Friday, March 16, 2018

Day 107: Ownership and Anger

A week ago I was assaulted.

Honestly, I've been torn about calling it assault.  I don't want people thinking that it was worse than it was, or that I'm being a drama queen.  At the same time, I'm a little tired of us qualifying sexual transgressions against victims, because we want to downplay the impact.  As I often do when I'm torn about word choice, I turned to the dictionary, and this is what I found: 

The second definition of assault is "a concerted attempt to do something demanding."
The definition of sexual assault is "unwanted sexual contact."

Those both sound like what happened.

So, yeah.  I was assaulted a week ago.

Here, in brief, is what happened:

I invited a guy to come watch Jessica Jones with me.  We were supposed to hang out, the series had just dropped, we were both MCU fans--it seemed like a natural fit.  Because I'm cautious, I actually invited him and then immediately followed it with this message;

I am not inviting you over for the colloquial "Netflix and Chill."  This is a genuine Nerd meetup.  I actually want to watch Jessica Jones.

He responded with agreement and I thought we were good.  I made popcorn.  He brought whiskey in a brown paper bag (which, if you're not familiar with the show, is actually thematically very amusing).  We settled in to watch.

Then, about fifteen minutes into the second episode, it happened.

Honestly, I'm not sure what prompted it on his part.  I wasn't watching him; I wasn't really engaged with him in any way.  I was watching Jessica Jones, seriously focused on the drama unfolding before me.

That is, until I felt him shift on the couch, and then his hands grabbed my face, and he tried to stick his tongue down my throat.

It's weird, but I don't remember if he actually kissed me or not.  My mind is completely blanking on what happened for about three seconds.  I have a vague feeling that he did manage it?  But, seriously, the memory of the moment is gone.  So, I can't say for sure.

I jerked away from him, and gave him what, I'm sure, was a look of utter bewilderment.

"Whoa!  Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat are you doing?"

"Oh," he said back with a sheepish smile.  "Sorry.  Sorry."

"No."  My voice got stronger as my brain started to process what had just happened.  "Seriously, dude, what are you doing?!"

"Sorry," he said again, still smiling in that genial, calm way we do when we think sorry covers it and it wasn't that big a deal.  "Let's just watch."

"Uh, no."  Normally I'm a pretty animated person, but now my voice was flat and dead.  "You need to leave.  Now."

The smile slid off his face as he realized I was serious.  That he wasn't just going to be laughingly forgiven.  That I was legitimately kicking him out of my house. 

He moved with agonizing slowness, getting ready to leave.  He kept saying "sorry, sorry, sorry," until finally I said "I heard you.  I don't really have anything else to say."  Then he looked at me with hurt and bewildered eyes, like he couldn't believe I was refusing to forgive him.  Absolve him.  Just let it go.

At one point he said, "I can see that you're upset."  I didn't know what to say to that.  Couldn't figure out how to put what I was feeling into words.  Couldn't express how angry it made me that he'd touched me, and how much more angry it was making me that he didn't understand why I cared.

As he finally--finally!  After what felt like an eternity!--pulled on his coat, he said "I'm sorry I ruined things."

I didn't answer. 
I was waiting for him to get out.

I spent the rest of the night vibrating.  I was furious, and miserable, and I wanted to vomit, but I didn't know why.  After all, it wasn't that bad, was it?  One unwanted kiss is not that big a deal.  I wasn't hurt.  I wasn't raped.  He left when I told him to.

Why was I so angry?

It's taken me a week.  A week where I've told almost everyone I know about this event, and talked it over with them, and gotten a lot of insight from others.  But I finally know why I was so upset.  Why I'm still upset.  Why, even as I'm typing this, my stomach is churning and I want to grind my teeth.  Basically, it boils down to this:

He didn't treat me like my desires had any impact on what should happen.

After all, I'd told him I wasn't inviting him over to hook up.  And I was clearly watching the TV, not giving him inviting glances.  But he'd decided the time had come for his tongue to be in my mouth, so that was what was going to happen.  Not because he was trying to assault me, just because, in his world view, it's not my decision to make.

It's his.

Because women don't own themselves.  Our bodies are not our property.  They belong to whomever chooses to claim us.

We see it over and over again.  From our President, who treats women (including his own daughter) like their most significant trait is how much he wants to bang them; to that psycho that shot up a sorority house in order to "punish all women for the crime of denying" him love; to those "nice guys" who get angry when they're put in the "friend-zone"; to schools that insist that girl's wear concealing clothing so as not to distract the boys.

It's not just the "bad guys" or the "creeps."  It's everyone.

When women are assaulted, we often tell them that they should have been more clear in their rejections.  That their non-verbal cues weren't enough.  That they should have been explicit about saying no.  But I was clear, and it didn't help.  Because the problem is not that we aren't clear about what we want.  The problem is that, when your body is considered public property, what you want is less important that what the man looking at you wants.

And this is so universal, so widely accepted, that if you get angry when they treat you like public property, it actually confuses them.

I'd said I wasn't inviting him over to hook-up.  I'd been in the middle of watching something on the TV.  He clearly, unequivocally, treated me like I had no agency over myself.  But when I got upset, he could not figure out why.

And he was hurt that I wouldn't forgive him.  Because, just like I owed him my body and my attention, I also owed him my forgiveness.

And, in the end, the final thing he apologized for was "ruining it."  Not assaulting me.  Not treating me as less than a person.  Not ignoring my right to choose for myself. 

No, he apologized for the part he wished hadn't happened.  The part where the date wasn't going to happen anymore.  Because that's all he could see that was wrong.

You know, the funny thing is, I'm sure he wouldn't have wandered into my house without an invitation.  But he felt free to put his hands on my body without one.

Because my house, obviously, is mine.

But my body?  Not so much.

So yeah. 

A week ago I was assaulted.

And I'm still fucking angry.

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Day 106: The Shape of Pain

It's funny, the things that make your heart break.

No.  Bad.  Try again.

It's not funny.  It's achingly sad, and brutal, and it makes your chest hurt and your eyes constantly fill with tears.

It's not funny.

But it's funny, anyway.  Because you never know what the final straw will be.  The one that breaks not your back, but your heart.  Mine came because someone I admired turned out to be a child rapist.

I could have said that more gently, couldn't I?  Been less shocking, or eased into it or something.

But what would be the point?  No matter how gently I said it, the fact remains.

People rape children.

And maybe, if that were all, I could contain it.  But there is an avalanche of bad in this world, and I cannot stop it from crushing me right now.

People rape children, yes.  But grown women and men are raped every day, too.  And men are told they can't say no, because they always want it, and women are told they can't say yes, because that makes them worthless sluts.  Those in positions of power abuse and harass those that have no ability to defend themselves.  Black children are shot for playing with toy guns.  Black men die in police custody.  Sheriffs create their own personal concentration camps in the name of the county they serve.  Latinos are told they're lazy, job-stealing moochers, thugs and rapists.  Latinas are fetishized and molested and told they ought to be grateful because their brown skin means they are second class citizens.  Trans women--

I can't.  I can't right now.

Children who have grown up in this country find that their lives are in danger of being uprooted and cast to the winds.  People are dying from lack of basic healthcare in the wealthiest nation in the world.  Our children are taught that slavery was a type of immigration, and that Europeans negotiated for this land with the native populations.

Our rivers are growing more poisonous and our skies are filling with CO2.  We destroy our rainforests and our coral reefs and our wetlands, and our oceans are slowly emptying of life as we turn them into a toxic landfill.

Our leaders care only about retaining power, not about the people they are supposed to serve, and the people seem impotent and apathetic, to say the least.

I could keep going.  This is only a trickle of what could be said.  I could unleash a flood of words that burn like acid in the telling.

But the flood wouldn't wash anything clean.  So what would be the point?

Instead, I will tell you a story.

Last night I could not settle.  I knew I needed rest, but when I close my eyes...

When I close my eyes, I feel my heart bleeding, and I cannot bear it.

So I tried to distract myself.  Tried to soothe myself.  Tried everything I could think of.  And, at last, I turned on a guided meditation, and tried to fall into it.

I couldn't.  The sweet voiced man in the recording was trying to lead me to my inner spirit guide, but I never got that far.  As he was taking me down (deep, deeper... to a place where you can let it all go), I suddenly saw in my mind a small figure in black.  Not the brown-black of healthy human skin, or the rich, inky black of a beautiful velvet; but a sickly tar-black, that oozed and swirled in a vague human outline.

And I knew, in that instant, that this sick, black thing was a part of me.  And that I could either fear it, or I could accept it, but those were the only options. 

And if I feared it, it would rise up and becoming a thing that terrified me all my days.

So I opened my arms, and I pulled the sick black thing close to me.  And as I drew it closer I saw beneath the surface for a moment. 

I saw that it was just a child.  And it was scared, and sad, and so very, very broken.

And I cried.  In my meditation, but also in the real, living body that lay on my bed.  Because it hurt so much to try to hold that sad, broken part of me.

There was another me there.  She was made of light, and didn't even try to be human in shape.  And I knew she was there, and that she longed to help, but this isn't her place or time.  She cannot take primacy, not when my pain is so strong.

But she loves us both.  My conscious and my pain.  And she'll be there when we're ready to be more than this.  This weeping, tangled mass of thought and sorrow. 

I hope it won't be too long.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Day 105: An Angry Walrus

Once upon a time, when I was much younger, I was hanging out in a roomful of men, arguing with them about sexism.

Now, we were all young.  And I'm not mad about anything that happened in there.  But, at the time, it was super frustrating, because I had men explaining to me what it was like to be a woman, and how the representation of women in media impacted me.

Yeah.  I know, right?

Super great.

Anyway, that was by no means the ONLY time this ever happened to me.  But this time was particularly memorable, mainly because it left me with two AMAZING quotes that I will carry for eternity.

One was when Rick, who was widely acknowledged as the most analytical of the group, made a meta comment about the nature of the argument.  He evaluated the situation thus;

"You're like an angry walrus in a room full of polar bears."

The resemblance is remarkable, isn't it?

I swear, y'all, that felt so true and profound to me that sometimes I whisper it to myself when I'm taking on a room full of people who disagree with me, as fortification for the fight ahead. 

The second was when Chris, who was spearheading the opposing team (ie: everybody) came up with this gem;

"I must not be explaining myself properly, because if I did, you would agree with me."

Believe it or not, this was intended to be a compliment, of sorts.  See, Chris felt that I was not entirely stupid, so therefore if he could just draw the logical progression of his thoughts for me in a thorough enough manner, I would inevitably come around to his way of thinking.  As all not entirely stupid people must.

At any rate, this particular phrase was used as a joke between myself and my partner for YEARS, so I don't really regret hearing it.

I kinda regret the whole cultural build up that makes it such a common attitude, though.

In the past week I have been told--not only once, but twice, by two separate men--that clearly I did not understand Capitalism.  If I did, I would inevitably agree with them and their economic theories.  Neither of these men was an economist.  They were just opinionated dudes, who assumed that if I disagreed, I must be ignorant. 

Oh my sweet summer child...
You know not what you have unleashed.

Folks, I am a lot of things.  But "ignorant" is not generally one of them.  I mean sure, if we're talking theoretical physics, I'm as ignorant as the next person--

I can't get past Schrödinger.  I understand the theory, I just don't understand how we define observation.  Is it simply exposure to other matter?  And, if so, what level of matter?  Are quarks good enough?  Does it need to be atoms?  Surely we're not talking about actual sentient life, are we?  That seems extreme in such a vast universe--

Sorry, got off topic.  Schrödinger is a real puzzler for me.

Anyway, my grasp of economics is generally as well informed as the next casual citizen who has no degree in the topic.  Possibly more so, since I have an actual interest in economics, and I think it's possible that the average citizen does not.  Certainly not less, since economic discussions have been part of my life from very early on, because my parents were Socialists in the South in a time when that was sort of a dirty word.

All of which means, when some dude rolls up on me with a condescending attitude and an assurance that my only problem is that no one has shown me the error of my ways, I SEE RED.

Here's the thing... I think this is a problem with our cultural model for debate.  Specifically, with what is generally a gendered model.  Men are taught to present their opinions as facts.  They are taught to deride those that disagree with them.  They are taught to be aggressive, rather than being thoughtful.

And, as a culture, we accept that this is the CORRECT way to debate.  I used to teach the SAT, and on the writing portion students were specifically told not to say "I think" or "In my opinion" because it weakened their argument.  Women are told in corporate setting to present their positions as irrefutable, to be more like men in their presentations. 

But I don't think that's a good idea AT ALL.  I think opinions should be presented as opinions, and facts should be presented as fact.  And debates should be exploratory in model, in which each side is attempting to understand and fully engage with the other's perspective. 


And if you don't agree, I'm happy to debate you on it.

Now, if you'll pardon me, I need to go breathe angry walrus fire.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Day 104: Forty Things Before Forty

I turned 39 at the beginning of this month, and honestly, I was surprised at the number of people who said something along the lines of "Only one more year 'til the big Four-Oh!"  I mean, I knew people were paranoid about turning 40?  I just didn't expect so many of them to think I would be paranoid about turning 40.  

Oh, well.  

At any rate, it did get me thinking about the average human life span, and the passage of time, and the process of waiting.  I feel like we wait for a lot, because we assume that some day will the the right time.  Or a better time.  Or a possible time.  And there's actually some truth in that.  Unless we think we're going to die tomorrow, going massively into debt in order to visit every continent in the span of six months is... well... a little irresponsible.  On the other hand, sometimes we fall into routine, and we pass up perfectly possible adventures, all because we assume there will be some magical someday when they'll come to us again, and we'll be better prepared.

Well, if I have average luck then at this point half my life is gone.  And if I have bad luck then hell, maybe 95% of my life is gone.  So, with that in mind, I decided to make a bucket list of 40 things I want to do before I turn 40.  


Here we go.

Forty Things Before Forty:

1) Take the children somewhere they've never been.

2) Publish one fiction book.

3) Publish one non-fiction book.

4) Actually sell a piece of writing to a publisher who isn't me.

5) Dance.

6) Learn to do a handstand.

7) Unplug for 48 Hours.

8) Write letters to the people I love.

9) Go somewhere I've never been.

10) Take care of my body.

11) Ride in a hot air balloon

12) Say "no" if it's no, but otherwise say "YES."

13) Make something beautiful.

14) Go camping.

15) Host an old fashioned picnic or tea.

16) Have a Free Hug Day.

17) Cosplay.

18) Make a fantastic gingerbread house.

19) Write poetry.

20) Be consistently honest with myself.

21) Drive a sports car.

22) View a natural phenomenon.

23) Attend a large event, festival, or convention.

24) Swim somewhere with a waterfall.

25) Go Zydro-ing.

26) Do a color run.

27) Build a sand castle.

28) Collect a beautiful memory for each time of day.

29) Try a new cuisine.

30) Have art made for me.

31) Grow something edible.

32) Make a shaving cream slip-and-slide.

33) Try sensory deprivation.

34) Design my next tattoo.

35) Go to a drive-in.

36) Build more blanket forts.

37) Make scrapbooks for the kids.

38) Build a snowman.

39) Go on a scavenger hunt.

40) Throw a banging party.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Day 103: Dear Nice Guys,

Dear Nice Guys,

Fuck you.

No, seriously.  Fuck.  You.  I am so tired of you and your bullshit.  Of your aggressive insistence that I make exceptions for you because you, YOU ARE DIFFERENT.  You're not like those OTHER men!

News flash, sweetheart.  You are exactly like those other men.

"But!' you say, all indignant and aggrieved, "I don't get angry and abusive when you reject me!"

No, of course not.  Instead you pout, and cast hurt glances my way, as though that were somehow BETTER.  As though that did not still imply that I owe you something.  That you have a right to my attention and affection.

Let me offer the most recent in a lifetime of examples.  Today, on a social website, I received a message from a man who was pleased of offer me his approval.

See, he started so well.  SO WELL.  A compliment.  A mild flirtation.  Maybe a bit of hypocrisy claiming to be a grammar nerd, given his complete wreckage of the English language in the next to last sentence, but, honestly, I forgive typos all the time.  And, being a well-bred woman, when I am complimented, I say thank you.  And so I did.

Which, of course, is when he got butt hurt.

Really, dude?  Quotations around writer?  Like, your message was a test, and I've failed, so now I don't get my certificate of authenticity from the Masculine Authority Agency?

I thought I'd take it easy at first.  I mean, sometimes people don't get how their words come across.  Not everyone is thoughtful in their presentation.  Not everyone is cognizant of their impact.  Not everyone is...


You did not want to start this shit with me.  I swear you did not.  But you were a fool, and now you will reap what you sow.


I am so exhausted by my own irritation.  I am also exhausted by the idea that I should just ignore it, and move on.



Look, there are a select number of people in the world to whom I owe my attention.  All of them are people with whom I have deep, interconnected bonds, and an understanding of support and reciprocity between us.


Nice guys tear my ass with frustration, because they think they get a cookie for being a decent human being.  And, as soon as the cookie doesn't come, they suddenly stop being a decent human.



Look, I think I may have lost some coherence here, but I've got a lot of rage over this issue.  Lemme sum up my points, in an attempt to wrap this up in a marginally comprehensive way.

1) Don't say you're a nice guy, or different, or whatever.  Just be different.  Trust me.  We'll notice.

2) If you can't acknowledge that you're having a negative impact, and adjust for that, we'll notice that, too.

Oh, and that dude?  That guy who was so different?

Yeah.  Let's leave it at that.  I think I prefer being unappreciated by men like you.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Day 102: Accepting Loss

Note: All of my blogs are about my own lived experience, but I want to make doubly sure I say that before this one.  The language I'm using here is thoughtfully chosen to reflect that very personal experience.

Every year, on October 14th, I mourn my husband.

It's a funny thing to do, because, in a way, it's like mourning an imaginary friend, or a character in a play.  The man I married didn't really exist.  He was an elaborate costume being worn by a woman who didn't truly know herself yet, and, as such, I guess he wasn't an actual person.

But he was real to me.

We all--no matter how close we are--see each other from the outside in, and for a decade I saw a man that I loved very much, who later faded from my life as the woman she was finally emerged.

It's odd when you lose someone in bits and pieces.  When is it that they start to really be gone?  Is it when they dress differently, and hold themselves differently, and speak in a different tone?  Is it when they give up their old hobbies and favorites, and fill their life with new endeavors?  Is it when their scent changes, and their body changes, and they feel like a stranger sitting beside you on the couch?

Is it when you can no longer lean into them, and feel all the ways in which you fit together?  All the places that your inner selves match up just right?

I don't know.  I don't know when that moment happens.  I didn't see it go by.  It was a process--a long and painful process, made all the harder by my conviction that mourning it was disrespectful to the woman who was slowly emerging in the world, even as my husband faded away.  I was supposed to be supportive, and loving, and embrace this new person.  So I tried not to grieve, because it felt like a betrayal.

But you can't stop grief just because you think you should.  You can make it uglier, and more painful--a thing that bursts out in fits and starts and jagged anguish--but that's all that fighting it will do.  The grief will still come.  The best you can do is accept it.

I grieved then.  And I still grieve now.  Not all the time.  Not constantly.  I love my friend Natalie.  I'm happy for her.  I'm glad she has the chance to live her life as herself, and not inside the shell of a person she never really was.

But I miss my husband.
I mourn him.
And on October 14th, I miss him just a little bit more.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Day 101: Queen of the Freaks

I don't normally do this, but: TRIGGER WARNING.  Someone was a real asshole to me, and if that's gonna upset you, don't read this.  Also transphobia and general rage inducement.

I recently told my friends that, if they needed my help on Facebook, they could summon me.  Let's be real; I'm a brawler, by nature.  If I'd been born to parents who were less serious about teaching non-violence, I would probably have gone into MMA or something.  As it is, I am happy to pop into any thread where a troll is making issues, and put the verbal smack down on them.

So, the other night, when I was informed that a friend needed a hand on her thread, I hopped over to see what was going on.  Turned out this jerk had shown up and started throwing insults around, so I swirled my red flag in the air and brought him snorting around in my direction.

I was expecting... I don't know.  Either an actual debate on the topic at hand, or possibly a few derogatory remarks thrown my way.  But what I got was so far beyond the pale that I just sat there and stared at it, stunned.

I can't show you a screen cap, cause I didn't take one, and the comment got deleted by the owner of the thread.  But, to the best of my recollection, it went something like this:

Oh look, the Queen of the Freaks has shown up.  Honestly I'm appalled someone hasn't taken your children away, because you still live with that abomination you married.

I'm not sure I have the prowess as a writer to capture the emotion that surged through me as I read that.  I was so angry I wanted to vomit.  I wanted to rake into him with my fingernails and rip his guts out.  I wanted to beat him to a bloody pulp and then, once I had his attention, tell him that if he ever put his vile words on my family again I would make him really regret it.

I'm a violent person, y'all.  I've never claimed otherwise.

I didn't do any of that, though.  Instead, I thanked him for proving my point--who sinks to character attacks when they have actual valid arguments instead?--and then went and told everyone I know that I needed a new t-shirt.

When I was in college, we did a production of Sideshow.  For those of you that don't know, Sideshow is about two conjoined twins, and their rise as Vaudeville performers.  Their career began in a carnival freak show, and the show opens with a haunting and angry song "Come Look at the Freaks."

Normally productions of Sideshow get a little extravagant.  The costumes for the carnival performers alone are a bit much, with false beards and snakeskin and all kinds of nonsense.  But our director chose to go the other way.  The "freaks" were all just normal people, being themselves.  And the "normal" people in the show all wore these bland half masks that blurred their more distinctive features.  All in all, I thought it was a beautiful and poignant commentary on normality.

So, while I still wanna pummel that asshole, I'm more than happy to take the title he gave me.  I probably don't deserve the crown, but I would do my best to live up to the honor of being the Queen of all the people who are authentic to themselves, regardless of how the rest of the world views them.

And I made myself that damn t-shirt.