Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Fetishization and fear

Most people seem to know a guy who rails against same-sex marriage but loves lesbian porn. The hypocrisy is pointed out, and it’s accurate. That type of attitude is hypocritical and wrong, although I’d say it’s not surprising.

For humans, the disgust and arousal impulses are very similar. It sounds counterintuitive because those feelings seem like opposites, but they stimulate the same part of the brain. That’s why a lot of people do things during sex that they might otherwise think of as “gross.” That’s why fetishes and phobias are often flip sides of the same coin. I learned that when a person has a fetish, it often used to be a phobia. It just happened to transform from a fear into something that intensely arouses the person, either by chance or as a coping method.

When someone is homophobic but also really into watching two women have sex, it’s both a fear and a fetish. Fetishes are usually applied to inanimate objects, whereas lesbians are obviously people, but a homophobe doesn’t see them as people. He sees them as objects he watches and fantasizes about and then rejects in disgust. (Women can definitely be homophobic too, but I’m using a straight man in this example because so many people have aptly brought up the fact that homophobic men who like lesbian porn are hypocrites.)

This can also be seen in politicians who draft anti-gay and anti-trans policies but are then caught having sex with gay and transgender people. If they’re sleeping with someone of the same gender, many people will respond by saying that homophobes are secretly gay. While it’s true that some are closeted and overcompensating, I’d say that it’s more than a matter of just being gay and not wanting the public to know. It’s a combination of fetishization and fear. If they are hostile toward the LGBT community, they are probably not respectful toward the person of the same gender whom they’re involved with. They most likely dehumanize them. And when a homophobic person is immediately assumed to be gay, that can reinforce the idea that gay people are their own worst enemies and that they’re the ones who are really oppressing each other, which absolves straight homophobes of responsibility.

How Ben Carson Inspires Anti-Choice Terrorists

In light of the act of terrorism committed at a Planned Parenthood clinic last month in Colorado Springs, many have brought up the fact that mainstream anti-choice rhetoric often galvanizes the extremists. This rhetoric is frequently expressed by Republican political candidates, notably including Ben Carson. His stance is especially alarming when considering the fact that he’s lauded as the “reasonable” and “moderate” conservative option.
Carson is against same sex marriage, but enthusiastically supports the sanctity of marriage between church and state. He has also been consistently vocal about his anti-choice position. In an October interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he stated that he believes abortion should be illegal even in the cases of rape and incest. Carson presents himself as guided by even-handed logic and reason, but look at this quote from the interview: “I’m a reasonable person and if people can come up with a reasonable explanation of why they would like to kill a baby, I’ll listen.”
The above quote is a prime example of begging the question (although it’s a statement, not a question). He frames it in a way that already assumes certain factors—that abortion is “killing a baby”, and that people seeking abortions are doing so because they “like” to terminate pregnancies. As if they derive joy and fun from the experience. This is the type of assumption that inflames anti-abortion fanatics to the point of wanting to murder doctors and patients, because they see it as a genuine battle between good and evil.
As a person who has worked many years in the field of medicine and science, Carson should be well aware that an early-stage embryo is not a baby. Before it has a brain, it has no consciousness or subjective experience. Before it has nerves, it cannot feel pain. It makes no sense to personify such a pre-developed life form and to talk about it as if it experiences suffering. Because doctors are aware of this, their only reasoning for defining an embryo as a baby can be religious. This applies in Ben Carson’s case.
His religious ilk defends this rhetoric by citing Bible verses from Psalms saying “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.” Even purely within the context of that belief system, it can be argued that this isn't defining embryos as babies. It's King David talking about himself, not about all people. Additionally, Numbers 5:26-28 advises its readers to carry out a procedure that will cause their wives to miscarry if they suspect them of being pregnant with another man's offspring (“...If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse.”) This is from a recipe to deliberately induce abortion. There are Old Testament passages in which “God” threatens to slice open the bellies of pregnant women (Hosea 13:16). Thus people can't accurately argue that the Bible forbids or even frowns upon ending the life of fetuses. Some might respond to the passages about cutting open pregnant women with, “Well, that's only under specific circumstances and only if ordered by God,” but that sounds like obvious straw-grasping. Going on to say “thou shalt not kill” is just talking in circles because no passage defines abortion as murder. Also, how many Christians take that to its absolute literal and all-encompassing conclusion? How many are vegetarians, for example? How many refuse to kill animals under any circumstance (if “all life is sacred”)?
The above argument aside, there is no reason a President or hypothetical President should be invoking religious rationale for laws in a country that is supposed to operate on separation of church and state. Ben Carson himself has acknowledged this in his explanation of why a theocratic Muslim is not fit to be president. For this issue, though, he doesn't seem to apply it to Christians.
The “Christian nation” he envisions may not include zealots opening fire at Planned Parenthood clinics, but his rationale packs the weight of their bullets. It’s time we start acknowledging the role that such viewpoints play in these acts of violence.

Passivity vs. Kindness

         Alongside the avenue of "women only date jerks," there's a common complaint that "She said she's not into him because he's 'too nice.'" I have heard people describe others as "too nice," although I've never heard a woman say she was disinterested in a man for that reason. Because it's such a commonly quoted basis for rejection, though, it's worth examining.
        Every time I have ever heard anybody described as "too nice," the person making the criticism was not saying the other was overly good-hearted, too considerate, or had too much integrity. An excess of those traits is impossible. What they were expressing was that the person was overly passive. And, while many use the word "nice" when they really mean "passive," saying someone is too passive is not just another way of saying "nice." While the traits can overlap, there is a distinction between kindness and passivity. And, for that reason, "Don't be too passive" doesn't mean "Be an asshole." It's not a spectrum; it's a whole different thing.
        "Too nice" is meant to convey that someone echoes everything you say without ever voicing a differing point of view, even when they disagree. It means they constantly apologize for things that are not their fault and they don't speak up for themselves or for others who are being mistreated, out of fear of confrontation. It means they might welcome harmful people into their own lives, or into the lives of those close to them, because they think it's "mean" to establish boundaries—which can end up causing others' boundaries to be violated as well. It means they follow another person around without seeming to have any interests, beliefs, or passions of their own. Being bland, overly meek, or clingy isn't the same as being "nice." Sometimes those qualities are actually motivated by self-interest, rather than a pure desire to please others.
         It's similar to the way that self-abasement is sometimes a defense mechanism, rather than a lack of ego (and a complete absence of ego is not something I would recommend trying to achieve, anyway). If you castigate yourself first, it can insulate you from being criticized by others. If you preemptively decide you're going to fail, it can exempt you from having to try. This is not true for everyone who has low self-esteem, but I have seen self-chastisement used defensively many times, and have caught myself doing it for those same reasons.
         You can be a good person who also happens to be passive, but passivity doesn't equate to goodness. And most people who call someone "too nice" are referring to the former quality, not the latter. Additionally, I've noticed that excessive passivity tends to be discouraged in men but praised in women, when every person should be encouraged to stand up for themselves and to have their own identity.

Thursday, November 5, 2015


There’s a viral video by Prince Ea which has the tagline “I Am NOT Black, You are NOT White. These Labels were Made Up to Divide Us.” It’s a sentiment I’ve heard pretty often. While that often comes from benevolent intentions, it misses a necessary point.

Scientifically, there may not be much of a delineation between races, if any. And it’s absolutely true that none is innately more intelligent, capable, or worthy of being treated with dignity and afforded rights than another. But it sets us back to ignore the fact that our society continues to uphold a very Eurocentric, white supremacist standard, and that arguing that “whiteness” and “blackness” are just constructs doesn’t erase that from existence. The problem isn’t that we recognize aesthetic and cultural differences. The problem is that we place white culture and white aesthetics on a pedestal and set that as the standard by which all others are measured. When we decide not to see race, we also decide not to see racism. We decide not to see patterns of discrimination. After all, there’s no basis on which to call Jim Crow racist if we cannot acknowledge that it was white Americans oppressing black ones; if we just call it “people oppressing people.” Which it was, but to ignore the specific hierarchy is to dismiss the experiences of so many. Ignoring and denying a problem by saying its very definition is invalid doesn’t stop it from existing.

I have seen this manifest in several damaging, dismissive ways. When the Charleston church shooting occurred, there was a viral post featuring a newspaper headline with a hand blocking out the words “white” and “black,” so that it read “Man Shoots Up Church” instead of “White Man Shoots Up Black Church.” The meme said underneath, “The media is trying to divide us.” But to ignore the fact that this was a racially motivated hate crime is extremely harmful, and to say it has nothing to do with race is a lie. The shooter himself said it was racially motivated. Accepting that as truth isn’t “dividing” people; it’s being honest. He was the one trying to divide people by shooting up a black church.

This rhetoric is also damaging when used to reject “Black Lives Matter.” The blogger Onision recently tweeted, “Black Lives Matter--What the fuck is a ‘black life’??? Last time I checked, we’re all just people.” Obviously we’re all people, and the Black Lives Matter campaign has never denied this. What it highlights is the fact that people who are socially designated as black are all too often treated as though their lives don’t matter, and so taking pride in your black identity and proclaiming that your life matters is an act of empowerment. Essentially saying “Well, racism is your fault because you identify as black” is incredibly ignorant and callous.

Additionally, I’ve noticed that most of the people spreading the “We’re all one race, so stop labeling yourself white or black” message are white. This doesn’t seem coincidental. Us white people can afford to see ourselves as raceless and to disassociate ourselves from our ethnicity; others don’t have that luxury because of how others treat them. This includes some people of minority races who have internalized those attitudes, but that ultimately doesn’t benefit them. Also, a lot of white people will say “there are no races” and then go on to spread propaganda about white people being persecuted by minorities, with seemingly no awareness of the contradiction.

I’ve observed in my own life that whenever I’ve been “colorblind,” I’ve ended up inadvertently erasing people of color. This happens when I draw. This happens when I reblog photos on Tumblr. Unless I make a conscious effort to include people of color in the media I create and repost, they end up unrepresented. This is because I am not immune from subconscious racism, either. I’m not exempt from seeing white people as raceless default humans. This is why it’s necessary to be aware of this bias rather than deny and ignore it. We shouldn’t only be able to acknowledge that someone’s life matters when their non-white ethnicity is taken out of the equation.

The black feminist writer Audre Lorde once said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” This is a situation to which this definitely applies.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Post-It for White America

Dear fellow white folks,

While white culture is nowhere near beyond reproach, there are certain parts that are entertaining. Wearing Birkenstocks year round, making acoustic versions of metal songs, petitioning to allow Snuggies in your office dress code, and coming up with puns that would make Catwoman cringe are all lofty and noble pursuits. That being said, there are other things we tend to do which are notably less acceptable. Residents of Caucasia, here are a few points I hope we can try to remember. So, before we head off to add sea salt to everything, let’s sprinkle a little into our coffee while we chat about uncomfortable things. (Relax, we’ll get through it. We’ve never had a problem being awkward.)

You’ve probably gathered that what I want to talk about is racism, so here goes.

The first point of contention is something I’ve noticed pretty often: Non-black folks using MLK quotes, or quotes from other civil rights leaders, to scold black people. Some don’t intend it to sound hostile, but that doesn’t stop it from coming across that way. It’s patronizing. Most of the people who do this want to claim solidarity with MLK, yet they’re far removed from his philosophies. Yes, he preached unity, but he was an adamant critic of white complacency and white moderates. He also voiced a lot of on-point criticisms of capitalism. Martin Luther King was substantially more intelligent and complex than our pop historical summary makes him out to be. He wanted oppression to end, and understood that white supremacist attitudes had to be thoroughly eviscerated before “we all bleed red” could hold weight. Instead of watering him down with platitudes or using his quotes to lecture minorities, let’s do more research into what he taught. The King can’t be summed up in an Instagram quote next to artful snapshots of mimosas.

And this leads into the subject of oppression. If you take nothing else from this blog post, then double, triple please remember this: being offended doesn’t amount to being oppressed. If you’re inclined to respond with “Yeah, tell that to [insert minority group here]!”, then you’re missing the point even more than you miss late ‘90s nostalgia. Being a brown person and watching your white neighbors freak out and pack up when people with your skin color move into the neighborhood is oppression (white flight). Being arrested at a higher rate for drug possession, even though your race uses illegal substances at an equal rate to whites, is oppression (and let’s be real; white people love weed so much that they probably dedicate scrapbooks to it). And that’s not even scratching the surface of history.

If you’re a white person who’s told to refrain from using a racial slur or dressing as a “sexy Mexican” for a costume party, you’re not being oppressed. Rather, there’s a pretty good chance those behaviors are infringing upon others. That's because they reinforce a historical and institutional dynamic which hurts minority groups in a broader way. The same is true for demanding that minorities stop discussing discrimination. Hearing a non-white person talk about being persecuted isn’t persecution. Telling them to shut up about it is. I understand it doesn’t feel good when somebody advises you to stop doing something you enjoy, or makes you feel as if you’re partly responsible for their struggle, but that isn’t oppression. It may feel like an irritation to you, but it will pass. On that note, people talking about racism aren’t “trying to make you feel guilty” or holding you responsible for what other white people have done. They’re aren’t looking to punish you. They want to educate. And if white people can dedicate themselves to learning how to ride unicycles through Williamsburg and braid flowers into beards, we can definitely learn to listen more attentively.

When called on troublesome behavior, the first defense of many is to use non-white friends as shields. This may not be meant as exploitative, but it is. As others have said, saying and doing racist things while having minority friends doesn’t make someone non-racist. It makes them a disloyal friend. Also, if you’re a white person who lives in a diverse area or has an active online presence, there’s no reason to only have white friends. I’m not suggesting that you go out specifically looking for racial minorities to socialize with, since that would value them for their ethnicity instead of for who they are. If the vast majority of the people you’re close to are white, though, it would be worth examining why.

That’s all for now, pasty peers. I might add more later. If you’re still reading this, then I assume I’m still invited to the annual Smooth Jazz and Mayonnaise Party (and you win a prize if you get that reference).

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Eulogy for a great creator

My grandparents in New Haven, CT in 1948, when Harold was a student at Yale Art School.

In one of my earliest memories of my grandpa Harold, we celebrated Hanukkah with a menorah shaped like a Christmas tree.
He wasn’t strictly religious, but he had a love for certain traditions. He didn’t follow them as prescribed, though. He had a way of making everything his own.
Passover meant sitting around my grandparents’ table with all my cousins while Harold told the story of Moses, passing candy around to demonstrate the ten plagues. The chocolate chips he gave us represented boils, and there were gummy frogs. The grand finale came when he’d bring out a big bowl of red Jell-O and “part” it by spraying a line of whipped cream down the center. Then he’d drop a handful of little plastic soldiers into the bowl, and we’d all dig in.
One year he told the Passover story by putting on a shadow play with my aunts and uncles. They set up a big screen and a light in the living room. Harold narrated while they acted it out with shadows of puppets. My grandma Kiki had made a witch puppet for the Angel of Death. She flew it across the screen on a cardboard broomstick, making it cackle with glee. Aunt Abbie’s hair was the burning bush. She crouched behind the sofa, revealing the silhouette of her wild curls as she shook her head around, mimicking fire.
Harold was an incredible storyteller. He didn’t write, but his inventive and articulate style met perfectly with his theatrical flair. He came up with thrilling sagas to tell his kids and then his grandchildren. He brought stories from the Torah to pulsating life. He invented epics about dragons and monsters. His sound effects were flawless. He knew when to whisper and when to shout. His eyes would pop wide as the momentum built. These adventures left us gripping our seats or shrieking with laughter. His everyday manner was as animated as his stories and art.
Harold did everything to maximum capacity, sucking the last bit of air from every experience yet leaving more for everyone else. He danced on tables. He rolled in the autumn leaves. He watched sad movies with tears streaming down his face. He smacked his lips in appreciation while he ate. I used to try to correct his table manners as a toddler. When I was two years old, I’d shake a finger at him and say, “Grandpa, you’re not supposed to chew with your mouth open. You’re supposed to chew like this!” I’d stuff my face and chew exaggeratedly, mouth closed, cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk. My whole family would laugh hysterically and I wouldn’t know why. Harold ate just as he was supposed to, though. He consumed, and he gave, with unrestrained joy.
It seems so appropriate that his middle name was Wolf. He always reminded me of a canine with his exuberant manner and love of people and food. With his exploratory nature and endless curiosity, he always seemed to gather a following that became his lifelong pack. Even his physical features were embracing and full. His round face, broad nose, and full lips conveyed generosity. I’ve never known someone so financially thrifty who gave so much.
The frugality had a lot to do with his upbringing. He grew up during the Great Depression in a family where he had to vie with his brothers for food. But this seemed to only feed his resourcefulness. When my mother and her siblings were little, he’d take them on family trips to the Bethany dump. They’d explore the junkyard to look for materials they could use in art projects. This became a time honored Rabinowitz tradition.
I can’t think of Harold without remembering that, or without thinking of Kiki. He and my grandma are forever linked in my mind. I’ve always said them as one word: “HaroldandKiki.” One of my favorite stories was the memory of how they got together. They knew each other from the time they were children. They went to junior high and high school together, but were only distant acquaintances back then. In their class photo, they’re seated next to each other. On the last day of high school, Harold signed Kiki’s yearbook with, “I’ll be seeing you! Ha ha ha.” Neither of them had any idea they’d see each other every day for seventy years.
They reconnected three years later on the day World War II ended. They found themselves at a mutual friend’s party to celebrate. They sensed an interest in each other they hadn’t felt before, and started dating. Kiki told me they went to a carnival for their first date. At one point during the night, they got stuck at the top of the ferris wheel. Harold smiled at her and asked, “Can I kiss you?” She laughed and said, “Well, I guess I can’t run away.”
            They were married a year later and rode their bicycles cross country for their honeymoon. And then, in the early ‘50s, they built their tall, gorgeously chaotic, ramshackle stone house. Kiki built it while she was pregnant. That’s how badass she is. They made friends wherever they went with their playful antics. After Kiki gave birth to their sixth child, they gifted the nurse with a watermelon wrapped in a baby blanket. Kiki told her, “We’re returning the baby. It leaks.”
Over the years, their house became a haven. It was a community in itself. They took in family friends. Many of their kids knew someone who, at least briefly, had lived at their home. They started their family business there, Rabinowitz Design Workshop (later renamed Witz End Workshop). Creative Arts Workshop also began at their house when they gave art lessons to kids from the area. They used to come over, and Kiki would make them all a big pot of spaghetti and hot dogs.
For two people who seemed like one entity, Kiki and Harold butted heads a lot. They had some pretty hilarious arguments. I’ll always remember them fighting over directions in the car. They’d be equally insistent about which way to turn. Finally Kiki would shout, “Goddammit, Harold, I’m not going to listen to you anymore!” and pointedly veer off in the opposite direction, even if it got them briefly lost. He’d do the same when he was the one driving. Despite this, I’ve never met two people more wildly in love.
They loved to dance together. Any time I visited, I’d see him grab Kiki and twirl her around in the kitchen while they laughed. If there was no music, they’d invent their own. They were constantly ad libbing silly songs and rhymes together. Harold was a master of words. He invented a game to play with his children, and later his grandkids, called Stinky Pinky. In the game, people took turns coming up with a pair of words that rhymed and then gave a short description. Everyone else had to guess what it was. For example, someone would say, “A wet puppy.” Others would guess what they had in mind until somebody said, “Soggy doggy.” If you guessed it, you won that round.
Harold could speak in iambic pentameter off the top of his head and improvise limericks and poetry. This made him really popular at parties. At one event he donned Kiki’s purple muumuu, held a pineapple in his outstretched hand, and began to recite Hamlet. At another he stood under the balcony in his living room and extended his wine glass, shouting “My cup runneth over!” At that exact moment, a guest tried to pour wine over the balcony into his glass, but it ended up spilling on his head.
               And, of course, there was the time his son had Show and Tell back in first grade and decided to stand up in front of the class and announce, “Last weekend my dad was at a party and had a lot to drink and fell into a big bucket of popcorn!” My uncle hadn’t been there to see it, but he’d heard the story. Harold wrote legends just by living.
This is why it was so sad when Harold had a stroke back in 2000 and lost a lot of his verbal abilities. He went from someone who could keep a whole room in stitches to having trouble articulating basic thoughts. I remember the look of anguish on his face as he once said, “I can’t say what I mean to say.” And, for a short time, he referred to everyone he spoke to as Kiki. It was because of the stroke, but it made sense. He loved Kiki so much that he saw a part of her in everyone.
Even so, he never stopped enjoying life. He still drew beautifully. He still saw friends and rejoiced in family. He laughed until the end and died surrounded by everyone who loved him; all the lives he had changed. In the end, I can only regret that he won’t be a part of the memorial celebration, because it would be just like him to surprise everyone by showing up in a jester hat or a purple dress, ad libbing satirical poetry. But he’ll be there regardless, because he is everywhere he’s painted and joked and sang.
          Harold is the world he created.

Monday, August 31, 2015

This is why I won't take the late train.

I had a really scary experience Friday night which is still echoing.

I had to work late because we were having a special event. The bus I needed to take stopped running at 7, so a coworker drove me to the Norwalk train station. It was 9 at night and I was waiting on a bench inside. The building was deserted, with no sound but the ticking clock. There was a calmness to the sense that I was the only one there.

Then, as I drew faces in my sketchbook, a man approached me. He must have been in his early to mid twenties. He had both an iPhone and a Tracfone. This immediately set off a red flag, since people involved in all kinds of creepy bullshit often carry both a regular cell and an untraceable one that’s easy to discard. He sat by me and started asking to see more of my drawings. I told him I was busy, but he wouldn’t leave me alone. He stared at me intently, leaning in closer.

I kept writing in the sketchbook, trying not to let my hand shake. He said, “I wrote a thousand journals in my head and I want to give them all to you.”

The man kept getting calls on his Tracfone. He intermittently walked across the room to talk to whoever was on the other line in a hushed voice. He then came back and continued to intrude with question after question, most of which I didn’t answer. The questions didn’t feel like they were hitting me; more like burrowing in. He offered no information about himself, and I didn’t ask. He demanded to know what I’d eaten that day. Where I lived. Where I was going, and how long my train ride would be. He asked if I had a boyfriend and I said, “I’m married.” He smirked and asked, “How are you enjoying that?”

I didn’t get up to leave because I knew he would follow me. I couldn’t say anything overtly angry because he would get violent. I could hear that threat as clearly as his breath. The tension pressed forward, ebbing and flowing in his lungs, at the whim of however I responded. I was at his whim. At any time he could snap the thin layer that solidified the air between us. There was a bulge in the pocket on his lower hip which was shaped exactly like a handgun. I was anchored to the chair, removed from the situation. I just watched it happen. As long as I kept him talking, he wasn’t raping me. As long as he stayed on that bench, I wasn’t being abducted. If I let him think about other things, he wouldn’t think about the gun resting against his leg. There was no one to run to if this conversation slipped off the track. It just kept barreling forward with me as the passenger.

This went on for half an hour.

He drew closer I distantly heard him say, “I came into your life for a reason. When you interact with somebody, you wanna get something out of them. I want to get something out of you. And I want to leave you with something. Every man has power, and women have power too. When you meet someone, you exchange that power and take it with you.”

If I could feel my skin, I think it would have been prickling.

He asked if I like blue. I answered, “Are you asking because everyone likes blue?” He reached under my bench, took a blue Skittle from the floor, and said, “I asked because I saw this here. I thought it was a sign.”

He peered back at the sketchbook and said, “I want to read your writing.”

I shook my head. He asked why not and I answered, “I don’t know you.”

He sighed, “That’s deep.”

Everything he was saying would have been hilariously trite, like a parody of a cheesy pickup artist, if it wasn’t carrying a bullet. He went on, “I saw you on the bus earlier. I saw you twice today, so I do know you.”

A darting glance at the clock told me my train was on its way. This shook me out of the numbness. I started to get up, and had to force myself to slow down and look calm.

He asked, “Do you want to see me again?”

I said no. He replied, “Doesn’t matter. I know what bus you take, so I will see you again. And again and again, and I’ll keep moving closer. And then I’ll be a part of your life.”

My legs were finally running and I disappeared behind the train door, heart pummeling, not looking back.

I never told him my name or where I work, but he knows from my name tag and the words on my shirt. And now I reach for my pepper spray and scour every direction when I step onto the bus. I’m never going back to that train station again.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Appearance-shaming, Freedom, and Entitlement

A lot of people will see someone dressed in a way they dislike, or with a body they don’t find attractive, and respond with actual anger—as if it’s a direct offense to them. As if a stranger’s appearance is supposed to please them, and the person is neglecting their job if it doesn’t. Especially if the individual in question doesn’t seem to care. This is expressed when somebody is disgusted with another’s style (usually a woman’s, although I have also heard this directed at men) and says, “I don’t want to see that.” As if everybody else’s sole reason for looking the way they do is to appeal to that viewer.

I've heard this about everything from revealing clothing, to piercings and tattoos, to styles that are just seen as silly, to factors like size and age. As if once a person crosses a certain threshold of weight or years, they’re now obligated to isolate themselves at home. As if occupying time and space on this planet is an indulgence (thank you, Industrial Age hangover). The one making the comment will sometimes accuse the other of being “selfish” for their visibility, completely oblivious to the hypocrisy of that idea. Additionally, those casting this judgment very rarely meet the beauty ideals they demand of others. They often even dress in a style similar to what they mock.

To be clear, I do think there are fashion choices which are not appropriate to all settings. Wearing a wedding dress to a wedding when you’re not the one getting married, obviously. Walking into a preschool in assless chaps. And something like blackface or a decorative swastika is strictly reserved for “Nobody, Nowhere, 0:00 p.m.” But that’s because those choices branch out beyond personal taste and into the “making a wildly hostile statement” territory. Those statements are obviously, deliberately directed toward people with the intent to harass them. Especially symbols that are aggressive toward marginalized groups. Those are the most harmful on a widespread scale, because they reinforce a power imbalance and highlight a traumatic history.

An outfit which shows a lot of skin can be a gray area. It's true that a body in itself shouldn’t be seen as offensive. (That doesn’t mean anyone is obligated to feel attracted to another person or to think they’re good-looking. But the fact that I don’t think someone looks good should not offend me. Their appearance isn’t my clickbait media. And likewise, nobody is obligated to think I'm attractive.) At the same time, people shouldn’t be forced to see nudity. This is where one’s wishes may impose on another’s consent. But to some people, any glimpse at a person they think is ugly—even if fully clothed—is regarded as a violation, which is ridiculously selfish entitlement.

As I mentioned, this isn’t only directed at women by men. I’ve heard women do this to each other. I’ve heard women do it to men. I’ve heard men inflict it on one another, and every gender variation in between. It’s true that men are also ridiculed and discriminated against for how they physically present themselves, and how they involuntarily look. I would say, though, that a man’s overall value tends to not be judged by his appearance to the same degree as a woman’s. This judgment over appearance and personal style also severely affects trans men and trans women. Many ignorant people feel threatened by seeing those whose clothing and bodies don’t meet traditional gender norms. That is never the fault of those being attacked for it. A person’s gender expression is nobody else’s concern.

The transphobia that creates the sense of feeling “attacked” by simply seeing a trans person is similar to the type of fear and outrage inspired by seeing other marginalized people wearing what denotes their identity. Clothing associated with those of lower economic status, for example. I can’t count how many times I’ve witnessed people up in arms over “that knockoff [insert brand name]” or “that ratchet getup.” It’s not just the clothing that disturbs them; that’s shorthand. Just as some are upset by the bodies inside the outfits, many are outraged by the people whom the attire represents. An outfit is rarely just an outfit and a body is rarely just a body—even if oppressed people are reduced, in the public eye, to their appearance alone. People encompass identities, and vice versa. The real sense of indignation derives from feeling threatened by the fact that some humans make their existence known without apology. No matter how ridiculous others may say they look, they’re wearing their dignity. To those with privileges to lose, that armor is seen as a sword.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Dawn in a Trash Can

Yesterday the sun rose inside a garbage bin.

We gathered up all his things. Packed them into a black metal trash basket and then headed to my parents’ house, where I plucked out the rest of it. Every letter he ever wrote me was in that basket. Every photo, every note we once passed back and forth, scribbling furiously to each other. His journal that he kept all throughout high school was in there. So were all those poems I wrote for him at sixteen and seventeen; literary high fructose corn syrup. I wish I could go back in time and shake the stars out of my eyes, but those stars had already fallen. We couldn’t snuff them out of history. We could burn them out of the future.

We burned it all in the middle of the empty dead end road. I didn’t look at the photos as they were consumed. Wouldn’t look back at that gaze staring out to challenge me. Instead, I looked at the writing. The pocket-sized spiral notebook fanned out like an accordion. Like a flower opening in bloom. The ink-inscribed torment and rage and confusion bowed in on itself, the pages wilting into a fetal curl. In their destruction, they reconfigured into shapes of beginnings. It wasn’t him that was destroyed; it was his pain. The pain he both carried and injected into others. I haven’t taken much from organized religion, but I always liked the idea of fire as refinement. Fire consumes while it purges. It leaves only the pure elements behind.

I burned all the love letters along with the hate ones. It can feel tragic to throw out beautiful words, but that beauty was what made them so dangerous. It had anchored me long ago, but that anchor had almost drowned me.

For years, I’d kept all these remnants inside a clay box in my old bedroom at my parents’ house. It was a box I’d made at Creative Arts Workshop the summer when I was six. Ever since grade school, I’d designated it as my pint-sized gallery of pain. I’d used it to house objects associated with bad memories, from embarrassing to sad to traumatic. Things I didn’t want to look at, but was also reluctant to throw away. In high school I’d kept an angry note from another ex in there, along with the padlock to a drawer where I’d locked up my childhood diaries. The journals were full of memories I’d repressed by siphoning them off onto paper. I wanted to hide them from myself, but also to remember. To tattoo them into my brain in invisible ink. That was when I’d started keeping those things, while also intent on tucking them out of sight.

I burned the box along with its contents. It blackened in the smoke, but wasn’t melted. It was stained and purified at the same time.

My sister was there, and so was Mike. Dedicated and steadfast as ever, he lit the flames. My sister circled around the fire, talking excitedly. Remembering history. Telling me about her own life and friends. She was there, and we love each other. When all those other layers are eroded and refined, that’s what matters. And so I folded up this moment as a keepsake to look at fondly; not to hoard away.

As the relics crumbled down to ash, the smoke started to smell faintly like almonds. I’m sure there’s a long history of symbolism behind them, and they could be waxed poetic about for ages. But what struck me so much was the simplicity. I half-wondered if I’d hear his distant guitar notes floating from the smoke, but the trace of almonds was enough. After burning down years of horror, what was left was a scent so refreshing and benign.

I thought of burying the debris or leaving them in the garden, but decided against it. As long as I held onto his creations, they held power over me. If I discarded the ashes in a poetic way, then they’d still retain a significance greater than themselves. So I tossed them out unceremoniously in a dumpster behind Sam Ash (the pun not realized at the time).

Something tentative was budding in the absence, and I wanted to let it grow.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

On humor

Humor is often looked at in a reductive manner of “Anything somebody claims is a joke needs to be taken at face value as one,” and that analyzing joke structure means you lack a sense of humor. Neither of these assumptions are true.

Analyzing jokes is what a professional comedian does for a living. If everything they say sounds completely natural and off-the-cuff, that’s because they’re so well practiced. Successful stand-up requires a great deal of self awareness. As Robin Tran recently pointed out, there’s even an art to hiding the punchlines. Making it in comedy means playing to your audience.

There’s a well known subset of people, both online and off, who think they’re comedians just because they shout out every racist, sexist, and otherwise bigoted thought that barges into their minds, and they lambaste anyone who says it’s not funny. “It’s just a joke, bruh. Don’t you have a sense of humor?” And then this is the part where they fumble for any gay/black/female/trans person in the vicinity to use as a human shield and say, “They’re not offended.” But as soon as anybody who does belong to one of those groups is unamused, their opinion and identity is cast out with the rest of the perceived trash heap and they’re called “just another sensitive [insert slur here].” Their status as a member of a minority group immediately drops them from a position of value (or, rather, exploitation) to a position of mockery. It's pretty sobering to know just how easy it is to fall into that behavior, ourselves.

That’s not how professional comedians work. They have to make the audience like them. This is never achieved by getting angry at people for not laughing, or for getting offended by their offended reaction. It’s not achieved by laughing at a notably disenfranchised group and demanding that they sit there and take it, telling them, “You have to be able to laugh at yourself.” Laughing at oneself should always be a person’s own choice, and it’s funniest when it is. It just becomes bullying when they’re already screwed over by society and now some atomic stink bomb with a mic is demanding that they find it funny.

Even notoriously racist, homophobic, and otherwise douchey comedians know how to tailor their act to specific listeners. They know that if there’s an audience full of women, it’s wise to avoid jokes about them deserving to be raped. (Not that it’s better to make that joke to male audiences. This is about more than not looking like an asshole; it's about not actually being one.) They know that if they themselves are unattractive, it's hypocritical and clueless to make fun of other peoples’ looks. Again, not that it’s better for the comedian to pick on appearance if they are good-looking. There’s the famous rule about punching up, not down.

This leads into the topic of celebrities. Normally, famous people are fair game. They’re rich and successful, so what a comedian says probably isn’t going to affect their status or rub salt in a wound. This would naturally seem like a form of “punching up.” It is—except when the joke is about the famous person belonging to a group that’s historically and institutionally dumped on. This is where things get a little more complicated.

A bigoted joke about a Hollywood star is still a bigoted joke. It may not affect them personally; they probably won’t even hear it. But it will be heard by others of that same group who aren't rich and successful. A joke making fun of Tess Holliday’s weight or Laverne Cox’s transgenderism still affects plus-size women and trans people. Members of those populations are still seen as public laughing stocks, even if those two celebrities aren’t—and they’re ridiculed for aspects of themselves they never chose. (There are people who will argue that you do choose your body size and can decide to be transgender, but that’s a whole other topic. For now, I’ll just say that while some people may be able to dictate their weight to an extent, not everybody can and there are a lot of genetic factors involved. As for being trans, you can choose to get surgery but you don’t choose gender dysphoria. Also, not all trans people get surgery or experience dysphoria. That’s a subject for another blog post, though. My point is that these groups of people, along with others, are torn apart for traits that don’t harm anyone and are overwhelmingly attacked by society.) If someone is unable to make a joke without being a bigot, then they're not very funny or creative.

This is tough to talk about, because nobody wants to be the humor police. Nobody wants to be seen as the no-funster who crashes through the wall at a party to force feed everyone the PC Kool-Ade. But it’s very telling when a person who doesn’t laugh at a hateful joke, or who says it’s not cool, is the only one who’s judged as a buzzkill. Not the person who makes the hateful joke in the first place.

Another telling factor is the way you’re accused of being humorless as soon as you reject or even consider the premise of a joke, even if you and that same person had been cracking up about something else only minutes before and they were telling you how funny you were. It's interesting how quickly any previous demonstration of your humor is now forgotten. Or the way that many of the same people who insist that a racist, misogynistic, or classist comment is “just a joke” will then defend it because “it’s so true!” Or that if you question it, you’re assumed to be trying to censor everyone. It is true that there are some who want to censor others; who want to ban them from having any platform or have them arrested for what they say. I’ve known several such people and would say that approach goes way too far. But more often, anybody who objects at all is accused of being censorious. That’s not what most dissenters aim for. People are free to say what they want, however ignorant it may be. And, in turn, others are free to argue with them. Rather than shutting down public discussion, I want to provide more and to see more offered. Let’s see more counter-arguments. Let’s see more jokes that give off their own light instead of reflecting others who have been drained and derived from for as long as anyone can remember.

That would bring more than amusement; it would bring happiness. And that’s something the world is long due.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A letter for people I love

This is an open letter to anti-LGBT+ family members—because there’s more than one of you, and because, even if you might not believe it when we disagree, I do love you. Please bear with me.

Because we share genetics and grew up doing holidays together, I know where you come from. I know the particular brand of theology you’re expressing is what you’d been raised with from day one. I know your parents only ever wanted what was best for you, and they are good people. And I know you don’t want to be hateful. It hurts and offends you when others think you’re being cruel for opposing same-sex marriage, when you feel you’re just standing up for “what God says.” You also believe you’re being persecuted for this opinion, and are immersed in a religious culture which tells you that is true. I can’t personally relate to this, as I was not raised within evangelical Christianity. I do understand where you’re coming from, though. It can’t be an easy place to be.

But, in love and in sincerity, I’m asking you to please consider something: That it would be incredibly painful to be a gay or bi or transgender person living within that environment. Even if nobody from your church or your specific religious community is openly “out,” there very likely are LGBT people within your community who know this truth about who they are and hate themselves for it. And, without any assumptions or accusations on my part, please let me ask you some rhetorical questions.

Are you helping them to feel loved, regardless of your beliefs about their identity, or are you encouraging self-hate?

Are you telling them God loves them, but only if they change a huge aspect of who they are and have always been? If so, how can it be called a “free gift” if there are so many strings attached? It can’t be a demonstration of parental love if it’s so conditional. (Not that all parents love unconditionally, but the general Christian understanding is that God loves in the way that an ideal and perfect parent would.)

What are you trying to accomplish by posting anti-LGBT quotes and memes? Are you directing them at LGBT people, or at peers within your religious community who agree with you? Are they directed at people outside your group who disagree—and if so, are you using those posts to try to persuade them?

If you are addressing those things to other Christians, what’s your reason for doing so? Maybe you’re trying to prove your place within their circle, to show that you belong. If that’s the case, why is it necessary? Would true friends litmus test you?

If you’re trying to reach LGBT people, please understand that telling us we’re going to hell and deserve to be murdered is not love. I am, and have always been, a bisexual person. This doesn’t mean I’m in multiple relationships or want to be. I also never chose this. It’s something I’ve known since first grade, since before I knew it was even possible to like both men and women or had any word to name it. If you have questions about this, I’m willing to talk about it. But if you're only interested in telling me how wrong I am for being bi, then the conversation won't lead us anywhere helpful.

If you say gay people are damned or unloved by what you believe to be the ultimate and all-powerful source of love, that does affect me personally. It’s extremely hurtful. In a similar way, you feel personally affected and hurt when others say the same things about your specific branch of Christianity. But please understand that nobody is telling you that your relationships should be illegal, and nobody is forcing you to perform or enter into same-sex marriages. Many people within evangelical Christian culture do seem to want to force LGBT people into heterosexual relationships, though, or force them into the religion via law. It’s not all Christians. But there are a disconcerting amount who want everyone in the US to be legally forced to follow biblical mandates and for our government to be a theocracy. If that were the case, it would completely negate free will. It would also allow even more massive leeway for government corruption; for a leader to do anything they pleased and be unquestioned if they claimed that “God told them to do it.” Nobody is telling you that you cannot be Christian—and there are different ways of being Christian, not just conservative/evangelical. In turn, please don’t tell people they cannot be anything but heterosexual and cisgender (non-trans).

One thing I understand about conservative Christianity is that conscience and a sense of obedience often pull in opposite directions. You may not want to harm LGBT people, but feel that your religion is telling you to. You may be caught in deep and painful conflict for that reason. If this is the case, please understand that any deity worthy of being called “love” would never, ever demand that you choose between duty and compassion. If you have compassion, it’s there for a reason. Please don’t stifle its voice. Also, hate is more than a feeling. It’s an action. A person can have all the caring and empathetic feelings in the world for someone else, but if their actions do the other person harm, it’s not love. Love is what we do, not just what we feel. The same is true for hatred.

If you’ve gotten this far and are still reading, thank you. I’m grateful for your time and consideration. Yes, we’re still family and we’re still friends. But before you repost another quote or video or meme about something you may not fully understand, I ask that you please take a moment to reflect on these thoughts. You’re under no obligation to answer my questions, but please don’t be afraid to ask them to yourself.

Thank you for hearing this out.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

One Way to Confront “8 Ways to Confront Your Wife’s Sexual Refusal” (yes, I’m going meta)

An article entitled “8 Ways to Confront Your Wife’s Sexual Refusal” (http://www.donotlink.com/fc0m) has been making the rounds online, both by enthusiastic endorsers and by those criticizing it. It’s on a site called “Biblical Gender Roles” and is written, as can be gathered, from a stringently conservative Christian perspective. The article, in its entirety, is a striking example of everything that makes such a worldview abusive, vile, and emotionally toxic—both to the self and to others.
The author outlines a plan of escalating punishments that a “Christian” husband should inflict upon his wife if she regularly chooses not to respond to his advances (the author seems to assume that women are never the initiators, and that they should not be). He adds a quick qualifier to assure the reader that he’s not suggesting physical abuse, but his suggestions seem to stop just short of that. They still amount to abusive behavior, even if it’s not physically so. He recommends that the husband first “rebuke her privately.” This doesn’t mean trying to have an open discussion about why she seems to lack an interest in sex. It means castigating her for it and accusing her of sinning both against him and God (which makes it sound like his omnipotent father wants to be involved in their sex life).
The author prefaces, “This assumes you have already on several occasions tried speaking gently to her about this issue. You have tried time and time again to find out if there is anything you can help her with, and anything you can do different.” He is not recommending that, though. He’s talking out of both sides of his mouth. On one hand, he implies that the “rebuking” should only occur if the husband has already tried to work things out peacefully. But on the other, he also says, “What I am addressing here is the wife who consistently and routinely denies her husband sexually simply because she does not need sex as much or she thinks she should not have to do it except when she is in the mood or she thinks her husband should have to earn sex with her by “putting her in the mood” by doing various things she expects or likes…A wife cannot flatly refuse her husband, she may only ask for a delay (a raincheck) and then she needs to make good on that raincheck as soon as possible.” In another paragraph he states, “A husband ought not to feel guilty for having sex with his wife when she is not in the mood if she yields, even grudgingly.” (If he’s even capable of enjoying it when she’s clearly not, and if he deliberately fazes out her distress, then he’s selfish at best and abusive at worst. No wonder she doesn’t want him).
The author is saying that the hypothetical husband has no obligation to try to “put her in the mood,” but that his wife has an obligation to passively agree to unwanted sex. He doesn’t consider the painfully obvious fact that trying to please her will probably yield the results he hopes for, or at least make it a lot more likely. He does not see women as sexual beings, or even as people. He regards them purely as receptacles and encourages all husbands to take this same approach. And having sex with someone who clearly doesn’t want to amounts to rape. But since wives apparently exist to serve husbands, that’s nothing to feel any kind of remorse about.
The second step is to “rebuke her before witnesses,” such as a marriage counselor (although he specifies that it should only be a Christian one, presumably because they’re less likely to object to the “rebuking”). The third step is to bring her before the church; to have a pastor lecture her about her sexual obligations if she won’t concede to you. The author states here, “At any one of these points, your wife could have threatened to leave, or has already left. You may be separated or in divorce proceedings.” In that case, why would you still be trying to sleep with her?
Steps four, five, and six are as follows: “Stop taking her on dates or trips.” “No unnecessary household upgrades.” “Stop doing the little extra things” (such as housework, which the author firmly states is solely the wife’s responsibility, and giving her massages). In other words, emotionally freeze her out and stop being nice to her, because that will definitely win her over. Not that people in this situation should be looking at it from a purely self-interested perspective of “how do I get what I want?”, but the author clearly cannot think past that point and assumes no other man can, either.
The seventh step is, if possible, even more insidious: Remove her funding. “This step may only work if your wife does not have her own income. Change your bank account so her ATM card becomes worthless. Cancel your credit cards.” This brand of theology almost always demands that the wife be unemployed and completely financially dependent upon her husband, so doing this would be an even further act of isolation and abuse. If she’s so restricted that she can’t even spend any money without her husband’s permission, it’s no surprise that she might choose to reject him physically. That may be the only possible expression of autonomy she has.
The last resort he suggests is to divorce her for “sexual immorality.” He references this earlier by saying, “Sacrificing yourself for your wife, as Christ sacrificed himself for the church does not mean toleration of this kind of sin on the part of your wife. Many counselors throw out the “husbands you just need to sacrifice yourself for your wife like Christ did the church” but they don’t tell you WHY Christ sacrificed himself for the Church.” (Following this line of thinking, it sounds like he’d say, “Because the church wouldn’t have sex with him.”)
The author insists that this is “discipline”, rather than manipulation. He defines manipulation as something that an underling does to achieve a desired result from someone of a higher status. By this definition, he also classifies union protests as “manipulation” and compares it to children throwing temper tantrums. What a lovely way of infantilizing the poor and trivializing the need for workers’ rights. And, in this sense, he also compares husbands and wives to employee/employer, and to parent/child. If someone doesn’t see how deeply troubling it is to make those parallels, I don’t even know where to start. But I will point out that this teeters awfully close to the edge of pedophilia.
He then goes on to romanticize the ancient “biblical” days in which people barely knew each other before they wed, and when the husband bought the wife as property. (Yet he takes issue with the concept of paying for sex.) He even wrote a separate blog entry called, “You don’t have to buy the milk when you own the cow.” 
All of this may sound incredibly bizarre and extreme, and it might be hard to imagine anybody genuinely following this line of thinking. But in my life, I have known an alarming number of people who share those values. There were ones whom I tried to persuade differently, but eventually came to the painful realization that I cannot “free” anyone from those types of values. Many times, they don’t want to change.
The marital scenario outlined by that blogger seems to result from a great deal of problems that are directly created by conservative Christianity, rather than resolved by it. A couple who are forbidden to have sex before marriage are far more likely to wed before they’re ready and to make a commitment they don’t fully understand (especially with the way these communities idealize marriage and provide very little sex education). They won’t know if they’re emotionally, mentally, or sexually compatible until they’re already in a legal contract. It’s even worse when they’re prohibited from divorcing in almost any circumstance.
Furthermore, the restrictions inherent in religious fundamentalism contribute a great deal to sexual frustration. They’re only allowed to have the most white bread sex imaginable. No kink, no porn, no toys, no non-vaginal penetration. It's fine to not incorporate any of those things if they don't want to, but they are specifically told that they can't. In some religious communities, they’re not allowed to engage in any sex act that doesn’t directly result in pregnancy (which most often means nothing that can give the woman an orgasm). Many of them are banned from using birth control, which means sex is always laden with the possibility of pregnancy looming in their minds. If they want to try anything new, they’re advised to “pray on it”—which just sounds so spontaneous and fun. If one of them is not up for it, the other is not even allowed to take care of their own needs, so it’s no wonder that a lot of resentment builds up and both parties are left with the expectation of meeting all of their spouse’s urges all of the time. If one of them has a higher drive than the other, this can become an incredible burden for the one with the lower libido and a significant void for the one who has no other sexual outlet. And, within this framework, the man is the only one expected to have a libido. The woman is thought of as a “whore” if she likes or craves physical intimacy, so it’s no wonder that so many of them refuse.
               So, in summary, this is oppressive bullshit. A great deal of Christians vocally disagree with this author, which is very encouraging to see. Let’s keep the dissent going, no matter what religion you might observe (or not observe). Let people like that author know that he is not the spokesman for his faith, for marriage, or for any kind of morality at all.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Racist mentalities can change with shifting values, not just "an appeal to the facts."

Facts won’t dissuade people who are stubbornly invested in racism. The fact that Freddie Gray’s death was ruled a second degree murder and that six cops have been arrested won’t mean anything to them. The fact that his arrest was deemed illegal won’t make a difference. They will be unmoved by the fact that even Fox News of all networks is now acknowledging this happened. They’ll still say, “Oh, that ruling was only made to appease the black people. More proof that they’re privileged and oppressing whites.” I’ve heard this point of view expressed loudly from white people who are still somehow convinced that they’re “not allowed” to say it. I’ve also seen Fox’s desperate scramble to try to imply that this wasn’t a race issue because several of the cops involved were non-white. Those accepting this explanation don’t recognize internalized racism and how, in the end, it still serves white supremacist aims.
Talking about this is not “making it about race.” It was already about race and class; talking about that is just acknowledging it. And it’s funny how CNN commenters will make that claim, yet think that making sweeping criticisms of the black population and accusing them of “separating themselves” is somehow not making it about race. This public discussion, of course, is littered by cries of “Why do you have to keep bringing up the past?” Abridged answer: Because the past leaks into the present and future, and because talking about history is a way of recognizing patterns. It’s noticeable how the white people who say they feel no guilt or responsibility for things that other white people did throughout history are the ones who feel so threatened by others bringing up that past. If they really thought it had nothing to do with them, they wouldn’t get defensive.
It’s not hard to be a white person, whatever some might say. I can understand how it might be really hard to be a cop at this time—not a white cop specifically, but a cop in general. It probably feels like people are making assumptions or that these kinds of posts are directed at them individually. But if a cop is not doing or supporting these things, then these posts don’t apply to them. And part of being a progressive, helpful cop is not only refraining from corruption and abuse, but reporting it when they see it in other officers. Part of it is not immediately assuming that another officer must have been in the right, but taking a careful and honest look at what they did. And it’s recognizing that those of us who are against this are not necessarily “against all cops” or solely blaming police officers, but seeing that the police abuse that does exist is part of a larger pattern of oppression. It’s also recognizing that while it may be hard to be a police officer, it’s a much greater challenge to live as a non-white person in America—and yes, there are also those who fit both categories. They need to be recognized, but not used as tokens to derail the topic.
Facts won’t matter to everyone, but that doesn’t mean that those who won’t accept facts are hopeless. Before they can be receptive, they need to come to a point where they no longer feel inclined to cling to white defensiveness (whether or not they are white). That turning point may differ from person to person, but the results are the same and will lead to a true and healthy unity.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Notes from under the weather

It’s not as if anything in particular went wrong. Nothing dramatic or unusual happened to me. I’m on my Zoloft, so I’m not hauling my life around unmedicated. But this week I’ve cracked, and couldn’t even feel the tension building beforehand. There was no warning.
Some of you might know this process all too well. Your garbage cans are overflowing and there are crumpled paper towels wilting all around them on the floor. The dishes are piling up into a great wall of china. You haven’t showered or gotten dressed yet today. All you can do is bury yourself under the covers with your headphones and wait. If you’ve ever been there, whoever you are, please know that I’m there with you. We’re in different trenches, but we’re both buried. There is no hierarchy underground.
I had to call out sick from work. I’m going back tomorrow, but just couldn’t do it today. When you work with the public, so much of it involves smiling and engaging them and not exposing others to an emotional virus, especially children. So I quarantined myself. You might know the feeling. If you do, then you know anyone who would tell you to just pull it together can fuck right off. So can anyone who accuses you of “attention whoring” for posting about what’s going on. Even if you’re not directing your thoughts to anyone specific, which I’m not, casting them onto the web can seem like a lifeline. You might even be afraid to talk to anybody individually. Whatever you say might come out overbearingly emotional, as if you’re leaving them with some final goodbye. I’m in that place, too.
I don’t want to die, and I’m not going to. I just want an intermission. Just a frozen year. If only I could sleep for a year without dreaming and wake up to a world where nothing but me has changed, picking up right where it left off.
Mike has been incredible in his support. I lay down with him in his armchair for hours last night and he told me, “You’re a beautiful ball of life.” If you’ve ever been in the same place, please know that you are, too.
If you’re a friend or well-wisher, don’t be afraid to talk to me. But also, please don’t think you’re being rejected if I don’t write back for a while. It helps to hear other voices, instead of my own thoughts swimming in circles and dragging me underneath. But if I don’t have the energy to respond yet, it’s nothing personal. There are so many other people reaching out who have problems a lot more urgent than mine, but I can’t reciprocate at the moment and am so disappointed in myself for that.
I’m not okay. And maybe that in itself is okay, because I trust that eventually I will be. If you’re in the same place, which ironically feels completely solitary, please know that you’ll be okay too. This shadow can be a blanket, and we can all sit together, bundled in the quiet until we're ready to come out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


From an outside perspective, I have a great life. Maybe even one that some people envy. Sometimes I feel like it's true. But other times I, too, envy the Photoshopped version of my life; the one that others think I have.

I’ve got amazing friends. I have a doting, adoring, absolutely wonderful husband. I have a perfect cat. I have a job I often enjoy. I have talents. I live in a comfortable home in a lively community, and have what some consider good looks.

This all deserves gratitude. I should be grateful without being cocky, which can be a precarious balance to strike. I am disgusted with myself for not being more appreciative, because I have so much more than I deserve.

But I sentence myself to never-ending longing. I have fun at my job, but it would never pay me enough to not depend on Mike to survive. Not that I’d want to live on my own or ever leave him; I just wish I were capable of self sufficiency. I have talents, but I’m always comparing myself to others who have more and am constantly worried that my inner resources will bleed dry. And I want to cry every time I see a photo of my face or look in the mirror.

I don’t want to tell Mike about this because I hate making him sad. I hate making him feel like he’s not enough to make me completely happy.

My self-esteem is so dependent on what others think of me, but not everyone. Only certain people whose opinions make all the difference.

I hate having so little free time, but less work means even less money.

I hate knowing what certain people did to me and only being able to tell a select few; almost nobody I grew up with can know about it. I hate that two of them are ones I can’t cut off, because of love and because if it were not for them I would be unable to see a certain girl who means everything to me. I hate that the third person who caused trauma is one will never leave me alone for good.

I heard some pretty shocking bad news yesterday from someone I care about. It wasn’t addressed to me, but it was there. I had to reread it five times to make sense of it; the way I always do when I hear something so saddening. I hate feeling like there’s nothing I can do to be helpful.

And life will be a continuing string of bad news. That’s just another link in a long shackle chain of events.

I’m afraid of having children because that will tie me here. Even though there’s nowhere else to go.

At this moment I feel like I’m living out of habit, out of fear of death, and because I don’t want to hurt people by dying. I’ve felt this way for a while. The future is something I cannot imagine. I’m not going to leave the world, though, because Mike is my world. I could never do that to him.

There are so many things I could have been and done if circumstances had been slightly altered. If my genetics had been tweaked just a bit. I’m a living example of too little, too late.

Staying alive is my sacrifice to the people I love; the ones who want to have me around. I'm tired, though. I can't see myself as an old person or even middle-aged. I can't picture the future at all.