Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Open Letter to a Rape Apologist

(excerpted from an actual letter that I sent to an actual person)

I feel that you and I are on two sides of a fundamental ideological divide that is very, very important to me. I am not sure that it's something we can reconcile, because I don't anticipate changing your mind. It isn't even really my goal to do that.

I do want to explain where I am coming from, though.

I believe that survivors of sexual violence can be, and often are, legitimately harmed by flippant and/or humorous references to sexual violence. This belief is consistent with my own lived experience, with the experience of many of my closest friends, and with my understanding of feminism and human psychology.

That belief works together with my belief that in order to create and maintain effective community, it is beneficial to refrain from doing unnecessary harm to people within that community.

I believe, also, that it is my right and my responsibility to create safe spaces in my personal life for myself and for my friends. I cannot control what happens in all of the world. I can't prevent myself from being constantly exposed to racism, or homophobia, or misogyny, or Christians who want to convert me. I can, to an extent, control the kinds of things I allow into my psychic and social world. I can do my best to create spaces to in which I feel that I can let down my shields a little bit and not worry about being harmed by the people around me.

I understand that you do not necessarily agree with all of these things. I understand that you, from what I can tell, feel that refraining from making light of sexual violence amounts to "coddling" survivors. I do not expect to change your mind on that topic, but: having that particular argument voiced and defended repeatedly is incredibly upsetting to me, whether or not you believe that to be true. I know that you said you were only playing Devil's advocate, but the fact that you felt this was an OK topic to debate in that fashion automatically means that you discount the harm that debating it could do.

From my perspective, disagreeing with this fundamental idea involves believing one of two things: 1) That real harm is not done by those kind of jokes and comments. This, to me, is the same thing as saying, "I do not accept your experiences as valid - in fact, I believe that I know more about your experience than you do, and I know that you have not been harmed." 2) Even though harm is done, that harm is not your concern or responsibility.

I do not know which side of that particular line best explains your position. What I do know is that either of those positions creates space in which I feel unsafe, and which my friends and loved ones are at risk.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

when a friend isn't an ally (trigger warning)

A friend is not an ally on humid, house-party Saturday night.

A friend is not an ally when, two or three or four glasses of wine in, they open debate on a latest controversy, when they lean in, primed for A Rousing Debate about whether or not rape culture is a thing that exists, when they expect you to defend your position with the same charm, intelligence, and passion that you do when you're talking about school reform.

A friend is not an ally when they think this is the kind of conversation you're willing to have at a party, when they think that an intellectual discussion of rape goes nicely with a front lawn and an evening breeze and a beer. A friend is not an ally when you wish they were wearing a trigger warning t-shirt.

A friend is not an ally when several acquaintances, one of whom is a comedian, enter the conversation preaching "Nothing is sacred, everything is funny," and the friend doesn't disagree. And those acquaintances smile at their own cleverness, their edge, when they claim loudly against the silent opposition, "There's nothing that can't be made light of," meaning, of course, that they really believe it's harmless (in which case they're hopeless) or that the harm it does, the harm it does to you, is a non-issue (in which case they're fucking assholes).

Because you're non-verbal at this point. You're absolutely incapable of saying anything about this.

A party is not a party once the rape apology avalanche begins, once you start to feel claustrophobic even though you're outside, once you begin to feel afraid of everyone around you and your thought process is panicked, repeating, "I have to leave I have to get out I have to leave I have to get out." A party is not a party when the stifling Midwestern night air feels just a little like someone holding you down, when you start to wish you had something sharp and metal because holding it in your hand would calm you.

A party isn't a party when you leave in the middle of this conversation, telling everyone you're tired. You are tired, but that isn't the reason you leave.

A friend isn't an ally when it doesn't occur to them to follow up and make sure you're OK. A friend isn't an ally when it doesn't occur to them that someone might be made less than OK by this series of events.

A friend isn't an ally when they are too invested in their own privilege to admit it exists.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

7 Obvious Signs That Your Relationship Isn't Total Crap

There is a lot of bullshit in the world, floating around, killing my buzz. One example: gender-essentialist dating/relationship advice. It makes so very little sense, and is so divorced from my particular concept of the way People and The World function, that I can't imagine how the authors even come up with this shit.

It's as if someone took a list of things that they have found unpleasant or problematic in their personal relationships, then ran that list through some sort of automated stereotype enhancer fueled by sitcoms and really terrible commercials.

(Oh, wait, I think we call that overculture.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

It's not about milk.

My mother said, "If Ron Paul is president, at least you'll get your raw milk."

She was trying to be funny, a little, and sad, which is the best you can do when talking about politics right now.  A little funny, mostly sad. I find that I've lost any taste for laughing over the latest ridiculous thing that anyone was caught saying. I've lost any desire to follow this primary. The perverse rush that comes of tracking down sources for the latest terrifying promise or the next apocalyptic Dominionist wet dream scenario? It's gone.

All of the blitzy front-page HuffPo stories about Republican shenanigans fall flat, now. As if our laughter could insulate us.

As if raw milk were some kind of consolation.

Yeah, I'm one of those hippie-foodie types. I don't think the Feds ought to be raiding natural foods co-ops. I think there are bigger threats. Trying to keep up with the news in this arena puts me in contact with some pretty fucked up ideological circles. (Yeah, I am all good with that article until the Ron Paul endorsement. And the comments are scarier than many one sees on the internet at large.)

Identity politics is a powerful force. I'll admit that I had to do some research on the whole Ron Paul issue before I really understood how terrifying he was. I'll admit that I had some vague, theoretical conversations about interventionism with (generally white, male) friends of mine in which Paul was portrayed as a possible solution.

And some of those friends, when confronted with more evidence, will admit that he's got "problematic ideas." They'd never, you know, vote for him or anything. But...there's this sort of wistfulness about them when they say it.

Because the fear that he inspires (in all fairness, all of these candidates terrify me) is visceral and cannot be ignored. It is not a theoretical downfall. These are not problematic ideas.

I don't have the luxury of weighing the hypothetical moral benefits of a progressive social platform vs. a non-interventionist foreign policy. His anti-choice stance is not hypothetical to me. His religious agenda is not an interesting theory. It's real, and terrifying, and something that will affect me directly.

I don't know what this post is supposed to be, exactly, maybe An Open Letter to Fauxgressives Who Belong to Too Many Privileged Classes to be Scared of Ron Paul.

If you're not truly, personally frightened of the guy, let's just not fucking talk politics until after the election, OK?  Or maybe ever.

If I want my milk that bad I'll go live on a fucking farm. No way in hell does that even rate. I am sick of people pretending like it does.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

agree or disagree: the intricacies of consent (a personal story)

TRIGGER WARNING - discussion of sexual assault

I don't remember his name.

That's not a problem; I'd rather not remember. Part of my mind obsesses, though, runs through generic lists of names, trying to discover it. I can't shut it off.

I didn't really know him - he was a friend of a friend, who happened to be in the same place as me at the wrong time, I guess. I was having a bad day. Week. Year.

I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of the liquor store when I decided I'd sleep with him that night. We were getting a hotel room, four of us, because we still lived with our parents and didn't have a secure location where we could drink, smoke, fuck, whatever. I remember standing at the ATM. I paid for that room.

Agree or disagree: someone is consenting to sex if they go to a private place with you.

I didn't like him, especially, he was unimpressive. I was bored, all evening. After the drinking and the smoking, after the lights went out, I was relieved. I thought things might finally get interesting.

Agree or disagree: someone is consenting to sex if they get drunk or high with you.

Apparently, he had never heard of foreplay. Even though I was pretty drunk, and stoned out of my mind, this was a problem for me. I tried to slow him down, guide the process a little. He was totally non-receptive.

Agree or disagree: someone is consenting to sex if they allow you to remove their clothing.

I tried to stop everything, completely. Told him to stop, repeatedly. He ignored me. I decided that I might as well just go along with it, because it wasn't *that* bad. I was fucked up, and my pain tolerance is generally pretty high. After a few minutes, I tried to stop him again. He ignored me. I let it go. Repeat.

Agree or disagree: a person is consenting if they agree to have sex with you at first, but changes their mind after you've already started.

It seemed to go on forever. I would try to stop him until it became apparent there was nothing I could do, and then I'd try to put up with it until I couldn't take it any longer. I felt the need to remain calm. I was terrified.

Agree or disagree: a person is consenting if they say yes, but their body seems to be saying no.

I eventually got away - I told him I had to use the restroom. He let me up. I was too stoned, or too scared, and I forgot to lock the door, and he followed me in. I shoved him, dodged past him, got dressed, left.

Sat in my car, freaking out. I knew he'd follow me, but he didn't. (He was too busy telling my friends what a bitch and a tease I was.) I called a friend who lived hundreds of miles away. She called a friend who lived closer to me, and he came and picked me up. It was light when he arrived. He took me out to breakfast. Didn't ask too many questions.

The bruises took weeks to disappear. One night, I got drunk and told my mom about it. She said, "Once things get to a certain point you can't expect to be able to stop them."

For years after, every sexual encounter came packaged together nicely with a panic attack. Sometimes, when I started to freak out, I asked my partner to stop. Sometimes I didn't bother.

Often they didn't notice.

Until very recently, this night was filed in my brain under the tab "bad sex." I had a therapist who tried to convince me it deserved another label. I didn't bring it up with any therapists after that.

I recently began the process of becoming a volunteer sex ed coordinator for a non-profit. I haven't done any real sessions yet, I am still in the training stages. Monday, I attended a class on consent.

Part of the purpose of these practice sessions is to address some of the comments, concerns, or issues that might come up in a real class. To plan what you'll say when a student says, "Of course s/he wanted it."

"It doesn't matter what you think someone wants," I said, maybe a little too intensely. "What matters is what they tell you they want."

One of the facilitators paused, looked at me, and said, "Oh, you'll be good at this."

It was a very triggering session, and I should have known it would be, but somehow, until that moment, I was interacting with consent as a concept, as a theory, an idea to explain.

But I wonder how my experience would have been different if, in 7th or 8th or 9th grade, someone had told me, "What matters is what you say. What matters is what you agree to. And you can change your mind." I wonder how my experience would have been different if, in 7th or 8th or 9th grade, someone had told him, "Everyone has the right to give consent, or not. Everyone has the responsibility to respect that."

Would that have changed anything?

Even now, I can argue the concepts and defend the importance of explicit consent, but in my mind, my experience is somehow different.  My own brain is like a rape apology greatest hits album.

I arrived at this conceptual struggle somewhat late in the game, so it's an ongoing process for me.  But might there be one kid, in one of my sessions, one teenager who hears it? One person who learns to pay attention, to back off if they feel their partner hesitating? One who learns how to communicate their own boundaries?

One who doesn't watch all of their own feminist theory collapse in the face of the ways they blame themselves?

I really, really hope so.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

creepy dudes see the world as their daughter

This may be incoherent; I am sleep deprived.  You have been warned...

With some regularity I am caught between biting my tongue and pointing out the danger inherent in certain thought processes, ideologies, movements, etc.  Usually I bite my tongue, because a) I really hate conflict, and 2) I often don't have a really solid example to justify my fears that right-wing politicians and conservative evangelicals and random douchebags (Venn diagram of that one looks quite like a circle from a short distance, BTW) are OUT TO GET ME and RUIN MY LIFE.

Ahem.  See here .  The Daughter Test?  Seriously?  The government should outlaw everything that you don't think your (female)* kid should do?

Like crossing the street with no hand to hold?  And leaving veggies on the plate at the end of dinner?  And wearing the wrong length/type or skirt? Sitting too close to the television?  Running with scissors?  Dating that person you don't approve of?  Generally being strange in any way that offends your personal aesthetic?

Really, think about that - the government should have the same rules that you do for your child

And I'm the crazy socialist hippy liberal.  I thought I was supposed to be the one restricting your freedoms and such!  I just wanna take away your assault rifles and your SUVs, not tell you that you can't go hang out with Jimmy because his daddy's an atheist.

So, thank you, random douchebag contingent, for contributing a concrete example to the paranoia vault.  It is muchly appreciated.

Thing two, from the political/religious side of the fuckery, is this.  Inspirational pro-life movie about how abortion is SO EVIL that it's less evil to lock up girls in a basement dungeon until they give birth, or something.

Self-described pro-life.  Self-described horror.  I haven't actually seen it, just the trailer, and I think there might be some disconnect there what with the "Don't have an abortion because we are scary and will come get you!" not really helping their case, so much.  I mean, when was the last time you saw a locked in a basement movie in which those doing the locking were supposed to be the hero?

Logical disconnect = not my problem.  People who like to fantasize about locking women in basements and forcing them to give birth = everyone's problem.  Everyone who happens to have a uterus, anyway.

So how's that for you?  People who want the government to be your parents (literally), and people who want to kidnap women pursuing legal abortions and lock them in basements.  SCORE.  At least I get to be increasingly smug in my insistence that we are TOTALLY FUCKING DOOMED.

Zombie apocalypse sounds better every day.

* Because, of course, it's the girl children that need to be protected and legislated over.  There is a whole separate level of creepy to this which deals with the actual relationship between fathers (with their protecting and controlling) and daughters (with their helplessness and silly woman brains) in our culture, but that wasn't the point of this post.  This note is simply to point out that I understand that angle, and it's totally worth discussing, but I am not going there at the moment because I've had almost no sleep in the past 36 hours and I need a nap.  And I didn't even need the government to tell me so!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Quick note: "You look great!"

Why are you required to say this anytime you see a woman that you haven't seen in some time?  I am getting tired of all the "you look great!"s.  I look exactly the fucking same as I did last time you saw me.  Move on with your life.

Is it just me?  Is this required for men, too?