“This is why / Why we fight”

“This is why / Why we fight”
cw: Nazi occupation, Trump

 

There’s this really famous image. I’m sure you’ve seen it before. It’s of a Czech woman giving what must have been a heart-rending Nazi salute, her face contorted in tears, a rag clutched to her cheek. I’ve always been really affected by this image. What she must have been feeling, how horrible it must have been to see something she couldn’t control barreling down on her and her family, encroaching on her home.
reluctant
To all those who are asking me to support a Trump presidency, to just “give him a chance,” as if literally nothing is at stake and everyone who dissents is just being a meanie head… This from the same progressives who have been blocked by Republicans for the last eight years, no less… I just can’t help but think of that woman. I’ve been trying *really* hard not to be an alarmist, and many of you may think it’s shitty and hyperbolic of me to compare Trump/Pence to the Third Reich (and for my friends whose ancestors are Holocaust survivors in particular, please check me if I’m going too far). But i do know Trump has outlined in his hundred day plan that he WILL be building a wall to ostensibly keep out Mexicans, and he WILL be enacting “extreme vetting” before he allows refugees to enter the country, and he WILL be encouraging police to become more ruthless and authoritarian on crime (which we all know is code for further squeezing the stranglehold on Black and Latinx communities).
I won’t salute. I’m not doing it. He’s #NotMyPresident and never will be. Not when trans support and suicide prevention hotlines are blowing up. (Which I’ve linked to below, in case you need support!*) Not when Black and brown people I know are already being violently targeted by his devotees in the streets for simply going about their day. Not when my cis women, trans, and disabled friends and loved ones are scrambling to figure out how they can care for themselves once the Affordable Care Act is scrapped. I’m not giving this horseshit a chance. I will do whatever is in my power to oppose this in every way I can.
The Electoral College has failed us, and enormously so. Clinton won the popular vote nationwide, yet the Electoral College has, in an impressive show of abuse of power, gone against the will of the American public and declared Trump the winner. They have until December 19th to change their minds, which, while unlikely, is still possible. I plan on spending my time up until December 19th to try to persuade them to change their minds. Again, it’s not likely they will, but it is possible. Even if they don’t, I can’t sit idly by. I will try to persuade them in the meantime, and if this effort is not successful, I will do what I can afterward to fight the fear-fueled actions of the Trump presidency. We all need to do what we can for each other going forward.
If you want to find your Electors in your state and urge them to change their minds, you can do so with a little leg work. You can also sign this petition to let the Electors know you don’t agree with their support of Trump. Participate in local actions. Work with your neighbors. Meet together in your living rooms, churches, and community centers to engage in letter writing campaigns.
Check out this great post on putting pressure on the Electoral College and take action:
“SPREAD THE WORD. Trend #NotMyPresident to let people know that we do not accept being led by a man who does not care about our wellbeing. Email your professors, email the dean of your colleges. The last thing a university wants is negative press. Millenials can take a stand, but that doesn’t mean we have to be the only ones. Church-led events helped bring a lot of disillusioned voters to the polls. Spread the word in any way possible, whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or even in person. Stage a peaceful protest. Hand out flyers. Let the people around you know that you don’t accept this man as your leader when he won’t even accept you as a citizen with your designated rights.”
And finally, seek support and comfort from your friends and loved ones. We will need to engage in self care and collective care as we perhaps never had before. The coming years may be arduous, but I believe that we will win.
My love to you all. ❤

Featured image source
Inset image source

“Oh such a perfect day / You just keep me hangin’ on”

“Oh such a perfect day / You just keep me hangin’ on”

CW: opioid use, overdose


 

Overdose Awareness Day was yesterday, but that doesn’t mean thinking about overdose and how we can work to better drug laws, allow for safer use, and make Narcan readily available is over. I’m grateful this is something that is getting more and more national attention, and I want to take a moment to talk about an experience I had earlier this week reviving someone with Narcan (naloxone).

The first time I heard about Narcan was soon after I started living in Maine. Governor Paul LePage (famed for his disdain for immigrants, poor people, heroin users, and folks of color) had just condemned the use of Narcan (the brand name for naloxone, a life saving opioid overdose antidote) for fear that it would promote new heroin use, or deincentivize heroin users from becoming sober. Or something. Most of his anti-Narcan platform seems to boil down to a form of passive extermination, whereby opioid addicts kill themselves via overdose and he gets to congratulate himself for “fixing” the epidemic by effectively doing nothing. What a hero. (He did eventually relent, stating that it would be helpful for family members of heroin users to possess and administer, but then later vetoed a bill to grant more widespread access.)

I became acutely aware of the need for Narcan after I worked with communities plagued by opioid addiction — usually cheap, dangerous forms of heroin cut with fentanyl and other tranqulizers. Maine has a notoriously bad heroin problem. Even longtime users who know their typical dose are unable to properly judge with the batches circulating around Maine, and elsewhere in the country as well. Cincinnati, my hometown, reported 174 overdoses in the last week due to a strain of heroin going around cut with elephant tranquilizer. It’s scary shit. When I worked at a Maine homeless shelter, I would get emails at least a few times a week saying a client of ours had overdosed and died. I always worried, as I monitored the showers and bathroom stalls, that I would discover the next client who had overdosed. I worried I would freeze or do something wrong and the person would die on my watch.

It never happened, but I went to work each day prepared for the worst. I began working with youth who had their struggles with heroin use, but our clients were smaller in number and therefore easier to keep tabs on. We never had an overdose at the youth facility while I worked there, at least not on any of my shifts. I was very lucky, but still spoke candidly with the clients about their use and how to be safer, and how to get help when they needed it. One youth I knew and became close with had overdosed many times, and I always worried, like with my adult clients, I would be the one to find them, and that I would freeze.

On Monday, I had my first direct encounter with someone who had overdosed from heroin, and I had to revive them with Narcan. While the situation was very scary and very stressful, I am happy to report that I didn’t freeze. I had help from bystanders and a colleague, and the whole thing went much, much better than I worried it might. I’m here to tell you right now that Narcan is easy to administer, works quickly, and saves lives.

I’m writing this post in case you think you might ever come across someone who has overdosed, so that you will feel comfortable knowing how to help them.

  1. The first thing to do is to try to wake the person. If you shake them, gently slap their arm or shoulder, or yell their name and they still won’t respond, you need to call 911 right away. If someone is nearby, have them call 911 for you so you can attend to the person who has overdosed.
  2. Be careful of stray needles if they were using injection opioids so that you or others don’t get stuck by them.
  3. Check to see if they are breathing. They might be gurgling or sound like they are snoring loudly. Their lips might be blue or pale and their skin will look blue or maybe green (the person I encountered Monday looked seasick). They might be cold or clammy feeling and have little to no muscle control. If they aren’t breathing, perform rescue breaths. Opioids can stop the heart and lungs from functioning, so you may have to breath for them. Many Narcan kits come with a protective sheet to put over the person’s mouth. If they do not come to after a few breaths, you need to give Narcan/naloxone right away.
  4. Know beforehand whether your kit has the injection or nasal inhalation spray version of the medicine. Mine was nasal spray, and it was really easy to use. I quickly read the instructions and put the kit together; generally there will be vial of the Narcan/naloxone and a tube or small plastic piece that goes into the person’s nose. It will look a little like a syringe, with a plunger you push to dispense the medicine. Once you put the pieces together, (mine screwed into place,) put the tip into the person’s nostril and push the plunger until all the medicine goes in. It is very helpful to have more than one vial of Narcan on hand as the person may need more than a single dose. I’ve been told as many as 6-8 doses of Narcan are needed to fully revive someone. On Monday, I gave the person two doses. After giving one dose, switch to the other nostril and repeat the process of administering all the medicine in the vial. You won’t hurt them by giving them too much.
  5. After administering, lay the person on their side in the “rescue” position with one arm crossed over their chest and one arm tucked under their head. The person I found was on a park bench which was on an incline, so I put a small purse under their head to keep their head elevated enough to keep breathing.
  6. It took about 3-5 minutes for the person I gave Narcan to “come to.” Once they did, they sat up and were able to talk and function normally again. I told them they had overdosed and were given Narcan. I told them an ambulance was on the way to take them to the hospital. Just because someone has been given Narcan and is awake, it doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods – they still need to go to the emergency room. Sometimes when people are revived with Narcan they are angry or confused – they may even try to hit you. Stay with them until the ambulance arrives and tell the emergency responders that the person has been given Narcan.

The bottom line is that this person would have died if my colleague and I hadn’t showed up when we did. Narcan saved this person’s life. To any of the naysayers out there who think people who use heroin deserve to die or shouldn’t have access to help, I want to remind you that addiction doesn’t care who you are – anyone of any race, class background, or gender can fall prey to addiction. Someone you love dearly could have their life saved by Narcan someday. Hell, it might even be you.

Here is some information on administering Narcan:

 

If you are struggling with opioid addiction and aren’t sure where to turn (even if you’re not ready to be/not interested in being sober) please check out this link to find some help:

Connect Locally

“Say his name! Say his name! / won’t you say his name?”

“Say his name! Say his name! / won’t you say his name?”

Since my last post, more and more disturbing violence has indeed erupted — in ways both predictable and still, somehow, shocking.

I’ve been struggling pretty openly with how to best fit myself into the work of anti-racism, feeling both alienated from the work of white allies and as though I am an interloper in black spaces. What I have yearned for is a space that feels appropriate, i.e. a space in which I am able to do more of the heavy lifting to alleviate the struggles of the black community as they fight back against the daily injustices and dehumanization of genocide. And don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s anything but — our police force has our black citizenship held hostage, fearful to leave their homes, drive down their streets, to let their children outside to play.

Alton Sterling.

Philando Castile.

Delrawn Small.

We need to remember their names. We need to remember their lives. They are survived by families who loved them deeply and communities who will never be the same without them.

My time for inaction is over. My time to wonder where my place is as a non-black person of color is over. And though I still struggle with it, my place is certainly never to downplay what is happening to black people in my community, or to claim that my own struggles are more important. To do so only reinforces white supremacy and anti-blackness. My place is definitely to call out anti-blackness when I see it not just white folks, but my fellow POC who are not black, and who will use their places of relative privilege to suppress the dignity and vitality of black lives.

Case in point number one:

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What has been happening in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Bangladesh is unquestionably horrible. The Arab world and East Asia have undoubtedly been experiencing more than their fair share of bloodshed, and it is worth recognizing. Muslim people the world over do fear for their lives and safety, perhaps in much the same way as non-Muslim black folks, but here are two key points to ponder:

  1. Many Muslim people are black, and are impacted just as deeply when either of their communities face tragedy.
  2. Honoring the lives of one group of people does not mean you ignore the plight of others. Movements like #BlackLivesMatter do not insist we only care about black lives, but asks that we highlight and acknowledge the very real problem of anti-black prejudice and violence. It does not diminish one group’s struggle to discuss the other’s.

Additionally, it’s not okay to flatten the struggles of “people of color” into a singularity without recognizing that each of us is impacted differently as we move through the world. I am often mistaken for Latinx and have faced anti-Latinx hostility as a result. However, I am not Latinx, and I did not grow up with those traditions. What I have experienced insofar as racial prejudice is not the same as what black folks have experienced, nor is it the same as, say, what a Korean person has experienced, or First Nation/Indian folks have experienced. Class can’t be ignored here, either, or any of the other dimensions of identity, but no matter your culture or country of origin, the darker your skin, the worse you are likely to fare in your society.

So, sorry, Love Live of an Asian Guy, “people of color” is hardly a discrete or exhaustive category. There are nuances within and between these groups that are important to highlight. There are times when, for tactical reasons, it’s absolutely important for us to unite — but it’s in poor taste to do so during a time when black people are being disproportionately murdered by police. We share common history in many ways that is quite fruitful to understand, but our current sociopolitical systems of crime, punishment, and achievement do not unilaterally treat all people of color the same way.

This also completely lets us non-black POC off the hook on examining our own prejudices. Both my Southeast Asian and white family members taught me anti-black racism and shadeism. My mom bought me skin lightening creams as a teenager, and my white family members encouraged me to lock the van doors as we drove through black neighborhoods in Washington, DC on family vacation. The people who loved me the most also taught me to hate my skin, and to hate the very notion of blackness, and that is an inescapable fact. (If you are a member of my family and are reading this and you wish to take me to task, have at it, but I know what my truth is and how hard I’ve worked to overcome the racism I grew up with in my home and my school. I continue to dismantle and challenge it within myself to this day.)

Instead of playing Oppression Olympics, we need to acknowledge that sometimes our boat simply isn’t leaking as much as someone else’s. As this letter penned by Asian Americans in support of #BlackLivesMatter delineates, “It’s true that we face discrimination for being Asian in this country. Sometimes people are rude to us about our accents, or withhold promotions because they don’t think of us as ‘leadership material.’ Some of us are told we’re terrorists. But for the most part, nobody thinks ‘dangerous criminal’ when we are walking down the street. The police do not gun down our children and parents for simply existing.” The letter goes on to say that we as non-black POC benefit from much of the work that has been done by black activists; we need to acknowledge black contributions to all of our lives.

It’s also quite possible to validate the hurt we experience without stepping on the toes of those who are hurting more. As this article points out, four Latinx people have been killed by police in the last week, including Pedro Villanueva, who was shot by plain clothes cops as they chased him in an unmarked car. The article states, “While statistics clearly show that Black people are disproportionately killed by police, few numbers exist for Latinos, who can occupy several demographic categories… To explain the discrepancy between Latino and Black victims, some point to the more explicit history of law enforcement and Black slaves or to the high representation of Latinos in police departments.” In other words, we understand that both groups face discrimination, yet we also respect that our black siblings are disproportionately targeted. It does not erase the memories of Melissa Ventura, Anthony Nuñez, Raul Saavedra-Vargas, or Villanueva — and yes, we should say their names, too.

If you are a non-black POC like me and you want to know how to support your black neighbors, there are a ton of great resources going around on social media. Here are a couple of them I’ve liked especially:

15 Things Your City Can Do Right Now to End Police Brutality

Concrete Ways to Be an Actual Ally to Black People

Some other things black friends and activists have said:

  1. Show up in the streets. Use your physical presence and don’t just hang out on the internet.
  2. When you do attend that rally or march, move to the periphery and act as a buffer between the cops and black protesters. (This definitely is primarily for light skinned and white cisgender folks; if you do not feel safe around police because you are trans, Latinx, or part of another group likely to be targeted by police, then do keep yourself safe.)
  3. Don’t make it about you. Center black people and their experiences. If the media asks you for a quote, defer to black movement leaders.

And my personal addenda, for all non-black POC who enter into these spaces:

  1. When you do show up, it’s not your job to hold white people’s hands or to put up with their racism. Keep yourself safe and leave if you absolutely need to
  2. Get together with other non-black people of color and work on your internalized anti-black/shadeist views together without white people around. Find orgs and people in your communities doing this work together.

And please be sure to take care of yourself. This work is hard and you will likely feel like many parts of yourself are fighting with themselves at once. I hope to see you in the streets alongside me. We have nothing to lose but our chains.


photo credit: ABC News

“If you see my dad / tell Him my brothers / all gone mad / they’re beatin’ on each other.”

“If you see my dad / tell Him my brothers / all gone mad / they’re beatin’ on each other.”

To recap:

In the past two weeks alone, over a hundred queer and trans black and brown people were shot in Orlando’s Pulse night club, a man with a small arsenal was apprehended on his way to LA’s Pride eventBritish Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally assassinated outside a library,  a teacher’s strike in Oaxaca turned deadly as police murdered and injured dozens, the UK voted to leave the European Union, spurred on largely by anti-immigrant sentiment, and nearly 90 documented racist hate crimes have taken place in Brexit’s wake. It seems every day the news gets worse and worse, a kind of intersectional trauma weaving through each incident, with folks of color, queers, and religious minorities being hit the hardest. It feels as though whatever has made us human, whatever evolutionary advantages we have grown through cooperation and shared experience is unraveling at its very seams. We are becoming something else, or we are merely showing the world what has been there all along, simmering barely below the surface. It’s difficult not to think in hyperbolic terms in hyper-violent times.

It’s hard to know how to feel. I spent the weekend of the Pulse shooting at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, and that Monday night I attended a vigil whereupon I exchanged heartbroken words with a few familiar black, trans folk — the same I had accompanied to the con all weekend.

It could have been them, I thought. It could have been us.

I’m not black or Latinx. I’m not trans feminine. I’m not Muslim. I do not directly share identity with those who are so often the targets of hate in the Western world. While it’s possible that someone could have decided to take out their disgust of transgender people on the attendees of the PTHC, they didn’t. It’s not entirely genuine to say, “it could have been me,” yet it does feel fair to say that it very well could have been people I know and love. I once spent a few months living near Orlando, and I was relieved when an ex of mine checked in as safe on facebook. It wasn’t close, per se, but it was just too close for comfort.

At the vigil, folks wrote affirming messages in Spanish to the victims, their kin. My heart aches for those I won’t ever know, for those so unlike myself in many ways, and so much alike in others. But does it matter?

Do we need to BE Orlando to grieve for them? Isn’t it okay to just be sad, to just be angry, without having to be one of them? Is it the inability to accept difference that leads to this kind of thing in the first place? I know the sentiment comes from a good place. We want to be family, and we want to come together. We want to hold them all in our hearts, to be one queer family, one human family, even though we may never hold their hands or take them to our beds. This mourning feels disingenuous especially amid the backdrop of racism that has forced black and brown activists from Pride events, and has instead pushed police to the forefront. I firmly believe this is a time for white and light skinned queer and trans people like myself to take this Pride month, as it draws to a close, to reflect on the ways in which we benefit from anti-black, anti-Latinx, and anti-Muslim sentiment, and to show up for those who aren’t just like us.

None of this is to say that I feel particularly safe, even shielded by my own relative privilege. When I walk the streets alone, in my tan skin, tipping off only the status of “other,” and never my “true” ethnic background, in this body read as female just as often as male, I don’t ever take my own safety for granted. I refuse to distrust my neighbors, and I smile as I pass them, whether or not they have a smile for me in return. It becomes tricky, navigating this world which feels increasingly hostile, even as I know it is harder still for some of my friends.

These past few weeks have been trying times, to say the least. We’re all figuring out how to care for ourselves and show up for one another the best week can. While it’s important to be critical, and I know I have been even in this post, perhaps it’s just as important to be gentle with each other. If you’re feeling anything like I am right now, I know you’re on the constant lookout for “what next?” with every cautious refresh of your social media feeds and each addition to your inbox. I want us all to make it. Even when the victims don’t look like me, I mourn their loss, and feel a tug in my heartstrings for their surviving families. With every video I see of white people doing heinous things to POC and immigrants, I feel the need to disown and condemn the whiteness within myself. I am disgusted by my white kin while simultaneously knowing I am not safe from them; I am both potential victim and victimizer, and each headline puts me at war with myself.

These are complex pieces to put together, and none of us have all the answers. It feels like the world had turned inside out, and unfortunately it’s all far from over.

Let’s all try to be there for one another. If not us, then who?


Photo credit: the author

“We could be heroes / just for one day.”

“We could be heroes / just for one day.”

CW: sexual assault, fake male feminists


 

I’m thinking a lot lately about age and consent. Social media threads are alight with stories about Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, and now, 48 hours after the news of his of his death, David Bowie. Until a friend brought it to my attention, I had no idea Bowie had slept with underage Lori Maddox or had been accused of rape by another woman (although technically cleared he could have been guilty – certainly false rape report stats are on her side). I was initially shocked, but soon afterward accepted that this hard and ugly truth was part of the history of someone I admired. Certainly it’s not the first time a male rock star noted for their role in furthering gender equality is found to be someone who abuses their partners (those are the fake male feminists I mentioned). Kurt Cobain and John Lennon come to mind – two more of my favorites, and two other cases of immense feelings of betrayal and disappointment on my part. I’ve suffered abuse from former partners. I’ve experienced sexual assault and have stood by friends and loved ones who’ve been assaulted. I’m connected with many sexual assault response groups professionally. The sting of learning that people who’ve been so instrumental to the very formation of who I am is beyond troubling. It makes me feel like a bad feminist or rape apologist to continue listening to them.  But the truth for me is that In Utero is forever part of whatever kind of “soul” I might have. The importance John Lennon’s music has played in my life because of my dad is never going to change. And, like many genderqueer and trans people the world over, David Bowie presented my young heart with possibilities, and gave me permission to be weird, scary, and provocative.

I don’t condone Bowie’s choices. I don’t absolve him of any wrongdoing. In the case of Lori Maddox, however, I do object to thrusting the title of rape victim onto her if that is not how she would describe her experience herself. To be clear; those whose internalized shame or trauma prevents them from realizing they have been raped are not who I’m talking about. Refusing to acknowledge you’ve been raped because it’s too big or too terrifying is not what I’m talking about – that is a normal part of the recovery and healing process. I mean those who did consent and were not raped. I’m talking specifically about our culturally relative concepts of the age of consent, and what bodily autonomy means for young people.

In the U.S. in the 1950’s the median age for marriage for women was 20, and in 2010 it was 26. Teen pregnancy occurred at higher rates than they do today. In many parts of the world, marriage occurs much younger than it does in the United States  and is normalized as a practice. While this doesn’t excuse abuse or sexual assault (as in the case of the woman who took Bowie to trial for rape, or Woody Allen’s very young and non-consenting daughter) I can’t help but wonder how Lori and her groupie friends are taking the news of Bowie’s death. Would she have counted the interactions between the two of them as non-consensual?  Her other interactions with older men aren’t evidence that clears Bowie by any stretch, and if anything points to a very obvious power imbalance endemic to the 1970’s rock scene. Countless male celebrities have exploited their fame in order to sleep with much younger girls. It’s also no secret that Western culture is obsessed with youth and excels at sexualizing young girls, marking all that is “feminine” largely juvenile and vice versa. In this excellent article that has made the rounds lately, Alicen Grey points out that:

In pedophile culture, the top Pornhub category is “Teen.” “Barely legal” “girls” in schoolgirl outfits play out everything from “virgin manipulations,” daddy-daughter incest fantasies, teacher-student make believe… you name it, there’s porn for it, and it’s been whacked-off to millions and millions and millions of times. It’s fair to wonder whether the only thing keeping some of these viewers from watching straight-up child porn is age of consent laws.

In my regular perusal of porn sites, there’s definitely no scarcity of the above themes available for view. It’s clearly worthwhile to interrogate these social facts and to acknowledge their very real consequences for women in our society.

Yet I have to put the woman in question here in the forefront of her own story. Though she was much younger, is our rush to condemn their pairing preventing us from asking if Lori did, in fact exercise agency? To see her many years later discussing her experiences with such fond regard gives me pause. To bar her from the possibility of consent robs her of the possibility of having a certain kind of autonomy. It was her body, and from what she has said, it was her choice. I’m reminded a bit of those who condemn sex workers and sex work in general as inherently and incontrovertibly unethical without consulting sex workers themselves.

I write all of this while fully admitting that the notion of their sexual relationship is more than a little uncomfortable to me. The idea of a 13 year old and a 26 year old having sex feels viscerally wrong and outrageous – especially now that I’m 30. Nevertheless, I’ve spoken with many a feminist colleague about age of consent and sexuality, and many of them have challenged my parameters on the subject. Gayle Rubin wrote decades ago about our tendency to dismiss and punish certain forms of sexuality because they violate cultural norms. Statutory rape, for instance, is lumped in with prostitution, homosexuality, BDSM, and other acts that were considered egregious at one point in time. I’ve long believed we’re terrified to teach sex education to teenagers because we’re terrified by the idea of young people being sexually active. But what if they genuinely want to be? Is it truly up to us to tell young people what to do (or not do) with their bodies? The flip side to this, of course, is that there are predators only too willing to take advantage of young people in all kinds of insidious ways. Yet again, I have friends who have always pursued much older partners, even when they were in their teens. I know still others who advocate for the rights of younger people to be able to legally participate in sex work so that they can make their own choices about the kind of work they can do. These viewpoints don’t sit well with me all of the time, and I wonder how much of that is my own cultural bias getting in the way.

In the interest of complete honesty, I have to say I’ve been interested in older partners for much of my dating and sexual life as well – even back to when I was 14 years old. (Again, being older now makes thinking of  14 year old pursuing me as nothing short of horrific. I’m sure younger me would think I’ve gotten square.) Those of us who are into age play in consensual BDSM scenarios as adults know the fun that can be had when two people act out a scene which is seen as largely taboo in our culture; though some even object to the acts themselves being played out in completely imaginary scenarios such as in adult webcam broadcasts. In light of all of this, I still find myself disappointed in Bowie. Maybe it’s because I wanted there to be one person, one cultural icon that I could appreciate without having to learn of a dark and disgraceful past. Maybe that person is a complete fantasy.

Yet I don’t feel the need to burn anyone at the stake, either. Aida Manduley  points out that simply admitting that our faves are problematic isn’t enough. To paraphrase, we need to hold ourselves and others accountable for misdeeds – whether or not we like them. At the same time, she also cautions against blind vengeance:

A carceral, punishment-based justice system where we value an eye for an eye will not save us. It may feel good in the moment and scratch that “revenge” itch, but it will not save us. Booting “bad people” off the island will leave us with an empty island. What will save us is compassion, understanding, accountability, transformation, and restoration of justice.

So what can we take away from all of these seemingly incongruous pieces? I have more questions than answers. Is there no such thing as a truly positive role model? How can we support young people from being abused and exploited while also not stifling them and shaming their sexuality? What can we do to support those who acknowledge that they were assaulted and are simply being dismissed and forgotten by time. I’m still learning to sit with the disappointment of this bad news, another in a slew of similar stories, while recognizing the merit of that which has value in my life. I also feel very deeply for those who have been victimized and knowing that no matter what else, their stories deserve to be heard.


 

photo credit: iwasdreamingofthepast

“We think it’s getting better but nobody’s really sure.”

“We think it’s getting better but nobody’s really sure.”

Enforced sexual dimorphism in an age when we’ve all but mastered our reproductive capacity is a matter of taste and not necessity. We are no longer purely at the mercy of biology. We can plan when, how, and whether we will bear offspring via the many forms of birth control, abortion, in vitro fertilization, etc., which continue to advance and improve every day. Many of these methods are relatively cheap and readily accessible, at least in nations and regions of relative wealth. Shulamith Firestone predicted that gendered class distinctions would erode as women gained complete access to the means of reproduction, and envisioned a future in which women were completely freed from hosting new life at all. In only a few decades since her Dialectic of Sex was published, we’re closer to that reality than she probably could have dreamed.

If we were still a threatened population on the verge of extinction, needing to know whether your potential mate was the “right” kind to either receive your seed or inseminate you in as certain terms as possible might make sense, but it’s intellectually dishonest to pretend that’s where we are as a species. We’re among the most prolific mammals who’ve ever lived, and you can find us in nearly climate and region of the world. We also know that unlike many of our non-human brethren, we engage in sex for pleasure without the intention of getting pregnant every time. Many of us never have sex in a way that could ever get us pregnant, whether through acts that don’t involve the genitals meeting, (oral, manual) or with non-bodily implements (sex toys, whips, rope). Many of us don’t care much about sex, if at all, and should perhaps be the least among us to be pressured to present in a way “telling” of our biological gender.

Is it really valuable to advertise our genitals via external presentation – see “cultural genitals” – particularly in this cultural moment? I’m struck by this as I also muse on what, exactly, the qualitative difference is between the so-called “female”(vagina/vulva/clitoris, etc.) and “male” (penis/testicles, etc.) reproductive organs… From my estimation, we’re talking about the difference between .5″-6″ (on average) of erectile tissue, and perhaps the presence/absence of a “vaginal” opening. An erogenous zone is an erogenous zone, and while we might have certain preferences with regard to what we like to have done to ours or whose we do what with, when it comes down to it there’s really not a whole lot of variance. When I do talks on pegging, I discuss not only the reality that almost everyone has an anus, but I take the opportunity to show a slide of the Quigley scale which shows that, like cultural gender, our supposedly fixed biological/material gender includes many non-binary modes of being.

 

Quigley scale for (P)AIS

photo credit: http://intersexroadshow.blogspot.com/

An anthropologist from another time and place might find the importance we place on this minutiae puzzling.

As I read about the case of Jennifer Laude’s murderer, Joseph Scott Pemberton, (and think of the many, many trans people – mostly women – who have died in similar attacks) I’m struck by how plausible arguments like his have been regarded throughout the course of Western civilization. One who does not conform to a popular conception of “womanhood” or “femininity” is punished by the most severe means imaginable, and men of the establishment have nodded along in agreement. The presence of a penis, in their minds, negates all possibility of identification as woman. What is at stake, then, is the attacker’s sexuality. Despite the claim that Pemberton felt duped or raped, the real repulsion men like him feel is a self-repudiation: it is a betrayal of themselves evidenced by their own arousal. Like every other woman who is raped or beaten by men, these women become not only the victim but the supposed perpetrator of their own victimization. To spell it out plainly, Jennifer Laude and her many fallen siblings did not die because they were “found out” – they died because they turned their attacker on. It is internalized homophobia manifested in pure rage. Killing her is killing the part of himself that is suspect, the part that “fails” to be heterosexual. In a culture that demands 100% obedience to the gender binary, this is only realized for men in 100% heterosexuality. Doing sexuality wrong here is not an option.

I won’t claim to exist in a vacuum where I don’t realize that culture plays a huge role in how we are socialized, and who we become. Yet I value the chances when I get to be surrounded by those who openly reject the pressure to choose a gender and settle down; those who realize that our genitals are just that, and that the rest of who we are is up to us. In my day to day life, I’m often inundated with experiences where I am gendered as either male or female, and sometimes it simply makes my day easier to go with it. At work, my gender is seldom the central focus. When I am misgendered, it’s often not in a context where it makes sense for me to correct (in dealing with a crisis situation, for instance). Sometimes, I just don’t have the energy or mental wherewithal to do it. Still, I find myself resentful. I want to be seen as a whole human being, and part of that is my non-binary gender. I want to be more than seen, but accepted and appreciated. A few of my clients share with me that they do not know whether I am AFAB or AMAB, and many of them admire this about me. I like to think that for some of them, I can serve as a kind of role model, or at least evidence that it is possible to do this non-binary gender thing as an adult.

Like Firestone, I look forward to a day when gendered class divisions are completely exploded and allow for the possibilities of complete freedom from prescribed gender roles. I hope daily for gender equality, and I extend that beyond simply women and men. I think the only way we can do this is to get away from the claims of TERFs and “gender critical” feminists, whose conservative views of biological determinism only serve to set us back as human beings. We need to be open to the possibility that many of us will betray what our genetics supposedly dictate. We need to admit that we do not know why some people are trans, or non-binary, or neutrois, or Muxes, or two-spirit, or third gender, or any of the array of genders that refute the Eurocentric woman/man dyad, but that there is nothing wrong with those who do not “appropriately” advertise their genitals. We need to allow all people to determine what parts of gendered experience make the most sense to them, and for each of us to express a gender most fitting to our own personal preferences – AND to be respected while doing it.

In short, I look forward to a day when women like Jennifer Laude are allowed to live and thrive.


Photo credit: autostraddle

“Some folks are born made to wave the flag / Ooh, they’re red, white, and blue…”

“Some folks are born made to wave the flag / Ooh, they’re red, white, and blue…”

I have a complicated relationship with Veteran’s Day. I’ve never served and have never wanted to. Years ago when I applied for college and put down “possibly female” on my application (still the strangest gender designation I’ve ever seen on a form) and received information on enlisting, I quickly changed my answer to “female.” If there ever came a time when I might possibly be drafted, I would do everything I could to evade it. I don’t believe in war and I would never kill anyone. Reading Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf in high school cemented my anti-war leanings and put into words sentiment that had resided in my heart unspoken for many years. When Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, part of me mourned because I knew it would be one less out for folks to have who wished to escape the horrors of war.

In my lifetime, I’ve known a great many people who have served and been marred irrevocably by combat, whether physically or psychologically – in many cases, both. A good friend became a conscientious objector after seeing the horrors of actions he had helped plan brought to life, and now (at least last I knew) spends his days privately dosing himself with hallucinogens in order to avoid reliving those memories. A few of the people I’ve dated are veterans, and I’ve seen them struggle to claim their benefits, including basic medical necessities and the college education they were promised in exchange for their service. Through school I’ve come into contact with students who served and did manage to make their way to college, yet struggle with reintegration into civilian life after dealing with PTSD and deinstitutionalization. Before DADT was repealed, I knew queer couples who were closeted for decades because they were afraid of being discharged and losing the career and life they’d so painstakingly built for themselves. I saw them sit out Pride and other LGBT functions because they were afraid of being spotted and reported. I know of trans people who were discharged in spite of DADT and have lost all access to whatever benefits they might have been able to claim. Even still, the Veteran’s Administration has repeatedly received criticism for failing to adequately care for those who put their lives on the line for what they believed in. Meanwhile, conservatives who are all too happy to send troops off to die in unnecessary wars are the first to suggest funding cuts to services those folks so desperately need.

Let me be clear; I am not a U.S. military apologist, nor a supporter of any military effort. Our grossly inflated military budget could be better spent on any host of concerns facing this country – like getting single payer health care off the ground, improving our country’s infrastructure, creating better support for the homeless, decreasing student debt or hell, offering free education like other countries of comparable wealth. We have a military problem, and it is seeping into the way we do civilian policing. It’s terrifying times to be a citizen of the United States, and our fetish for militarization is at its core. I would love nothing more than to see the U.S. military be scaled back and, one day, completely dismantled. That would be the only way to ensure that no one would be pushed through the meat grinder that is the modern war machine – no U.S. citizens and none of those we are so eager to call our “enemies.”

However, we are not there yet. Compared to China, a nation with a population of 1 billion people to our 320 million, and 749 million in “available manpower” to our 145 million, the United States grossly and disproportionately outpaces them in aircraft of all kinds (13,892 to 2,860), and despite falling behind in tanks and artillery, the U.S. still boasts a national budget of $577 billion to China’s $145 billion. And our debt? Nearly $16 trillion to China’s $863 billion. Some figures suggest our budget is much higher – $610 billion, $9 billion greater than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the U.K., India, and Germany combined. In short, our military expenditure and reliance on aircraft warfare makes it unlikely that any country could successfully defend themselves from our attack or mount an attack against us. There is no sign that this will slow down in the coming decades. We have to face the reality that, despite all of our best efforts, right now, here, today, people are going to lose their lives. People are going to be abused. People are going to be mistreated. It will all be in the name of the U.S. military. We have to do what we can to take care of those people. I would go so far to say that it is a feminist issue.

I’m not thrilled that women are likely going to be able to serve on the front lines. This will do nothing to right the imbalances of power that cause so many women to be raped in the military every single day. I’m not ecstatic that trans people will much likely have an easier time serving in the military, and like Dean Spade, I’m skeptical that this is the movement trans people should be rallying around. Unlike Spade, however, I see a very real need to take care of the very real trans people who are already serving, and are terrified to come out for fear of being sexually harassed, assaulted, or killed. This becomes particularly true when we take into account the fact that transgender women enlist in disproportionately high numbers prior to transition in order “to prove they [are] ‘real men.'” We need to listen to the stories of those who are serving, for whatever reason, and take care of them as we would anyone else. I see them being able to openly serve to be one such way to do this.

There is an attitude among my fellow liberal, academic kin that we oughtn’t be serving in the first place – as Spade says, “It’s true that trans people need jobs. But is military service a job we want?” He goes on to cite examples of the failures of the military to support soldiers, including suicide rates and instances of sexual assault. Yes, the prospects are ugly, and yes, I would personally actively discourage anyone I knew considering serving from doing so. I’ve seen how horrific it can be, and I know the statistics. At the same time, I know many good, decent people who have been duped into serving because they believed they were doing the right thing by a country and people they love tremendously. I do not share their sentiment in many ways, but I know where they are coming from. I know many good, decent people who live in areas so economically deprived that the military may seem like the only viable option. A 2008 study from Syracuse University found that, “Class differences in military enlistment likely reflect differences in the non-military occupational opportunity, structured along class lines. This research shows that the all-volunteer force continues to see overrepresentation of the working and middle classes, with fewer incentives for upper class participation.” Many of those poor people are women, and many of those poor women are black. It feels lofty and callous to simply suggest to poor people that they not serve. It feels a lot like arguments middle and upper class people make to homeless people; that they just “get a job” or “stop using drugs,” as if it were that easy.

I’m not saying there are easy solutions. I’m not saying it’s unimportant or even ill-advised to be critical of the military. But I think it is important for us to push for supports for those individuals who are enmeshed in a disgusting system while we simultaneously work to bring it down. We can do this for our folks in prison, and I say we should do it for those who enlist as well.

On this veterans day, I’m thinking about my ex lovers, my friends, and the many LGBT, POC, and straight, cisgender women veterans whose stories often go untold. In working for military abolition, we cannot turn a cold shoulder to those who simply couldn’t opt out, or who made a choice to do what they believed in their hearts to be right.


Photo credit: PlaidZebra.com