“This is where the party ends / I can’t stand here listening to you and your racist friend.”

“This is where the party ends / I can’t stand here listening to you and your racist friend.”

I’m thinking a lot lately about the ways in which we can be accountable to one another. For me this means deep personal reflection and self-inventory, and owning up to my screw-ups and trying to avoid repeat performances.

I also think about the ways in which I interact with others who do and say things that go against my own views of how we ought to treat each other. I’m lucky enough to work in an environment where hate speech isn’t tolerated, and we can actively participate in addressing it when we hear it. With my clients, I try to offer alternatives. “Instead of calling someone the b-word or c-word, why not call them a jerk or a pain in the ass or something?” “Instead of using the r-word, why not say this situation is frustrating or asinine?” “Instead of crazy, why not say bananas?” Sometimes it works. Sometimes it goes over like a lead balloon. With my co-workers it’s a little different. We’re all “adults.” We can’t reprimand or re-direct each other per se, but it’s completely legit to say to someone, “eh, that’s a little racist.” Or, “hey I have a learning disability, can you cool it with that?” For me, humor does wonders. It softens the blow and makes people a little more receptive. Instead of “you’ve sinned you horrible bag of shit,” it’s “hey that’s kinda messed up.” Sometimes just talking about why a word or phrase is messed up helps.

It’s more about the action than the person. We all fuck up. We all fuck up huge. Sometimes life throws fucked up things at us…

Someone who is crying and visibly wounded because their parent has just cut them out of their life for being queer? That’s not the time to call that person out for using the wrong word.

And sometimes it’s murky… A person of color talking about a stereotype pertinent to the way their family interacts, but applying it to everyone of that cultural background? I don’t feel comfortable calling that out unless I know that person really well, and even then I’d feel very hesitant.

The world is chaotic and messy. The stuff isn’t always cut and dry. I’m of the unpopular opinion that context matters, and that people matter. I’ve been called out on a number of things, and sometimes I feel it’s been constructive and helpful, and sometimes I’ve felt like my words and motivations were intentionally misconstrued.

I think part of being accountable means taking personal inventory and reflecting on why we want to call someone out. Do we want to make a scene/space/situation feel more safe? Do we want to help someone understand that they might be unknowingly committing a faux pas, and we believe them to be a well-intended person? Is it someone in a position of power who might not realize how their words and actions impact others? Are we reacting to trauma and can’t be calm or “rational” in the situation and need to voice our concerns right then and there?

Or could it be something else? Do I want to earn cool kid points with my other social justice buddies? Am I taking out shitty feelings on another person in a kind of online know-it-all bullying? Does this person not have the kind of educational privileges that would bring them into contact with certain schools of thought — in that case, is it cool to put them down publicly?

When I feel the need to call someone out, I ask myself why I’m doing it, and how I can do it in a way that’s effective. Will blasting them publicly on facebook work? Not usually. Especially if it’s someone I’m close with. A private message or talking to them in person would do better.

I also consider how egregious the oppressive behavior is. Atheists like Richard Dawkins are often guilty of spreading xenophobic and Orientalist notions in their critiques of Islam. As an atheist, I think it’s important to recognize that this kind of behavior is part of a centuries’ long history of the West treating the East as inferior — it’s part of delusional thinking and those who fancy themselves rational thinkers ought to reject it. A post on a friend’s wall recently stirred up a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment, and I was quick to publicly call it out. It wasn’t a simple misunderstanding; it was a group of white Western atheists talking shit about millions of people. My motivation wasn’t only to stem the vitriol spewed by the individuals involved in the conversation, but also for others who might be reading and following along. Based on my own interactions with the atheist blog-o-sphere, it can be an echo chamber, and I wanted to voice an alternate viewpoint.

When I do a speaking gig, or a friend who is genuinely curious asks me something about being a trans person, but might use an awkward word like “transgendered” or “hermaphorodite” when they mean intersex. In these cases, I would correct the language but understand the person is coming from a place of literal ignorance and not bigotry.

And sometimes [drumroll] I just let it slide. Sometimes I have to. Sometimes there are bigger fish to fry. Sometimes I like someone enough to squint past their fuck ups because we all make mistakes, and at the end of the day we all need each other. I might call it out again later if I notice the same thing happen again (like if someone repeatedly uses the same ableist slur) or maybe I’ll bring it up later. Sometimes I don’t have the mental bandwidth to do it, and as a counselor once told me, I don’t always have to go die on that hill.

Sometimes it’s okay to drop the flaming sword.

A lot has also been written on calling in v. calling out. I’ll post a couple of lovely links here if you’re puzzled about how to have those tough conversations and want a primer:

Here’s one from Everyday Feminism and another from Black Girl Dangerous.


Photo credit: This person’s awesome pinterest

“Seasons change and so did I…”

“Seasons change and so did I…”

CW: Intimate partner violence, sexual assault


You know how you do that thing where you start a blog, prep a few posts to be released in a timely fashion, then start a new job and completely run out of steam? Yeah, sorry rest-of-the-month-of-August-and-beginning-of-September.

I’m back to write about something that feels very important, something weighing heavily on my mind as this new season begins.

This time last year I was debating whether or not I should leave an abusive relationship. We tried couples therapy, we attempted to rebuild intimacy and trust, but ultimately we couldn’t make it work. My ex gave up all interest in trying to work things out, and I knew there was nowhere to go from there. Still, I was reluctant to leave the relationship. We’d been married for just shy of two years, and had moved into an apartment with friends last summer. I was in my final year of college and working on my thesis. It seemed impossible to end this relationship and pick up the slack by myself financially speaking. It all seemed too hard. Around the time I was contemplating all these hard choices, the #WhyIStayed hashtag was making the rounds, and it brought to light that situations like mine take place all over the world all of the time. Survivors of IPV feel stuck between a rock and a hard place, and finances are often a leading cause.

Completely distraught, I met with two of my mentors (to whom I will forever owe my gratitude and undying respect) and asked their advice. One gave me the kick in the ass I needed to move forward, and the other assured me my future was bright enough to stand on my own. I began the difficult process of extricating myself from this miserable relationship. As I recently wrote on the subject:

I had to face the fact that not only had my body been violated time and time again, but my belief in another person I once adored and with whom I’d planned to build a life and family had been completely eroded. I decided to get out in order to survive. Sleeping next to someone whose touch made me feel nauseated became too much to bear. I felt fraudulent, pretending to be content when instead I felt absolutely numb. It’s only more recently that I’ve been able to deal with the pain the actions of others caused me, and with complications stemming from the decisions I had to make as a result. Some of those decisions, particularly the ones where I opted to take care of and stand up for myself, resulted in estrangement from other relationships that either had to be temporarily suspended or walked away from completely. It’s been incredibly hard. The domino effect from these choices reverberates through me in countless other ways to this day. Things keep getting better, but slowly and often painstakingly.

It’s never easy to leave. This is particularly true if, like me, you are female assigned at birth and perceived as masculine of center. Though I identify as femme, my identity is fluid and over the years I’ve ID’d as butch, transmasculine, and mostly trans and genderqueer. I’m perceived as male about half the time now, and that comes with innumerable privileges, but also detriments. There are many reasons why FAAB trans, genderqueer, and masculine-of-center (MOC) folks might not report their abuse or seek out help. Some cite their abuse as emasculating — this is similar to why cisgender men don’t report abuse, but when you’re trans, other aspects of your identity can come into play. As survivor Joe Ippolito writes in his article on trans men/MOC folks and IPV:

[T]he trans men/MOC people I talked to seemed, like myself and many other trans people, particularly vulnerable to such abuse because the perpetrators would often use our trans identities against us to further assert power and control over our lives. Other trans-specific abusive tactics include, according to trans advocacy group FORGE: threatening to ‘out’ someone to their employer, friends, or family members; voicing anti-trans epithets and negative stereotypes; and utilizing knowledge of police abuse geared towards trans people to further discourage targets from seeking help.

Someone newly establishing their identity as masculine can be particularly vulnerable because our society teaches us that to be victimized is to be weak, and that only women are raped or abused. Masculinity leaves no room for victimization. Even if we know better it can be tough to overcome that stigma. Some of us might even ask for help but be denied, humiliated, or otherwise invalidated in our identities in the process. We might not be believed, because no one might think a MOC person can be raped or abused. But as this fact sheet on IPV in LGBT communities states, “Abuse is NOT about size, strength, or who is ‘butch’ or more masculine. Abuse is about using control to gain power and control regardless of a person’s gender or sexual identity.” In some cases, we might even fear being further traumatized — or worse. Ky Peterson, a black trans man who defeneded himself against his rapist, has spent the last three years in jail for involuntary manslaughter.*

When you are being abused by another trans or genderqueer person, especially someone male assigned at birth, there is the added pressure to not demonize or imprison a trans woman (or someone who is perceived as such). Similarly to abuse in cisgender lesbian communities discussed in the landmark piece Suffering In a Silent Vacuum, we might feel guilt for bringing more bad press to an already maligned community. But I firmly believe that we will only heal through truth-telling and acknowledging that there is nothing shameful in being abused, and that those of us who have been through it and those of us who perpetrate violence against others have the ability to recover.

Let me be clear: I believe in accountability and rehabilitation for those who cause harm to others. I believe a community can hold folks accountable through love and good faith effort. I know people who have been earnest in their desire to get better and have committed themselves to accountability — one such person put themselves through the process of their own accord and “outs” themselves on first dates as someone who has caused harm. However, when one refuses accountability, or continues to perpetrate harm, (as I learned my ex has,) I also firmly believe in the rights of survivor/victims to warn others and keep their communities safe. The missing stair analogy works well here, and I believe keeping one another from tripping is vital. If the “stair” can’t be fixed and the person who causes harm isn’t willing to get better, we as survivor/victims have every right to call bullshit. I also believe in the rights of survivor/victims to take care of themselves at all costs. For me this meant securing a protection from abuse, filing for divorce, and limiting my exposure to toxic relationships in order to give myself the chance to heal.

I also firmly believe we own our stories. Our stories are powerful. Every time I tell mine, other people share theirs. Sometimes the most powerful thing someone can say is, “yeah, me too.”

In that spirit, I will conclude this post (which turned out to be much, much longer than I thought it would be) with something I shared elsewhere:

If you’re struggling in an abusive relationship, do what you can to save and protect yourself. You deserve to prioritize yourself. If you have to avoid certain people and situations, that’s okay. Learn to trust your gut again. In all likelihood, you’ve been avoiding listening to that tiny voice inside of you for a really long time. You aren’t alone. The more and more I talk about this stuff, the more others open up to me that they’ve been through it, too. You’re not alone. You. are. not. alone. Whenever you feel like you’re completely isolated and wading through the day to day all by yourself feels too hard, take a little piece of me, maybe the words you’re reading now, and keep it with you. You’re strong enough to do what you need. I promise.

For more information on how to get help as a trans person experiencing IPV, check out this link: http://forge-forward.org/

*To learn more about Ky’s struggle, please visit https://freeingky.wordpress.com/

Photo credit: the author

“Everytime I see you falling / I get down on my knees and pray” – Part I

“Everytime I see you falling / I get down on my knees and pray” – Part I

I was initially excited when I came across an Everyday Feminism article about abuse in polyamorous relationships in my facebook feed. Finally! Someone is talking about the kinds of abuse that can come to a head in relationships that don’t fit the typical dyad framework! This is something that has been so integral to the work I’ve done over the last few years facilitating polyamory meetup groups and workshops, yet is largely ignored by a lot of “mainstream” discussions. These kinds of issues can be particularly tricky to diagnose, particularly because a lot of mental healthcare providers and family counselors aren’t poly-competent.

However, as I read the post, I began to frown at my phone’s tiny screen… One of the “warning flags” the article highlights could potentially be a feature of a negotiated, healthy polyamorous practice:

“Requiring the secondary to be romantically or sexually involved with both people – or break up entirely.”

Counter to the article’s advice, having a committed triad in which members all sleep with one another isn’t necessarily a sign of abuse. If one of the stipulations of a couple’s opening up (or a triad’s coming together) is that they find someone with whom they can be mutually intimate, and this is discussed, disclosed, and otherwise made clear from the get-go, that isn’t necessarily a “red flag.” Hell, this could be true for a larger group/relationship — a small group might decide they are only interested in sleeping with members of the group, and expect other members to do the same.

This article aside, I’ve seen other misconceptions about the “right” way to do poly come to the surface, and I find it equally disturbing to label them as “abuse.”

One example is the difference between hierarchical and non-hierarchical poly. There is a good deal to be said for doing away with hierarchical poly, if it fits with what those involved want and need, and many people feel more at home with non-hierarchical poly or relationship anarchy (and a multitude of other practices). However, some people may decide they do want to be part of a more organized structure and find it more elucidating to know where they stand in relation to others.

Yet, having been a part of many discussions on the topic, many claim hierarchical poly is abusive or outmoded in and of itself. This ignores the fact that some may prefer to be a secondary in a poly relationship — if you already have a primary, or if you value your “you” time, or you have a really busy schedule, you might not have the time and/or spoons to take on the responsibility and commitment of a relationship that requires a lot of emotional heavy lifting. You might find it more comfortable to walk into a situation where a couple is already pre-established and they both want to lavish you with attention, but you don’t necessarily want to be the one who has to pick up the kids from soccer practice or figure out how to balance the household budget. Of course all people are obligated to be kind to their partners, and ignoring anyone’s emotional needs is absolutely a red flag. Secondaries are sometimes treated like appendages rather than whole people. This is where something like the Guide for Secondaries or passages from The Ethical Slut can be useful!

But what about abuse? How do we know when to draw the line?


Tune in next week for Part II of this post on ethical non-monogamy!

Photo credit: This person’s awesome etsy page