Thursday, November 03, 2016

Anti-Climatic History

Last week I voted. For the first time in my country's history, there is a woman running for president. And I voted for her.

I thought I would feel so proud. I thought I'd feel like a part of a greater sisterhood. I thought I'd feel like I'd really Done Something. Something Important. I've seen the posts from other women, I've used the same hashtags. Yesterday I saw a video of a woman crying because she was, finally, able to vote for a woman for president. I read the article about the 102-year-old woman who voted for her. We, as women, are participating in history in a way we never have before. I thought I would feel the way these women did. But I didn't.

It has taken me several months to embrace Hillary. I saw all the articles on all of her misdeeds. All of the questions about her integrity. I was disappointed that our first female presidential candidate was so bogged down in controversy. I wanted her to be someone we could be Proud of.

And then I read dozens of pieces that delved into the controversies and the reasons for them. Word after word, sentence after sentence, discredited what I had read previously. Article after article pointed out the fact that, because she is a woman, Hillary is facing far more scrutiny than a man would in the same position. From women and men alike. Just think, if Laura Bush had been nominated, how many lies would have been told about her fatal car accident? If it were one of her daughters, every drink she'd ever had would be measured. We already know the hateful things that have been said about Michelle Obama. The woman can't wear a sleeveless dress without negative comments.

When the conventions started, I watched those of both candidates. I watched what people said about them, I listened the their nomination acceptance speeches. I've watched the debates and kept myself as informed as possible without sending myself into a deep depression. I've ignored, for the most part, strictly liberal news sources, trying to find the real truth in between all of the words, words, words.

What I found, beyond that fact that women are put under a microscope on a daily basis, is that Hillary is someone I can be proud of voting for. Is she a little too polished because she's a politician? Sure. We're not going to get around that. But she's been put through the wringer and she's come out with her head held high. She's composed, she's unflappable. She doesn't give up. And, after all this time, she's become relatable. She goes to work when she's sick. She's a mother. She's been wronged by her man and yet she weathered that with as much grace as she could. The woman must be utterly exhausted and yet she keeps going because she believes in us. In us as women, in us as members of this country, and in us as just people.

I don't know, you guys. I guess this election has just taken it out of me. I'm tired of fighting for people to see what sexism is. I'm tired of women getting ahead only to be torn down. I'm tired of rapists going free. I'm tired of men being excused for bad behavior and "locker room talk" because "boys will be boys." I'm so deeply afraid that we have made it this far and that the rug will be swept out from under our feet at the last second. Maybe I've seen so much hatred in this country in the last few months that I don't really believe we'll be allowed to progress further.

I wish I felt differently, I really do.

We have less than a week now to find out what kind of country we are. What kind of people, what kind of women. I hope with every fiber of my being that it's something we can be proud of. I hope I can look my sisters in the eye and say, "We did it. Finally."

Friday, October 21, 2016

Necessary Choices

I wasn't going to say anything. There are other stories that are heartbreaking and realer than real. I don't feel like I have anything significant to add to the conversation. But other people are talking. And they're talking without having the proper information. Words like "murder" and "selfish" are being thrown around so I'm going to share my story. Take from it what you will.

I was 25 when I got pregnant. I was married. My pregnancy was planned and very much wanted. I was so excited and so elated that I broke the three-month rule. I told my friends, my mom, I called my grandparents. When I gloated to my doctor that I got pregnant the first month after I was off the pill, she gave me a blank look. I assumed she wasn't as impressed with my fertility as I was.

The first few weeks were uneventful. I had a checkup or two, the regular kind where my blood pressure was checked. I noticed other pregnant women and felt a kinship with them. I noticed tiny babies and started to dream about what mine would look like.

At 12 weeks we expected to hear the heartbeat. I went in on a Friday. There was no heartbeat. I was reassured that often the baby is positioned in such a way that the heartbeat can't be heard, but I saw the concern in my nurse's eyes. My doctor scheduled an ultrasound for the following Monday.

I spent that weekend praying and hoping and convincing myself that everything was okay. I ate a whole pizza. I slept a lot. I went to church and begged through the entire service that my baby be okay. That it be allowed to live.

During the ultrasound, the technician frowned. She rolled the wand across my belly and stared silently at the screen. She left to get the radiologist, a man I didn't know. He pressed the wand into my stomach, looked at the screen, stood up, and backed up to the door. "I can tell you now or I can let your doctor tell you," he said. Tell me what?? I looked at my then-husband for help. I knew it was bad and I didn't want this stranger to tell me, but I had to know.

The baby was dead. It had died at around nine weeks but wasn't expelled. It died and I didn't know. I didn't feel it. I never felt it.

I was sent to my doctor's office. They were ready for me, they took me back right away rather than having me sit in the waiting room next to pregnant women. Actively pregnant women with babies they could feel kicking. Babies that would be carried to term.

My doctor told me she was sorry. My nurse hugged me. They explained to me what would happen next. Laminaria was inserted; it's a type of seaweed product that causes contractions, which would make the next day's procedure easier. It would prep my body for what was to come. It hurt. I was also still in shock from the news and I couldn't process it all at the same time. I was sent home with extra-strength ibuprofen.

That night I laid on the couch and cried. My doctor said it wasn't my fault, but it felt like it. To the core of my being, I felt like I had failed. And not just me, not just my baby, but everyone around me.

The next day, the dilation and curettage, D & C for short, was performed by my doctor in the ER at our local hospital. It's one of the same procedures used during an early-term abortion. My mom and dad met me there, also heartbroken. I only know of two other times that my dad took time from work for anything I did, if that tells you how much this meant to us. Mom sat by me while I filled out insurance and consent forms. Her words, though well-meaning, cut into my heart. "You'll get pregnant again. I knew a woman when I was growing up who had five miscarriages in a row and then just as many children." I listened numbly as she cheerfully chattered on.

I cried throughout the procedure. I wasn't supposed to remember anything because of the anesthesia, but I do. I remember how kind my doctor was. How she told me she'd been through the same thing. How she put me first and only allowed my then-husband to stay in the room when he promised he wouldn't faint.

When it was over, the remains were sent to the lab and I was sent home. My parents walked with me to the car. I felt indescribably empty.

In the days and weeks after, I avoided everyone. This was in the days when the only contact I could have with the outside world in my house was the phone. I'm so glad social media didn't exist. I unplugged the phone and spent the long hours of each day in my bed, getting up and showering just before my husband got home. I talked to nobody. I slept and stared at the walls.

While my baby had no name, no sex, no recognizable form, and I never felt even a flutter, in those days I felt enormously lonely. In the weeks before I had imagined carrying this tiny person around with me. I loved that tiny, unknown person. And then it was gone. I was alone. I hated my body for betraying me. I hated the unfairness. The depth of my sorrow was lost on everyone around me because it just hadn't been tangible. At least it happened early, they said. At least.

That loss still lingers. It always will. I will forget it for months at a time and I can talk about it openly now. But there are unexpected moments - a song lyric, a scene in a movie, a line in a book - that will bring me nearly to my knees with the memory of that grief, that life that could have been.

Why tell you this? It was, after all, over 21 years ago.

I tell you because I want you to know what it was like to not have a choice. The decision was made for me and had been weeks before anything had to be done. We talk about choice like it's a good thing. And it is, but I'm grateful I didn't have a choice to make. I can't even fathom having to make a choice about a life in later stages of pregnancy. Having to make the choice between my life and my child's.

There are women who are asked to make that choice. They are kind, loving women who want to be and who are mothers. Who would do everything in their power to ensure the safety and health of their infant. There are fathers who are asked to participate in this choice. There are doctors who must knowingly end a life that is wanted. Nurses who assist and hold hands and treat everyone with all of the kindness they have.

I wish that these choices didn't have to be made. I wish that with all of my heart. But that doesn't change the fact that they do. I can't imagine being any of those people in that situation. I never want my own daughter to go through that kind of heartbreak.

But what I want even less is for anyone in any of these scenarios to be shamed by their choices. I don't want that choice to be taken away from anyone. These choices aren't made lightly. It's not folly, it's not freedom from an undesirable situation. The choice to end a wanted pregnancy where something goes horribly wrong is heart-wrenching. Let's not add to that pain. Let's not judge women who have to make decisions that we are so fortunate to not have to make.

Let's not take that choice away, hard as it is. Sometimes the alternative is so much worse and it's not for me to decide which side that weight falls on. It's not for our neighbors to decide and it's not for our government to decide.

I got sympathy because I had no choice. I wasn't anymore deserving of it than anyone with a choice. Let's honor that choice and love these women, these mothers and fathers. Let's help them through their heartbreak and their grief rather than condemning it.

And let's be so grateful every day that we aren't asked to make that choice.


Monday, October 17, 2016

The Truth Is Ugly and It Hurts

Before I lose you in what I'm about to say, I want to make one thing very clear. Donald Trump should not be president. There is no way that I can support him, anything he has said, or his past behavior, and I can't imagine doing so in the future. If he fell off the face of the earth, I would heave a "yuge" sigh of relief and move along without looking back. 

The Republican party has been blamed for creating this monster. There are the jokes about the decision they have made and how they have to carry it to term. There is some irony in this situation and there is truth in the theories. Members of this party have so staunchly defended anyone in their ranks that they have backed themselves into a corner with this one. And, while a lot of this is satisfying to members of other parties, and it's somewhat fascinating to watch a faction of the political system disintegrate before our eyes, the rest of us have to admit our own culpability. 

Yep, I'm saying it. We are all responsible for this mess. We, the collective "we." We, as an American society. We have contributed to the nastiness, the name-calling, the blaming, the inappropriate language and behavior. We sensationalized the death of a tiny pageant contestant and then we mourned when a princess was killed and thought that was the pinnacle, that we would change. We urged each other to change. To stop buying the gossip rags and watching the shows that titillated us with all things that were None of Our Business. But then we watched a "celebrity" sex tape and now we greedily await the next one. And the next. We made a celebrity out of a burping, farting family whose central star was named Honey Boo Boo. We watch eligible bachelors and bachelorettes choose among multiple suitors and judge their choices like Monday morning quarterbacks. We read gossip blogs and pick apart the choices people make while hiding behind our keyboards. We feel safe being harsh and mean to those we don't even know when using the mask of anonymity. 

We may not audibly and intentionally support Donald Trump, but we have condoned his gross behavior in a hundred other separate, seemingly innocent acts. The behaviors we have rewarded with our interest have culminated into the Pile of Yuck that is Donald Trump. 

Over the weekend I attended a book festival and got to introduce a couple of the authors during one of the sessions. Both authors had written women as the heroes of their novels and, maybe because of our current political and social climate, I asked if it is necessary that there be a Bad Man in a story in order to juxtapose the woman as the Good Heroine. Both authors, both female, said no, that the impetus for the heroines in their stories were other women and that women can be just as evil. Which brings me to another point. 

So many of us, including myself, wonder how on earth a woman can support Trump. Especially after the things we've heard him say again and again. I have wondered if their self-esteem is so low that they truly believe only a man can be president. However, like my authors said, women can be just as evil and even more so towards other women. I've heard women say out of one side of their mouths how they support their sisterhood while in the next breath they spew unwarranted and unnecessary criticism. I have, in an effort to pretend that rape couldn't happen to ME, questioned what a victim wore. As long as I didn't dress a certain way, or go to certain bars, or leave my house on a Tuesday at 9:17 p.m., the same thing couldn't happen to me. None of which really matters and only serves to distance myself from a woman who really needs help. 

As moms, we constantly vilify other moms for their choices. If she works too much, who is taking care of her children? Why is she so "cold" towards them? Won't they feel abandoned and why doesn't she understand how important her Role As a Woman is?? If she chooses to stay home with her children, she is flat and one-dimensional and should have other interests because her children won't be around forever and then she won't even know who she is. Don't her daughters deserve a better role model and how will her sons learn to respect women? 

Yes, we are all guilty. We have all had the same thoughts and said the same things as Trump. But now, when the sum total of all of this ugliness is held up to us in mirror-form, we recoil, we feel disgust, we feel shame. He says not only what he thinks, but what we have thought at one time or another. Part of why we hate him is because we hate that part of ourselves. 

So maybe this is a time for self-reflection. If we don't like what we see in the proverbial mirror, then maybe we change it. Maybe we say yes, I am guilty. Yes, I have said that and done that and wanted the wrong thing. We recognize those parts of ourselves and make a conscious decision to change. Instead of giving in to the baser parts of humanity, we take out the damaged parts and rebuild ourselves as something better. We stop feeding the beast with gossip and pre-judgments and criticism and hate. When we, all of us, or at the very minimum the majority of us, act from compassion and kindness and truth and careful thought, people like Donald Trump aren't allowed to exist. He isn't nourished by fairness and knowledge but lies and marginalization. 

I think, or rather strongly hope, that most of us are aware of just how dangerous it would be to elect Trump as our president. But I think it's just as dangerous to continue on as we have. Unless we take a real inventory of ourselves as a society and as individuals, this will just be a trial run. The next time we might not be so lucky. If we are, indeed, lucky now. 


Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Dressing My Emotions

The muggle company I work for gave us all purple shirts a couple of months ago so that we could have a Purple Shirt Day. (I'd like to interject here that mine was HUGE on me, despite being a size medium, because it was a man's size medium. All shirts given at any job have been based on both men's sizing and men's styling. Sexism at work. At its finest. I have kept none of these shirts; this latest joined its brothers in the garbage.)

Anyhoo. Yesterday, several of the men in the office wore their manly purple shirts. I asked one co-worker if I missed another Purple Shirt Day (not that I even participated in the first one) and he replied, "No. This one was just next up in the rotation."

"Excuse me? Rotation? Like your shirts have a cycle?"

He said, yes. He does his laundry, then hangs up his clothes and chooses the one at the end each morning.

Of course I was like, "What the fuck?"  How is that even possible? What if you feel fat that day? He shrugged. What if you hate that color that day? He just looked at me. What if you have to go somewhere after work?? What if you haven't worn that shirt in two years and you realize how much weight you've gained and then you throw it on the floor because you hate it and you never want to look at it again??? What if your butt looks lumpy?! What if your butt looks too flat!!? What if you realize your blacks are completely different blacks and you look stupid? What if the right underwear isn't clean? What if you wake up and you're on your period??!!? Okay, so that probably doesn't happen to him. Probably. I wonder about some men. He just calmly replied that he doesn't have those problems.

I truly, sincerely wish that I could go through shirts in a rotation. I wish it were that simple, but my mind and my body make decisions on their own, on complete opposite ends of the Spectrum of the Day and it's up to me to come up with a truce and most days I'm just not capable of making those kinds of decisions. I'm lucky if I can find clean underwear and brush my teeth. Compromises are made on a daily basis. Major sacrifices pretty much weekly.

So, guys, count your lucky fucking stars and, girls - you know what?  I got nothing on this one.

Friday, August 12, 2016

This Space Is Mine

There is a thing that men do, probably without even thinking about it, and that women experience on varying levels from annoyance to terror. They touch us. They touch us a lot. Strangers. It's putting an arm around us, or "accidentally" grazing a breast or ass cheek. It's leaning in within an inch of our faces, it's aggressive eye contact.

For the love of fuck, guys, you have got to stop this. Tell your friends to stop. After the last few weeks, I am going to refuse to be polite. I insist on being viewed as a person with feelings and boundaries. I demand respect. My response to unwanted physical touch is going to be very clear from now on.

For the last week, I've been victimized by my Depression. It showed up, unannounced, like it always does. Finally, I felt like trying to shake it off. I went to a favorite bar where my burlesque mentors were going to perform. J and I got stools at the corner closest to the stage; it wasn't overly crowded like it is on the weekends, it felt comfortable enough. There was a group of men and women next to us, but J and I tried to keep to ourselves, both of us feeling fragile from our depression at the same time.

One of the men decided to start a conversation with us. And not by saying, "Excuse me, ladies..." No. When my head was turned away from him, he put his whole arm around me, his hand landing at my waist. I am a person with space issues. I am a person who doesn't always like to feel feelings, let alone the body warmth of another person. I certainly do not appreciate being embraced so personally by a stranger. It's rude. It's creepy. It was alarming.

There is something that I do when fighting for air during a depressive episode. If I'm in public and I have to engage with someone, I act cheerful. Because if I'm not forcing overt cheerfulness, I risk falling into a crumbling heap on the floor. I also risk letting out any internal rage I direct at my Depression onto a person and that never ends well.

So, even though I was appalled at this man's assumption that he could touch me in a place and in a way that I consider intimate, even though I wished I could shape-shift myself into a giant boa so I could simultaneously squeeze the life out him while ripping his arm off, I smiled. I answered his questions. I told him where I'm from, how long I've been here, what I was drinking. I allowed him to lean over me and talk to J. I allowed him into my space. I allowed him to continue living under the illusion that women are objects, toys, that we don't deserve the freedom from being man-handled any time we walk into a bar.

I censored myself that night. A few weeks before that, J censored me. It's what we do to each other. We remind each other not to Make A Scene. Just be quiet and it will end on its own. We were at a different bar, one we had been to recently and returned for karaoke. Because it's Nashville. It's what you do. I wasn't depressed, but I was grumpy.

The second we walked in, the dude at the end of the bar asked what we were drinking and said he'd buy our drinks. He was very drunk. I thought he was on his way out the door, so I let him. But no. No, he stayed. He stayed long enough to put his hand on my lower back and lean in. When I turned to J, like, "What the fucking fuck is he doing!??!", she told me to ignore it. See how we are conditioned to this shit? A disturbingly drunk man gropes a friend and we calm the other one down so as not to create further drama.

He tempted me with a very enticing offer. Going back to his place to drink a beer. I declined. "What? Why? I am re-fucking-diculously good-looking and I have a cute penis." I agreed that that was a VERY tempting and gracious offer, but no. "But why?? I have a couch!! Don't you want to go to my place? Why not?" No answer I gave him was satisfactory. None. Because, as a man, who was just allowed to touch me, who paid for my drink, he could not fathom that I, as an object he had just partially paid for, would refuse him. That doesn't happen in his world.

After a while, when he got quiet, I thought he might just pass out on the bar. He shuffled away, to my great relief. Short-lived relief. Because I actually heard him ask J if she wanted to go to his place to "make love." I looked right at him and said, "Are you kidding me right now? You're hitting on my friend after I just turned you down?" To keep from hurting my feelings, I can only assume, he said I could come too. We could go to his work. There's a couch there.

J tried a different tactic. "I like girls." That was okay though, because it seems his penis is so cute it would turn her to the side with the Y chromosome. Surely. His cute penis is potent enough to change the mind of someone who, presumably, had been incorrectly sexually oriented for decades.

Now, during all of this extremely attractive and romantic behavior, Drunk Dude's friend stood behind us, between us. He leaned up against our  hips, our thighs. When we called this contact to his attention, he backed up for a second and then came back even closer. We tried to distract him by encouraging him to do a karaoke song. We assured him that he would be great at it.

God, it was exhausting.

Before you suggest that we, we women, we of the fairer, weaker sex, assert ourselves like a man would, know that we have tried. We have tried so many strategies. We shrink so as not to be noticed. We are polite. We claim to have a "boyfriend." One who will "be right back." We try to ignore. We invite ourselves to blend into a group of women we don't know for protection. We know that anything more direct or assertive than this will only create anger, produce aggression, be met with hostility by the offender.

Drunk Dude is the perfect example. When he finally accepted that there was nothing he could say or do to convince one of us to go home with him, he yelled to this friend, "Fuck them, they're fucking bull dykes!!" and slammed out the door. We were rid of him, but the cost was an angry outburst and the small, insistent fear that he would be outside waiting when we left.

So, gentlemen. I'm about to piss a lot of you off. I'm not going to apologize either. I'll be a bitch or a cunt or a whore, or whatever you need me to be to fit into your limited world view, your standard, your norm. But I will not be unwillingly groped. I will not be embraced without permission. If you don't know my name, you don't know me well enough to put your hands on me. My first "no" is my final answer. I don't owe you an explanation or a reason. You're just being friendly? That's fine, I'm just standing up for myself. I am refusing to perpetuate the idea that Neanderthal behavior is desirable. I don't secretly want what you're offering in your drunken stupor. I don't buy into your cocky attitude. I don't have to believe you're a good guy or see you as you see yourself. I have my own idea, my own opinions, and my own agenda that 99.9% of the time has nothing to do with you.

This body? It's mine. It's 100% mine and you have no god-given right to it. I'm taking up my space and you're only allowed in when I invite you.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Starting a Conversation

The events of the last week....
The deaths of the last week....
Where to start?

I currently have too many thoughts in my head and trying to organize them all in a way that makes sense to even just me seems nearly impossible. There are emotions. On all sides. But why are there sides?

I think I learned about racism in sixth grade. David, a black boy, liked to snap the straps of my bra, which infuriated me to no end. And yet I didn't tell on him (which says more about sexism than I was aware of and is a completely different topic). I glared at him and he laughed. Our teacher, Mr. Black (a white Mormon), pulled me aside one day. He said that David reported that I told him to "keep his black hands off me." I was horrified. I cried. I didn't understand completely what it meant, but I understood it was terrible. I understood that I shouldn't feel that black was different or that being black was wrong. I was devastated that someone would blame me for thinking that way.

When I think about it more, there were other things that happened that pointed out to me that being black was different. My parents never said that black people were less. Not in those words, but in others. Our white, elderly neighbors were robbed late one night when they arrived home. The robbers were two black men. That's all I know. I only know this because that was how it was reported to my parents who related it that way to me. We moved because "too many black people were coming into the neighborhood." (Also - we had the luxury and the privilege to move away.)

I always knew that having a black boyfriend would irritate my parents. I wanted one, I never got one. I wasn't really that brave.

My parents moved to a small town in Oregon when my brother was a baby. We were having lunch in a restaurant near a window. Outside, in the parking lot, were a couple of young black men. My two-year-old brother looked at them and exclaimed, "Those men are dirty!!" He had never seen a black person before. I tried over and over to tell him that was the color of their skin. He shook his head. "No. No, they're dirty." I looked at my mom and told her she should not have left Southern California because now she was raising a racist toddler. She laughed.

Why am I telling you these things? It's not to tell you that my parents are bad people. They're not. It's to tell you that, as white people, we have some pretty fucked up ideas about people whose skin is a different color. And it's not as easy to label someone as being "bad" for thinking what they do because the messages feel so subtle sometimes. I wasn't told that my family didn't like blacks or that they were inferior. I wasn't taught to hate them. The message was simply that they were undesirable to live next door to.

All of this is to say that I understand the complexities of racism. I understand how it's sometimes hard to acknowledge when one is behaving in a racist manner. That it seems preposterous to call some behaviors racist. I know there is a learning curve. I also know that denial perpetuates the violence. I know that we can't continue the way we have. I know that there is injustice in the world. Grave injustice. I know that large sections of the population in my country are hurting. They are suffering, they are losing people they love, and they are dying. They are dying because they're black. They're angry because they're dying. I know this has to change. I know we have to do better.

Social media is the most useful tool when used responsibly and the greatest divider when it's not. It becomes a platform for people to spread hatred and to show the worst of humanity. The ugliest parts of themselves that we wish didn't exist.

There are a couple of things I've read in the last couple of days that gave me what Oprah always called "an aha! moment." These articles helped to put things in perspective for me in a way that I could relate to. As a woman, they made so much sense and I'm hoping that sharing them with you will help my white sisters understand and start a dialogue that helps us to move forward in helping our black sisters and brothers.

The first was an article about a BLM group meeting in the Nashville library. When it was discovered that the group was only open to persons of color, they were told they couldn't use the library as a meeting place anymore. The question was raised that white people might like to help and isn't it discriminatory in a reverse sort of way? But then the author gave the perfect analogy. Suppose a group of rape survivors decided to meet for support. A man approaches and says he wants to help them through their trauma. He is not a rapist, he has never hurt any of these survivors. But he's a man. He represents the gender that violated them. He won't understand, his help isn't welcome.

A second article compared racism to rape. We hear (and say) the same things about both.

"If she wasn't drunk..... If she hadn't worn that..... If she didn't flirt with the other guy....."
"If he kept his hands on the wheel.... If he just kept quiet and didn't ask questions..... If he weren't wearing a hoodie....."

Do you see the similarities? A woman doesn't ask to be raped. We don't ask to be catcalled. We don't ask to be objectified or marginalized or touched inappropriately or ignored or shamed or blamed for the thoughts a man has that we aren't aware of or in control of. People of color don't ask to be shot or suspected of crimes or profiled or accused. When we are just going about our business we don't ask to be victims. If we take ourselves outside of our own perceptions for a second, then maybe we can see that we have similarities.

Another problem I see on social media, and one that I have been confronted with, is that if I care about one cause, I must not care about another. Enough has been said about Black Lives versus All Lives, but this is related. There are several causes I care about and am passionate about. I can care about more than one at one time. I have enough emotion and enough space in my life to do so. Some become more pressing at times than others. If a woman is raped today and she is being vilified in the media while her rapist is being protected, then that is where I turn my attention. If I see an abused dog brought into a shelter who is in critical condition and needs immediate funds for medical care, then that is what I focus on for awareness. If there is an Amber Alert for a missing or kidnapped child, then that takes precedence in that moment and for that day. It isn't all or nothing for one cause and all the rest be damned.

Last week, while talking about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the greater problem of racism, I was called a cop-hater. Because I care that two men died unjustifiably does not equate to hatred of all police. I can and do understand the enormous sacrifice that officers make on a daily basis. I can feel for their families and know that they also make sacrifices in loving someone who might not come home that night. I can have the utmost respect for men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect me while also calling out that mistakes were made because other lives were ended. There aren't sides. There are people with beliefs and prejudices making decisions that they might not be prepared for, and that result in the loss of lives. That this happens over and over means that something needs to change.

I went to the BLM vigil/protest in Nashville on Friday night. There were two black officers within visual sight of the gathering. One male, one female. Those attending the assembly weren't confronted with a large show of police, they were allowed to congregate without interference. And yet, before the event started, I watched two young black men walk by, silently flipping off the two officers. My immediate reaction was, "Why? They're here to ensure that you get your say, that you get to honor your loss. They're also black, like you. Why so hateful?" The next day I had to separate my own reasoning from their emotion. Maybe it was the uniform itself. And they weren't confrontational, they were expressing their frustration. It was a safe place to do so and they did it peacefully.

If we can stop the automatic voices in our heads for a few moments and try to understand, then we start to be part of the solution. Stop saying, "But I have black friends.... But I have never said that... But I have never done that.... But that's not me....." Because it is. We have all done or said something that contributes to the problem, that separates us from the solution. And even if you have never used the "N word" or refused to hire someone because of their skin color, there is a person of color who has had that experience. Saying that you don't do it doesn't mean that it doesn't happen to them.

And if I take this further, just because something hasn't happened to you doesn't mean that it won't or that it can't. I've never been raped, but it's a possibility. I've never been mugged, but it's a possibility. I've never lost a parent, but that is something that looms in my future. Just because something hasn't happened to you doesn't mean that it won't. And it doesn't mean that it hasn't happened to someone else. It may have happened to someone you know and care about, but they don't talk about it because, most likely, it happens so often it's hardly worth mentioning anymore.

I've come to understand some things in the last few days that I didn't even as recently as the last year. I was in Southern California during the Rodney King riots. Granted, I was safely ensconced in my college environment in Orange County. I watched the horrors from a distance on my TV. There was no social media then so I was allowed to form my own opinions without interference from other, biased comments. What I believed was that it was terribly wrong. What I saw was anger and frustration and fear from a community I wasn't part of. And, naively, I thought that things would change. I thought that this country saw injustice, paid the price, and would move forward.

I was so wrong, because here we are. I can't say if it's worse because we see more of it or if it's less but the worst is being broadcast more easily through modern technology. All I know is that it shouldn't continue, not in any amount. Twenty four years later and we're still having the same conversation. 24. Two decades. 

What I know is that my own internal voices need to change. They way I communicate to those around me needs to change. I can no longer sit by and say, "Oh, how sad. It's terrible but what can I do?" I have a voice. I can use it. It's just one voice and it won't reach everyone, but if everyone like me spoke up too? If we all silenced our own experiences for a minute. If we listened. If we acknowledged that we have more similar experiences than we think while also understanding that what certain groups experience is also profoundly different. If we stop denying that. If we accept and admit that we have been part of the problem. And if we decide we no longer want to be part of the problem. If we educate ourselves, if we look at history, if we open our minds and our hearts.

Oh, what would we do if we realized we could do it? What if we used our White Privilege to reach out? I feel like being white provides yet another advantage. Will you listen to me before you listen to "another angry black person?" Can you understand it coming from me? Does it make more sense? Can you have a conversation with me that you couldn't have with someone else?

Because I'm willing. Are you?

Starting a Conversation

The events of the last week....
The deaths of the last week....
Where to start?

I currently have too many thoughts in my head and trying to organize them all in a way that makes sense to even just me seems nearly impossible. There are emotions. On all sides. But why are there sides?

I think I learned about racism in sixth grade. David, a black boy, liked to snap the straps of my bra, which infuriated me to no end. And yet I didn't tell on him (which says more about sexism than I was aware of and is a completely different topic). I glared at him and he laughed. Our teacher, Mr. Black (a white Mormon), pulled me aside one day. He said that David reported that I told him to "keep his black hands off me." I was horrified. I cried. I didn't understand completely what it meant, but I understood it was terrible. I understood that I shouldn't feel that black was different or that being black was wrong. I was devastated that someone would blame me for thinking that way.

When I think about it more, there were other things that happened that pointed out to me that being black was different. My parents never said that black people were less. Not in those words, but in others. Our white, elderly neighbors were robbed late one night when they arrived home. The robbers were two black men. That's all I know. I only know this because that was how it was reported to my parents who related it that way to me. We moved because "too many black people were coming into the neighborhood." (Also - we had the luxury and the privilege to move away.)

I always knew that having a black boyfriend would irritate my parents. I wanted one, I never got one. I wasn't really that brave.

My parents moved to a small town in Oregon when my brother was a baby. We were having lunch in a restaurant near a window. Outside, in the parking lot, were a couple of young black men. My two-year-old brother looked at them and exclaimed, "Those men are dirty!!" He had never seen a black person before. I tried over and over to tell him that was the color of their skin. He shook his head. "No. No, they're dirty." I looked at my mom and told her she should not have left Southern California because now she was raising a racist toddler. She laughed.

Why am I telling you these things? It's not to tell you that my parents are bad people. They're not. It's to tell you that, as white people, we have some pretty fucked up ideas about people whose skin is a different color. And it's not as easy to label someone as being "bad" for thinking what they do because the messages feel so subtle sometimes. I wasn't told that my family didn't like blacks or that they were inferior. I wasn't taught to hate them. The message was simply that they were undesirable to live next door to.

All of this is to say that I understand the complexities of racism. I understand how it's sometimes hard to acknowledge when one is behaving in a racist manner. That it seems preposterous to call some behaviors racist. I know there is a learning curve. I also know that denial perpetuates the violence. I know that we can't continue the way we have. I know that there is injustice in the world. Grave injustice. I know that large sections of the population in my country are hurting. They are suffering, they are losing people they love, and they are dying. They are dying because they're black. They're angry because they're dying. I know this has to change. I know we have to do better.

Social media is the most useful tool when used responsibly and the greatest divider when it's not. It becomes a platform for people to spread hatred and to show the worst of humanity. The ugliest parts of themselves that we wish didn't exist.

There are a couple of things I've read in the last couple of days that gave me what Oprah always called "an aha! moment." These articles helped to put things in perspective for me in a way that I could relate to. As a woman, they made so much sense and I'm hoping that sharing them with you will help my white sisters understand and start a dialogue that helps us to move forward in helping our black sisters and brothers.

The first was an article about a BLM group meeting in the Nashville library. When it was discovered that the group was only open to persons of color, they were told they couldn't use the library as a meeting place anymore. The question was raised that white people might like to help and isn't it discriminatory in a reverse sort of way? But then the author gave the perfect analogy. Suppose a group of rape survivors decided to meet for support. A man approaches and says he wants to help them through their trauma. He is not a rapist, he has never hurt any of these survivors. But he's a man. He represents the gender that violated them. He won't understand, his help isn't welcome.

A second article compared racism to rape. We hear (and say) the same things about both.

"If she wasn't drunk..... If she hadn't worn that..... If she didn't flirt with the other guy....."
"If he kept his hands on the wheel.... If he just kept quiet and didn't ask questions..... If he weren't wearing a hoodie....."

Do you see the similarities? A woman doesn't ask to be raped. We don't ask to be catcalled. We don't ask to be objectified or marginalized or touched inappropriately or ignored or shamed or blamed for the thoughts a man has that we aren't aware of or in control of. People of color don't ask to be shot or suspected of crimes or profiled or accused. When we are just going about our business we don't ask to be victims. If we take ourselves outside of our own perceptions for a second, then maybe we can see that we have similarities.

Another problem I see on social media, and one that I have been confronted with, is that if I care about one cause, I must not care about another. Enough has been said about Black Lives versus All Lives, but this is related. There are several causes I care about and am passionate about. I can care about more than one at one time. I have enough emotion and enough space in my life to do so. Some become more pressing at times than others. If a woman is raped today and she is being vilified in the media while her rapist is being protected, then that is where I turn my attention. If I see an abused dog brought into a shelter who is in critical condition and needs immediate funds for medical care, then that is what I focus on for awareness. If there is an Amber Alert for a missing or kidnapped child, then that takes precedence in that moment and for that day. It isn't all or nothing for one cause and all the rest be damned.

Last week, while talking about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the greater problem of racism, I was called a cop-hater. Because I care that two men died unjustifiably does not equate to hatred of all police. I can and do understand the enormous sacrifice that officers make on a daily basis. I can feel for their families and know that they also make sacrifices in loving someone who might not come home that night. I can have the utmost respect for men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect me while also calling out that mistakes were made because other lives were ended. There aren't sides. There are people with beliefs and prejudices making decisions that they might not be prepared for, and that result in the loss of lives. That this happens over and over means that something needs to change.

I went to the BLM vigil/protest in Nashville on Friday night. There were two black officers within visual sight of the gathering. One male, one female. Those attending the assembly weren't confronted with a large show of police, they were allowed to congregate without interference. And yet, before the event started, I watched two young black men walk by, silently flipping off the two officers. My immediate reaction was, "Why? They're here to ensure that you get your say, that you get to honor your loss. They're also black, like you. Why so hateful?" The next day I had to separate my own reasoning from their emotion. Maybe it was the uniform itself. And they weren't confrontational, they were expressing their frustration. It was a safe place to do so and they did it peacefully.

If we can stop the automatic voices in our heads for a few moments and try to understand, then we start to be part of the solution. Stop saying, "But I have black friends.... But I have never said that... But I have never done that.... But that's not me....." Because it is. We have all done or said something that contributes to the problem, that separates us from the solution. And even if you have never used the "N word" or refused to hire someone because of their skin color, there is a person of color who has had that experience. Saying that you don't do it doesn't mean that it doesn't happen to them.

And if I take this further, just because something hasn't happened to you doesn't mean that it won't or that it can't. I've never been raped, but it's a possibility. I've never been mugged, but it's a possibility. I've never lost a parent, but that is something that looms in my future. Just because something hasn't happened to you doesn't mean that it won't. And it doesn't mean that it hasn't happened to someone else. It may have happened to someone you know and care about, but they don't talk about it because, most likely, it happens so often it's hardly worth mentioning anymore.

I've come to understand some things in the last few days that I didn't even as recently as the last year. I was in Southern California during the Rodney King riots. Granted, I was safely ensconced in my college environment in Orange County. I watched the horrors from a distance on my TV. There was no social media then so I was allowed to form my own opinions without interference from other, biased comments. What I believed was that it was terribly wrong. What I saw was anger and frustration and fear from a community I wasn't part of. And, naively, I thought that things would change. I thought that this country saw injustice, paid the price, and would move forward.

I was so wrong, because here we are. I can't say if it's worse because we see more of it or if it's less but the worst is being broadcast more easily through modern technology. All I know is that it shouldn't continue, not in any amount. Twenty four years later and we're still having the same conversation. 24. Two decades. 

What I know is that my own internal voices need to change. They way I communicate to those around me needs to change. I can no longer sit by and say, "Oh, how sad. It's terrible but what can I do?" I have a voice. I can use it. It's just one voice and it won't reach everyone, but if everyone like me spoke up too? If we all silenced our own experiences for a minute. If we listened. If we acknowledged that we have more similar experiences than we think while also understanding that what certain groups experience is also profoundly different. If we stop denying that. If we accept and admit that we have been part of the problem. And if we decide we no longer want to be part of the problem. If we educate ourselves, if we look at history, if we open our minds and our hearts.

Oh, what would we do if we realized we could do it? What if we used our White Privilege to reach out? I feel like being white provides yet another advantage. Will you listen to me before you listen to "another angry black person?" Can you understand it coming from me? Does it make more sense? Can you have a conversation with me that you couldn't have with someone else?

Because I'm willing. Are you?

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Big Reveal

My daughter was born a girly girl. Her first word after the parental syllables was "shoe." She was boy crazy at four, passing toys to the neighbor boy between the chain link fence next to our townhouse. By the time she was eight, she'd had more boyfriends than I had in my life. She did ballet for ten years. She giggled in the back seat with her friends about high school dances and holding hands with boys on the ferris wheel. Her favorite color was pink. Or purple. She adored makeup.

She was the stereotypical girl.

She also loves to play the guessing game when she's afraid to tell me something. Which she did ten days ago. It goes something like this:

D: I have to tell you something.
Me: Okay....
D: Only I don't want to.
Me: Okaaay.... (immediately irritated)
D: Well, I want to tell you, but I don't.
Me: .......... (rolling my eyes and heavy-sighing)
D: It's just... I wish you just knew already.
Me: How can I know if you don't tell me?
D: ......
Me: Fine. You had sex.
D: No.
Me: You got drunk.
D: No.
Me: You got in another accident.
No.
You quit your job.
No.
You're friends with that horrible girl again.
No.
You're pregnant. (Because after exhausting the obvious and the stupid, I start throwing out the crazy.)
No.
You're gay. (AmI right? This girly girl? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.......)

She looks at the refrigerator. The girl has zero poker face.
But you're kidding, right?
No.
You can't be serious.
Yes, Mom.

............

I'd had a cocktail at this point and quickly gulped down the equivalent of another shot. Remember the stereotypical girl? Which I asked her. Or, rather, told her. "You were always boy crazy." Yes, she thought she was, but then she wasn't. But what about her boyfriends? What about drooling over Josh Hutcherson and Ian Somerhalder? What about, what about, what about?

I took a quick break in the bathroom where I furiously texted my best friend. "Don't judge, I said." Her response? "Oh God, what did you do???" When I told her what it really was she said, "We have always supported the gay community. Now it's just time to prove it." Okay......

Yes, I was in shock. It was the last thing I imagined from D. I knew her. I gave birth to her. I held her and cradled her and met all of her needs as an infant. It wasn't that I was against it. I wasn't and I'm not. I had even commented to friends in front of her that I would accept having a gay child but I would mourn my dream of what I thought they would be. That was what she remembered. That is what stuck in her heart and why she was so afraid to tell me.

So I finished my drink and I tried to let her talk. I tried to ask the accepting questions, all the while my brain was reeling from the news. I told her over and over that I'm not disappointed. Not like she thought I would be. It's not necessarily disappointment, but an adjustment. I have to shift my thinking.

When she was a senior in high school, she was temporarily but extremely suicidal. I reminded her that I would take her and keep her any way I could get her but I never want to lose her. I told her she could see how it felt without choosing labels yet. She told me she was confused. Ah, confusion. It's not real. Just a phase.

Now, if anyone thinks at any point thus far that I said the wrong thing or reacted the wrong way, you're entitled to that opinion. But if you're just not prepared for something, you can't predict your reaction. This outcome had just never occurred to me. Not in a million years.

The next day was a struggle between reassuring her that I do love and accept her, which I completely do, and balancing my own confused feelings. I asked if she was sure because she had been confused the night before. No, she was talking about being confused when it all started for her. Oh. Well, damn.

My second concern was for her safety. My whole life has been about protecting her. It's my job. I'm not so afraid that she will be physically harmed, but the thought of someone slamming her with vulgarity while she walks hand-in-hand with a girlfriend makes me want to rip an imaginary asshole. It's hard to embrace something that I think will hurt her.

It's been a process. I'm still processing it. A few days after she came out, I asked if she was sure this isn't just a phase. I got the hateful teenage reply that basically identified me as in insensitive dinosaur.

The next day I asked how long she'd known. Since freshman year of high school, which equals five years. I had known for five days. She agreed this wasn't fair and allowed me to ask any and all questions I had, which I prefaced by saying that I'll always love her and I will get to the point where I openly accept and embrace this "new" identity but that it will take time. I asked questions I didn't really want answers to. We supported each other throughout the conversation.

My emotions have been all over the map and probably around the globe a dozen times. I'm scared for her. I felt deceived by her and lied to. I have to clarify that these are not rational emotions, but we can't control feelings. I can't. I felt that if I had been a better mom I would have known. How the fuck did I miss THIS one??

There have been other thoughts too. I was never hung up on having a son-in-law. Weddings with two brides are often beautiful. I halfway adopted a handful of her friends growing up anyway, I'm used to it. Plus she's promised me I will have grandbabies. That's all I really care about, I'm just asking for a couple extra now.

Over the last year, I have been worried about her capacity to love. We moved to Nashville and she went through half a dozen boys in a matter of months. She seemed to get bored or to lose interest really quickly. Of course I blamed myself for divorcing her father and for dragging her through the subsequent Bad Relationship. All of this must have affected her ability to be intimate, to love someone. Now it's somewhat of a relief that might not be the case. I want her to love deeply and be loved to the core of her being. I'm not going to be able to choose that person anyway, so why should I choose their gender?

She had the brilliant millennial idea of coming out on Facebook. I didn't expect that today she'd be ready. Always keeping me on my toes, that one. The shooting in Orlando over the weekend was her motivation. She's scared now. She should be. I'm scared for her. And yesterday we went to the vigil downtown because I wanted her to be with people like her and to see that there is love in the fear. I want her to know that she's supported, that even if I can't be there always to protect her, I will do everything in my power to ensure that she feels loved and supported. She said she wanted to be brave. The truth is, this wasn't just an act of bravery. Brave is what she is. She's been brave with her depression, she's been brave with making her own choices about her future and she's brave now to come out when it would be safer to hide.

Her responses so far have been overwhelmingly supportive. I suspect there are some who aren't and they're just staying quiet and that's okay. Their silence still speaks and she knows it. I wonder how my own friends and family will react. I wasn't going to say anything until she was ready, but now that she's just jumped into the deep end, I'm jumping with her.

I'm still scared. All the more so now. I've avoided much of the news from Orlando because it hits too close to home this time. My best friend says it always should have been personal, and she's right. I just lived in a smug little straight-privileged bubble when I thought my child wouldn't be targeted. I'm flying the PFLAG now. I have to be as brave as she is.

I was never in love with anyone the way I was when this precious child came into my life. Never since and I never will be again. The thought of someone taking that from me, or from any other parent, chills me to the bone. Nobody has the right to take love from us. I am scared, but I will not live in fear. I will love her and I will love people like her and I will stand with them and next to them.

I'm proud of her. I'm proud of Nashville, our city. Last night's vigil gave me hope. Hope that I won't have to be afraid forever. Hope that love will prevail. Hope that she will love and be loved.

That's all any of us can hope for, really.




Like a Giant Push-Up

Last week I was veering dangerously close to a depressive episode. I felt it coming, heard the rumbling in the distance. The days leading up to Friday were fraught with events and activities that were draining any emotional energy I was trying to hold onto. I was running on empty. The temptation to hide under my covers until the storm passed was great. This happens to me on occasion. Sometimes I know why, sometimes I don't. This time I knew exactly why and I feared exposing myself to further energy drain and risking a deeper depression.

All of this is to say that Nashville surprised me. Nashville fits me more the longer I'm here.

Friday was a long-awaited burlesque show, which included dinner beforehand with new friends. Having to be "on" around new people is risky when I'm on the edge like I was. I know I was a little bit manic in my animation to make up for what was lurking under the surface of my skin, but it was manageable. (Manageable mania - oxymoron?) The show itself was wonderful and inspiring and full of acceptance and love, the way that burlesque is intended. There were hugs and laughter and beautiful costumes and quirky routines. It was just what the doctor ordered. If the doctor prescribed boobs and pasties.

Saturday the bestie and I went to see Stephen King speak. I wasn't sure how it would play out, I knew it wasn't a typical book signing with so many people there. SO many people. So MANY. People! The line wrapped around the building. Around the alley, behind the bars on Broadway. During CMA Fest. Cigarettes and drunk people and sewage liquid on the road. In the heat. The hot, hot southern heat. The Ryman was hot. Crowded. Sold out. Over-stimulating. Between the crowds, the confusion, and the odors, I was nearing a meltdown.

Ann Patchett walked out onto the stage. I feel a bit smug knowing that I can go into her business space any time I want at Parnassus Books. It's like my little nerd privilege. So I perked up. She introduced Donna Tartt to introduce Mr. King. Her small speech reminded me that it's okay to be different. It was beautiful and heartfelt and touching, without any pandering sweetness.

When Stephen King walked onto that stage, he was greeted with a standing ovation. There was an immediate sense that we all, in that audience, shared a common ideation in our love of writing, of books, and of a certain author, if not authors in general.

I want so badly to remember every word he spoke. He didn't only talk about writing, or his creative efforts, but he also gave us glimpses into who he is as a person. Someone who is not only a brilliant and prolific writer, but a humble family man with a wicked sense of humor. He curses in the exact appropriate places and he's just academically intimidating enough without being a boorish snob.

The whole experience of being in his presence, of sharing fellowship with others who chose to forego music festivals and street revelry to talk about a shared love of books, left me with a full heart and renewed soul, knowing it will never be duplicated because momentous events like that are rare and precious.

I woke up Sunday to the news of the tragic shooting in Orlando. Tragic shooting. Act of terrorism. Loss of lives. Devastation. How do I put what happened into words that make sense when the act itself doesn't? How to define the emotions. The anger, the fear, the complete what-the-fuck and why-is-this-happening-again. The overwhelming sadness and desperation to control something that can't even be predicted because who thinks of doing things that are so terrible when you're just going about your life and you're celebrating that life in a way that doesn't hurt another person and yet you and the people you care about are targets of something that can only be described as hate. Random hate because how can you even hate faces you've never met?

I don't understand it and I will never understand it and I'm tired of trying to understand it because there is no reason, no justification. Because it wasn't 50 people. It was 50 plus those who loved them currently plus those who knew and loved them last year plus those they were meant to affect and love and be loved plus the impacts they had that they don't know and we don't know and will now never know. 50 plus 150 times 18 plus infinity. It is indirectly countless people around the world. How does one person cause so much hurt?

Our mayor in Nashville, Megan Barry, posted on Facebook. She and other members of our local government and our police department organized a vigil for the victims. I knew I had to go. Whatever it meant on whatever scale, I needed to be among that support. I needed to contribute with my paltry presence. By that point I wasn't able to connect at an individual level with anyone there and had a hard time feeling like I belonged, but my body needed to be there.

Despite the disconnect, I was proud of the people who were there. The mayor. The police. The members of the city council. Those holding flags and posters. Those who changed what plans they had to show up and be present and to be heard. I know I planned on watching Game of Thrones last night and resting up for the week, not spending yet more emotional energy on things I can't make sense of.

Our city was beautiful last night. There were rainbow lights. Candle lights. Faces of determination. Hugs and displays of support. The noise came from the music in the bars, sounds of joy. Inspirational speeches and choir voices raised in community spirit.

Although I felt sad, the storm of depression had abated. I lay in bed feeling all of the support I had received over the weekend. The support that Nashville gives to the arts, whether it be burlesque or literature. The support of the LGBT community. I felt over and over that Nashville cares about the things and the people that I care about. In each instance I felt a sense of belonging and of validation. The connections brought me back from the loneliness of depression.

So, Nashville, thank you for being the giant push-up bra that held me together, that lifted me up, and that kept my emotions from sagging and dragging me down.

 
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