled you back in
and the sound
of the door closing
was the sound of
you
fifteen
giving up
pretending to like it
so they wouldn’t hurt
anymore

and later
your best friend
and her friend
beat you
in a convenience store
parking lot
for not protecting her
from the same fate
while it was happening
to you…

Once that fucking word is pushing
into you
on a dark gravel road
while your nose
bleeds into the dirty
bed of the pickup truck
tailgate biting into your hips
and you’re saying no
no
no
no
no
no
no
with every thrust
until the word no
loses all meaning
and becomes just a
strange heavy shape
on your tongue
rolling out
like a boulder
but landing like
air against stone
and the one
who was your friend
acts all magnanimous
when he finally
hears the litany
of negation
and pulls out
of your ass
and
without pausing
pushes into
your other hole
with a, There.
Is that better?
and keeps on
plowing away as if
the continuing no
was just an
expected noise
that comes with each thrust
and you’re thinking
you’re thinking
the strangest things
like how
will you ever
get the blood
out of that skirt
before your grandmother
sees you
how will you ever
sneak your swollen face
and your shame
past her wakefulness
and why
is it so dark out here
and suddenly
there’s nothing
blissful oblivion
until you’re walking
dazed
bloody and alone
down a street
in the three a.m. dead
of a small southern town
and you stumble
the miles
to your car
in the dark
hoping against hope
that no one sees you
that no one knows…

Once that word is pushing
into you
in your home
in your bed
because he finally
got fed up
with all the no
no
no
and threatened
not to pay the power bill
while your baby girl slept
just down the hall
so you rolled over
and you stared at the
incidental faces
made by the
cheap
fake grain
of the cheap
fake paneling
you surrendered
with an insult
because it was all
the dignity
you could manage to preserve
to say
Fine
Fine
Whatever.
but do it from behind
because I’m watching TV

and you never
call it what it was
because you can’t
you never
call it what it was
because there’s too much
hanging on it
because the escape
and the education
the scholarship
the full ride
that disappeared
five weeks later
in a stream of piss
and two pink lines
became a child
a child
whom you love more than life
and you know
deep in your dark places
you know without a moment’s doubt
you have to hide that word
hide that truth
until you love that small
helpless thing
with the fierceness of a bear
protecting its cub
so you bury that word
you bury it deep
under years of denial
and decades of less than
and you love that boy
you love him
you love that boy
who looks
so very much
like his father…

Because once you know
that word
once you really
get acquainted with it
then you know
that the word
is legion
like that demon
containing multitudes
containing memories
memories you would rather
not possess
containing you
containing others like you
behind walls of
should have could have
why-didn’t-you
changing everything
irrevocable
making of you
nothing more than a vessel
no matter how much
that small voice
insists it isn’t so

Once you know
that word
you know the just world
is a shit-stained fantasy
and that the people who deserve
good things
sometimes get bad
while those who deserve
badness
take whatever the fuck they want
by whatever means they must
but as long as we
call it by
some other name
they don’t have to feel bad
they don’t have to carry
that shame
that guilt
that knowing

So

Yes

That word is a problem
but not in the way you think
and I will be damned
if I will sugar-coat it
with some euphemism
to make it easier
on the ones who want to say
that it wasn’t what it was
– if I was drinking
if I gave in
to keep the heat on
for my kid
if I went to that party
or wore that dress
or let him kiss me
or stayed with him after
or had his child –
I won’t call it something
other than what it was
to make it
more palatable
to those who want to claim
they did not know better
because they once believed
they were entitled
to my body
my agency
and my silence

Because why
should the power of the word
only ever be
felt
by those who-
like me-
really got
acquainted with it?

Why
is the word
only a problem
when it makes those who
don’t know that shame
who may not
back then
have known
but left us with the after
anyway
who don’t want to see
that the things they may have done
back before they knew
fit the definition
why is it only a problem
when they
feel uncomfortable
in their complacence
or complicity?

I will call it
by its goddamn NAME
until it’s a problem
that everyone
understands
that no one
denies

Until the ones who do it
are the ones who
carry the shame
instead of those of us
who carry it now.

Until no one
can say
they don’t know better

Until the power
of the definition
becomes a deterrent

Until nobody else
has to be
like I was

Alone
in my acquaintance
with the power
of the fucking word.

The Direction of Shame

Shame is an emotion with which we become familiar at a very young age. It’s used as a tool, in everything from parenting to education to employment to business to healthcare to social media.

A small child learns about a parent’s displeasure, and begins to associate the language, tone, and nonverbal language of disappointment or condemnation with (hopefully) maladaptive or dangerous or unhealthy behaviors.

School-age children are shamed for their antisocial or dangerous or disruptive behavior every day. Names are written on the board, or behavior cards are “turned” from green to yellow to red, as publicly visible indicators of whether or not the children have been well behaved.

Employers will often post notices, or send out memos, naming the people who, for instance, haven’t completed their work by a specified deadline.

Businesses post signs that draw attention to impolite customers who talk on their cell-phones while conducting transactions, and employees are told to ask offenders, in front of other customers, to step out of line until they’ve finished their conversations.

In each of these cases, shame serves a purpose, both to the individuals, and to the social groups in which the shaming takes place. Individuals learn about unacceptable behaviors, and that engaging in those behaviors can lead to scrutiny and discomfort. The social groups benefit when the individuals behave in the ways that are most beneficial to the group, as a whole.

Of course, that isn’t the only way shame is utilized. It is all too often treated as a weapon. Slut shaming implies that women who enjoy their own sexuality, on their own terms, are somehow dirty, immoral, and lewd. Body shaming plays on the insecurities of other people, with digs at their worth as humans, based on some physical characteristics.

And, of course, there’s victim shaming. This is a form of weaponized shame that targets people who have already been harmed by the behaviors of others, based on a nebulous and unconquerable list of dos and dont’s, shoulds and shouldn’ts, and personal strategies generalized to entire populations. It comes in so many different flavors, it puts Baskin-Robbins to… well… shame.

At its base, victim-shaming is placing the onus for feeling bad about what was done on the person who was acted on, rather than the person acting.


As they are the most common target (or, at least, the most commonly targeted victims I’ve seen), all of my examples will be focused on abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, or rape victims. Also, I will be using gender-specific pronouns. This does not mean that I believe that onlywomen are victims of rape, abuse, or victim shaming, or that only men are rapists or abusers, or that people who identify with something other than binary gender roles cannot be either, and is only used for the sake of (relative) brevity (HA!) and simplicity.

  • She wore something that exposed too much skin.
  • She was walking alone at night.
  • She was walking alone during the day.
  • She was in a bad neighborhood.
  • She was in a frat house.
  • She was in a dance club.
  • She was at a bar.
  • She didn’t practice the buddy system.
  • She had too much to drink.
  • She was in a relationship with an obviously bad person (because “good” people don’t do these things, and it’s really easy to tell the difference without long-term acquaintance).
  • She was too dependent on him.
  • She was too independent, which threatened his masculinity.
  • She was too meek, and let him walk all over her.
  • She was too outspoken, which was antagonizing to him.
  • She presented a front of a happy partner/spouse to everyone else.
  • She complained too much to everyone else about the relationship.
  • She smiled at him, which means she was giving off the wrong signals.
  • She didn’t smile at him, which means she was being rude.
  • She was too friendly with him.
  • She wasn’t friendly enough.
  • She rejected him.
  • She didn’t overtly, or explicitly, reject him.
  • She didn’t leave after the abuse started.
  • She tried to leave, and it made him angry.
  • She allowed herself to be alone with him.
  • She didn’t explicitly say “no.”
  • She didn’t say “no” loud enough.
  • She didn’t physically fight him off.
  • She didn’t physically fight hard enough.
  • She didn’t learn self defense, beforehand.
  • She antagonized him into escalating the violence, by fighting back.
  • She didn’t have pepper spray, a taser, or a gun in her handbag.
  • She shouldn’t have been carrying a weapon he could take away and use against her.
  • She didn’t report the abuse/rape to law enforcement.
  • She didn’t report the abuse/rape soon enough.
  • She didn’t get the precise timeline and/or every detail letter perfect, in the midst of processing the trauma, so…
  • She was exaggerating/lying when she reported to law enforcement.
  • She didn’t cry or seem visibly distressed when discussing the abuse/rape.
  • She was overly dramatic/overly emotional when she discussed the abuse/rape.
  • She got over it too fast.
  • She didn’t get over it fast enough.
  • She didn’t process it the way x person thought she should.
  • She refused to share details with uninvolved people.
  • She aired too much dirty laundry.
  • She won’t shut up about what happened.
  • She won’t talk about what happened.
  • She won’t shut up about the other people who are suffering the way she did.
  • She doesn’t do enough to protect other possible victims.
  • She’s focusing too much on the people who do bad things to others.
  • She won’t move on with her life.
  • She’s a “perpetual victim.”

Whew. That was depressing to type. And exhausting, both mentally and emotionally. What’s worse, that is by no means a comprehensive list of all the shaming tactics that victims of abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, or rape routinely face. Personally, I don’t know a single survivor who hasn’t faced at least a half dozen of them.

As a reminder, all of those are tactics used to shame the person who was ACTED ON, rather than the person who acted.

As a culture, we expend an awful lot of effort and energy on these types of things. Why? How do we, individually or as a culture/subculture, benefit from them?

We don’t. Go back through that list. As you read each of the things listed, as yourself three questions:

1) How does this other person doing this thing, in response to being victimized, impact the quality of my life?

2) How does this other person doing this thing, in response to being victimized, impact the safety of the social group/subculture I share with them?
3) Am I, or is that social group, harmed or made less safe in any way that is actually the fault of either the person who was victimized, their behavior before/during the assault/rape/abuse, or their response to it?

If we’re being honest with ourselves, the answer, across the board, is a resounding NO.

Yet we continue to shame them.

Now, ask yourself if your social group or subculture is harmed, or made less safe, by the rapist, the abuser, the harasser, or the perpetrator of sexual assault. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Oh. You’re done, already? Well, of course you are. Because the answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it?

So, instead of shaming the victims, why are we not shaming the people who acted on them? Why are we not shaming the behaviors that actually cause harm? Why are we so very hesitant to call out the harmful behaviors, and the bits and pieces of our culture which contribute to them? Why is there so very much pushback against that kind of shaming, and so very little against the rampant victim-shaming?

Of course, some of us are. Some of us are trying very hard to tilt the balance in that direction. And we face an awful lot of criticism and anger and shouting and pontificating and name-calling, and, yes, even shaming, for doing so.

Again… why?

I think it has to do, mostly, with fear.

Fear is not a rational emotion. It is instinctive, and often illogical, especially when we’re not discussing immediate physical threats to our own individual well-being.

I think, perhaps, that there are two types of fear that contribute to this shame-the-victim-but-never-the-perpetrator ethos.

One is the quite understandable fear of becoming victims, ourselves. It’s understandable, because it’s a very real threat. The problem isn’t that we’re afraid of being victimized, it’s the way we are responding to that fear. We’re responding by telling ourselves that there are things we can do, or avoid doing, that will render us invincible to becoming victims, or becoming victims again, in some cases. We want to believe that we have the ultimate power to keep other people from doing bad things to us, so we convince ourselves that this is true.

We convince ourselves that if we follow a list of dos and don’ts, if we are “resilient” enough, if we simply choose not to be victims, then we won’t be. We convince ourselves that we are, therefore, enlightened, and more protected, than those “perpetual victims” who don’t think like we do. We convince ourselves that some combination of behaviors and attitudes can work as an incantation to ward off the evils of the world.

Unfortunately, that isn’t true. Unfortunately, there is NOTHING we can do, individually, that will make us invincible to others who want, or do not know better than to cause us harm. No amount of resilience or confidence or preparation or prevention can change that.

The flip-side of that fear is the fear that we might, ourselves, whether intentionally or through ignorance, cause or have caused that kind of harm in others. That our behavior, somewhere along the line, may have crossed the line. That other people may see us as rapists, abusers, violators. That we might have to see ourselves that way. And this is terrifying, to most of us. The idea that we might “be that guy,” even though, perhaps, we never intended to be.

This fear leads to a knee-jerk defensiveness and denial which, while understandable, is entirely counterproductive, and even childish. It’s the train of thought that says, I once had sex with a woman who was incapacitated. Only bad people rape. I’m not a bad person, therefore having sex with incapacitated people isn’t rape.

Because it’s easier to deny that a thing is wrong, emotionally, than it is to admit we may have done a wrong thing.

Because there’s a false association going on, that only “bad people” can do “bad things,” and that line of thought just doesn’t line up with reality. We’re all human. We all make mistakes. We all learn some busted things, at some point. We all keep learning, I hope, throughout our lives. Sometimes, we learn that the things we once learned were wrong, or flawed in some way. The appropriate response to that is not to deny the wrongness of what we once understood, in order to alleviate ourselves from guilt or shame. It is to learn from it, and grow, and become better human beings. People who don’t do the things we now understand to not be okay, even if we didn’t understand it, before.

And a part of that shift is shifting the shame. Instead of shaming victims, or their behaviors, or even shaming people, we need to be shaming the behaviors that are causing harm. The dehumanization of women and transpeople and people of non-binary gender. The marginalization of those who are “different,” whether that difference is race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, economic status, or some other thing altogether. The levels of culturally accepted aggression towards those people. The idea that the onus for halting any interpersonal contact is on the person being acted on, instead of the personacting. Victim blaming, silencing, and shaming. Brushing abusive behavior under the rug. Excusing or enabling abuses to continue. All of those behaviors are shame-worthy.

Being victimized is not.

It is far past time for us – ALL of us – to shift the shame to where it belongs.