Two Weeks After The Presidential Election of Men Who Want Me Dead

Two Weeks After The Presidential Election of Men Who Want Me Dead

1.

I pause
to sit quietly and gather myself back
together, after all of the coming undone.
I’ve been running around with all of my parts
in the wrong places.

My heart in my hands, my guts in my mouth,
my eyes stretched out over my skin
so I can see in all directions –
a panoramic view of potential violence.

Yesterday, I sat next to another
Black woman on the train,
because statistically speaking,
according to the election results,
there is no safer demographic
of people – or more sane.

My brain pounds through my arteries and veins
pressuring my feet to run, to run, to run, to run, to run.
My feet flee without waiting for the rest of me,
to take up residence in another country,
one I pretend will love and shelter me,
but there is no home,
there is no sanctuary.

All of my internal architecture
is shattered and smashed.
I’d patched it back together hastily
with lots of rolls of duct tape and a staple gun
and several gallons of krazy glue.
It held up well for a week or two
while I kept alive the traumatized,
the desperate, the targets of hate crimes,
the ones they want to put on a registry for death.

But, traumatized myself
and with a bullseye on my back,
who will keep me alive
as my insides begin to buckle,
to tremble, to crack?

2.

I sit by the lake
where birds come to take
breadcrumbs from little ones
and dazzle them with their freedom.

A little brown child
in a bright pink bicycle helmet
runs to the edge
of the water, squeaking at birds
and stomping with giggles.
This is still possible, I think.
When will it end?

The geese honk at me.
“They’re coming for you, too,”
I say, seditiously.

Clouds billow and gather all the pink from the sunset.
They make an offering of softness and empathy.
I drink it in. My lungs are where my ears used to be.

3.

I sit in the grass and dismantle myself,
unpeeling the duct tape, prying out the staples,
spreading out the wood and memories,
the broken foundation of faith and hope,
the flesh and all its tenderness,
sharp shards of heart and glass,
the bone and bricks that I am made of.

Blood and bile and fear and panic,
dread and devastation and grief and gastric acid
splash out and drench the grass,
the crickets and ants, the loam.

I give up any hope of putting myself back together.
I surrender to gravity,
the grasp of the earth holding me close
clasping me between her solidity and the spaciousness
of the sky, infinite, and expanding
full of patience and possibility.
I drink in all that vastness with what is left of me:

Flesh, ear, tongue,
Skin, eyes, nose,
Heart, hands, lungs,
brain, brick, bone.

I become all that I behold.

4.

When my feet have been found and returned to me,
I stand and feel the enormity of the earth inside of me
and the vastness of the infinite sky
and everything they know
about patience and persistence
spaciousness and solidity.

Relentlessly resilient, the earth
who has seen several mass extinctions already
and is unperturbed by the possibility of another,
determined to make life emerge again and again,
drinks my tears and drains me of my desperation,
tells me, “Anywhere you go, you are always home.”

Anywhere you go,
you are always home.

In this moment,
I am here and I am whole,
relentless in my resilience.

If my days are numbered,
I will cherish every minute.
If I am imprisoned,
I will cherish every breath.

The birds and the little brown children
dazzle me with their freedom
and draw me on.

11/20/16 – 12/01/16

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#YesAllWomen and #YesAllMen

Since my last post about sexual assault, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I wanted to post a couple of articles I saw go by about these matters.

The first one is a really good piece about – in contrast to the common refrain #NotAllMen – why “Yes, actually, it is all men.” Not all men sexually assault people, but all men have been trained to perpetuate patriarchy and that helps create the conditions for sexual assault and other less violent but significantly impactful and pervasive problems described in more detail in the second article (scroll down for this one).

I think that just as I have a hard time when white people talk about being not racist when racism is in the air we breathe and the systems of power that dominate all of our lives, I have a hard time when men distance themselves from the kind of sexually aggressive behavior that I was just describing in my last post, because the subtler underpinnings of that behavior are so universal.

Obviously, not all men sexually violate people and it makes sense that one who does not would want to distance himself from one who does. But, the kinds of behaviors that lead me to feeling unsafe and uncertain (and worse) with men come from all men.

I love, value, and respect the men in my life (and feel loved, valued, and respected by them, in turn) and I can’t think of a single one that I am close to that doesn’t sometimes evince behaviors associated with patriarchy. The men I feel safest with understand and acknowledge that this is true and want to hear when I’m being impacted by it, even as they understand that I will not have the energy to talk to them about the barest fraction of the times it arises, because that is grueling emotional labor for me.

Behaviors associated with patriarchy are often subtle or not-so-subtle patterns of dominance that are usually invisible to the person performing them, because they are largely unconscious. So, while I may notice a half-dozen go by during the course of an evening (and feel the impact of them keenly), the person performing those behaviors might not notice any of them at all.

Furthermore, if #YesAllWomen – half the population – have countless stories of sexual assault, groping, boundary violation, and then innumerable garden-variety experiences of being socially dominated, discredited, talked over, invalidated, objectified, ‘splained to, and patronized, it does beg the question of: If not you, Sir, than who?

Who has been doing any of this? Given that women have come to understand that more often than not it will bring them more harm (including potential violence) or trouble to bring it up than to pretend it didn’t happen (see article #2), how would you even know for sure that you didn’t behave in a way that was problematic on the basis of unconscious patriarchy?

You have no idea if a woman has a story about you.

You may have no idea if many women have stories about you or if a woman has many stories about you.

I have many stories about many “good” men, liberal men, feminist men, and even men that I like, love, respect, and value evincing patriarchal behaviors of social, physical, or sexual dominance – and more pile up everyday. Every single day. Most of those times, informing them of the fact that the behavior they were performing was problematic, painful, or injurious on the basis of patriarchal forms of social, physical, or sexual dominance was not worth the potential harm or trouble that could come to me if I did so. While some men are grateful for the feedback and respond with curiosity, interest, and care (and those are the ones I prefer to spend time with), most men do not. So, for the sake of my own physical safety and mental/emotional health and well-being, most of the time, I pretend that nothing untoward happened. Especially if the situation feels dangerous.

My male partners and friends are phenomenal humans – awesome and thoughtful and skillful and kind and feminist and really good at examining their shit and literally I’d estimate that unconscious patriarchy finds a way to show up half-a-dozen times an evening, on average.

This doesn’t mean that anyone is bad or evil. We’ve all (people of all genders) been programmed by patriarchy. It’s not anybody’s fault that they were programmed by patriarchy. You can’t have grown up in this culture and not have been programmed by patriarchy. But working to undo that is the responsibility of each of us, looking inside of ourselves to root out the unconscious patriarchy that is operating there, largely outside of our awareness. This will not happen if we distance ourselves from the problem.

Given that patriarchy and misogyny is in the air we breathe and the systems of power that dominate all of our lives, it is impossible to avoid their influence. So, rather than hanging out in the notion that “I’m not like that horrible, abusive guy,” I think it is more useful to inquire, “How might patriarchy or misogyny be showing up in my life, in my thoughts, or in my behavior in ways I might not be aware of?”

So, here’s article #1:

think-its-notallmen

This next one was going around almost a year ago, but resurfaced in light of the recent current events that has brought the universality of the sexual assault of women to the forefront of national attention. I hadn’t read it the first time. I read it a few days ago and felt chills, recognizing myself so completely in what writer Gretchen Kelly was saying, even though she is talking about something that is so second nature to me that it is hard to even think about, let alone describe. It’s something about the continual dodging that women do, pretending that nothing is wrong, while we are objectified or violated or subtly threatened, because to acknowledge that it is happening is more dangerous than smiling and pretending that nothing just happened. I alluded to some of this process in what I wrote, but she fleshes it out in so much more detail and specificity than I did. For those of you who are, understandably, more moved by the stories of your personal friends and find that more meaningful or impactful than the stories of strangers, just imagine that I (or that some beloved female friend of yours) wrote every word. Because I could have. (Or your beloved female friend could have.) What the writer is describing represents my daily lived experience that is nearly invisible to most men and I believe it is an important one to understand.

So, here’s article #2:

that-thing-all-women-do

Together, they fill in some of the very subtle, very pervasive aspects of how patriarchy and misogyny impact the daily lived experiences of women in ways that are often invisible to the men who are witnessing or even participating in them.

Again, I do not mean to imply that all men perform egregious sexual boundary violations. Not remotely. Far from it. But, all of us who occupy positions of privilege would do well to think about how we may perpetuate those systems of dominance unconsciously, rather than distancing ourselves from the problem, deciding that the problem lives somewhere else, in the obvious and extreme cases.

As I said before, I will say again (and even bold-face it for emphasis, because I believe it is important):

Given that patriarchy and misogyny is in the air we breathe and the systems of power that dominate all of our lives, it is impossible to avoid their influence. So, rather than hanging out in the notion that “I’m not like that horrible, abusive guy,” I think it is more useful to inquire, “How might patriarchy or misogyny be showing up in my life, in my thoughts, or in my behavior in ways I might not be aware of?”

The truth is, as a cis woman, I have to ask myself this, also, although the internalized patriarchy and misogyny in question is sometimes self-directed (being perpetually “nice,” undermining myself, believing that my worth is wrapped up in my physical appearance or sex-appeal, having trouble speaking with confidence, making myself smaller, participating in keeping men happy, believing I have to say yes to ever advance or offer, subordinating myself to men unconsciously, and the list goes on and on) and sometimes the internalized patriarchy and misogyny are directed towards other women (for example, judging them according to whether or not they are complying with the list of patriarchal standards I have internalized).

The work to overcome the influence of patriarchy and misogyny is for all of us to do. It works so much better when we acknowledge that it is in us and not just in that asshole over there.

 

I Am Very Lucky. I Have Never Been Raped.

Check out the Washington Post Article: This Is Rape Culture.

I am very lucky. I have never been raped.

The first time I can remember being sexually assaulted, I was 13, a friendly kid who smiled a lot. Not yet sexual in any way. We were moving out of our apartment. One of the moving guys reached out and grabbed my breasts. I was shocked and horrified and scared. I ran into the apartment, curled up in my now-empty bedroom closet and cried and cried and cried. I didn’t tell anyone. I barely understood what had happened to me, but I knew it was wrong and awful and I would be blamed for it. Even then, I knew that I would be blamed. Many years later, my godfather (who did not know about the assault) would recall that day to me as the day I was flirting with the moving guy.

I am very lucky. I have never been raped.

When I was fifteen, I had an internship at a wood-carver’s shop. One of the guys I apprenticed for was in a wheelchair. He was probably in his mid-30s. He and I were close. He had a great sense of humor and taught me how to carve faces into sticks of wood. His hands were strong as rocks. He took me out for lunch one day and groped me in the front seat of his van. I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do. I had to get safely home. I had to keep my apprenticeship. I had to get out of there. I had to keep from embarrassing him. I felt bad for him. I knew his life was hard. I felt, somehow, like I should have been willing, but I wasn’t. I was scared and fifteen and he was an adult I respected and felt close to. I felt like I had to protect him as much as I had to protect me. I didn’t know how to handle the situation. I never said no with my words. It seemed safer not to. I was wearing a burgundy cap. I ducked my chin down and away, so that the hat would block his view of my face. My body was twisting and turning and cringing away as he put his rock-strong hands all over me. I kept thinking, “How can he keep touching me when every part of my body is screaming ‘No’ except my mouth?” I didn’t tell anybody, but I did stop working at the shop after that.

I am very lucky. I have never been raped.

Shortly after my sixteenth birthday (I imagine this was intentional – if I consented, it would no longer be considered statutory rape), the 50 year old step-dad of one of my closest friends called me up and asked if he could come over and take me on a drive. I was afraid that he was going to tell me that his step-son, my dear friend, was dead. That was the only reason I could imagine him calling me like that. He and I had a very positive relationship at that point. He was someone that I trusted. I got in his car. He confessed that he was in love with me, that he and my friend’s mom were having a hard time in their marriage, that he was terribly lonely, that I was so mature, that I was so special, that I was so beautiful, that he knew I was lonely, too, that he knew I must love him because of the warm way I always interacted with him. I was not willing to have an affair with him, because that was totally wrong. I didn’t want to break trust with my friend’s mom and with my friend, but I worried about this man. I cared about him and he seemed to be so depressed. He seemed to be having a hard time in his life. He seemed to be. I tried to be a good friend to him, to get him out of his depression. He pursued me aggressively, lied to me, manipulated me, and at various points, kissed, touched, and caressed me, when I didn’t want to be having any physically intimate relationship with him. I think he was sort of into consent. In that fuzzy way that men in rape culture can sometimes be. He would try to convince me that sex with him was a good idea and he would lie and manipulate me in order to try to convince me. I was never willing to have sex with him, but I endured a variety of physical and sexual contacts that I did not want while I tried to navigate my way through the situation. I felt so responsible for everything. I knew if my friend found out, he would hate me forever. I knew his mom would feel heartbroken and betrayed by me. I felt like the things that had already happened were all my fault. Yet, I also felt like if I hurt this man’s feelings by saying no, I would be the one doing grievous harm to him.

I am very lucky. I have never been raped.

When I was 18 and new at college, I went on a first date with an upper classman I didn’t really know. We were supposed to go out to dinner and then go to a movie. He was running later and later. Eventually, he suggested that he pick me up and that we go over to his place and he would make me dinner and we could watch a movie on his TV. Reluctantly, I agreed, thinking I should meet this person in public for a first date, since I didn’t really know him at all. But, I went to his place for dinner, anyway. I had been flattered that he asked me on a date. I didn’t get a lot of date requests back then. He poured me a glass of wine. I wasn’t really a drinker, at that point. He tried to get me to drink more and more wine. We cuddled on the couch after the meal and he put on a pornographic video as the “movie.” I felt very uncomfortable. He grabbed my wrists and held me down underneath his body. He was incredibly strong. I can still feel the strength of his grip on my wrists as he pressed his body into me and forced contact with me that I was desperate to get away from. I panicked. I knew he was going to try to rape me. “How could I have been so stupid?’ I asked myself, “How could I have gotten myself into this position?” My mind raced, trying to figure out how to get out of the situation. Somehow, I managed to convince him that if I didn’t use the bathroom, I was going to have diarrhea all over his couch. I escaped to the bathroom and locked the door and sat on the floor and tried to figure out what I could say or do to get him to take me home. I didn’t know where I was. I was new to the area. It’s not the kind of town where you can just expect a cab to come by. Cell phones weren’t a thing, yet. I couldn’t call for help. It didn’t occur to me to just run out of the building and trust that strangers would help me find my way. Or believe me. It never occurred to me to just run. I thought I had to convince him to take me back home. Somehow, I did. Can’t remember how. Probably pleaded sickness or stomach flu. During the drive home, he talked to me about how he was a nice guy, how the world has it out for nice guys, how nice guys (like him) never win. Girls are just awful to nice guys. He dropped me off at my gate. I entered, closed the gate and ran and ran and ran. I called up my best friend and she answered, though it was the middle of the night in her time zone, and she supported me as I cried and cried and cried and cried and cried.

I am very lucky. I have never been raped.

This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list. These are just the episodes that stand out. The commonplace episodes – receiving aggressive come-ons from strangers on the street, having my ass grabbed by men at a club or in a crowd, having men I barely know or don’t know at all hug me and force kisses on me, having my sexual boundaries pushed, being in sexual situations with people I feel ambivalent about sexually but to whom I deduce it would be safer to say yes than to say no – are all part of the ordinary regular experience of being a woman in the United States.

As I review these experiences, working hard to remember what each one felt like, it is the theme of self-blame that catches my attention. In each case, I had a sense that I was to blame for the situation that I was in. That I shouldn’t have smiled or been friendly or warm or kind or caring or that I shouldn’t have been unwise enough to be alone with a man I didn’t know well or a man I knew very well. That if I were honest with people about what had happened, there would be no support for me. I would be in the wrong or no one would believe me.

Where did I get these ideas? I’m sure I did not make them up all by myself. By the time I was 13, I had already internalized this aspect of rape culture.

Now I know that it was not my fault. That none of it was my fault. That I don’t have to protect the reputation or the tender feelings of someone who would assault me. Now, I use the word “No,” more liberally and have more power to enforce my own sexual boundaries. Now, the worst violations are off in the distant past and my sexual life is characterized by enthusiastic consent with respectful and skillful partners. Hallelujah!

Yet, in the moment something untoward is happening, I still have to calculate the safest response. The safest response I can come up with often involves not shaming someone who is capable of assault or of a boundary-crossing violation by bringing to their attention the fact that they have done something wrong. “No,” or “Get your hands off of me,” are often enough to trigger an aggressive shame response. Men who are feeling shame can be dangerous. #NotAllMen, obviously. But, #YesAllWomen have experienced this danger. I wouldn’t play Russian roulette with it. I have endured and watched women endure sexually aggressive or sexually entitled words and behaviors from men without saying “No,” not because there was anything whatsoever wrong with the woman in question or her powers of assertiveness, but because to say “No” was not the safest way to get out of the situation. “No” is, unfortunately, not a magic wand that makes the danger go away. There is no magic wand that makes the danger go away.

No magic wand. No nail polish. No skirt length. No protocol.

Rape culture has to be dismantled, brick by brick by brick. Mostly by men. In locker rooms. In frat houses. At military bases. In cars and basements and bars. In the writing rooms for TV shows. In boardrooms. In the offices of politicians. In places where men spend time talking to other men about women as objects when women are not around. Mysogynistic code switching (here’s how I talk about the woman when the woman isn’t around versus here’s how I talk about the woman when the woman is around) is a problem.

While not assaulting women (or anyone, for that matter) is a really good start, it is not enough. The behaviors and norms that lead to assaultive behavior are legion. Those have to be acknowledged and checked and questioned and changed. Everywhere.

Because women are assaulted everywhere, men need to stop assaultive behavior everywhere.

A prominent man who was recently revealed as a sexual abuser said, during his abusive faux-apology: “Let’s be honest. We’re living in the real world. This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we’re facing today.”

I am living in the real world. My real world involves repeated sexual assault and sexual boundary crossing. Half the population has stories like mine. Many, perhaps most, of those people have stories far worse than mine. This is an important issue that we face every day. On days when we are not being assaulted, we are often giving significant thought to how to not be assaulted. It becomes second nature.

If men gave as much thought to the problem of how to prevent men from assaulting women as women give thought to the problem of how to prevent men from assaulting us, there would be no problem.

I am quite clear that I am very lucky. I have offered you my very mild case of being female in America.

Kelly Oxford asked women to share the first time they have been sexually assaulted. I started reading some of the stories that women have shared using the hashtag #notokay. It is an on-going horror story. “Not okay” doesn’t even begin to cover it. The ongoing systematic abuse of half the population is phenomenally #notokay.

If you don’t believe in rape culture, check out that hashtag. Read the stories that go on for days. More than a million of them and counting. Then wonder about the next woman you see and the repository of stories that she carries inside of her. Repeat with the next woman and the next woman and the next woman.

Consider: What’s your brick to dismantle?

Jiggle it every day.

Chip at it and keep on chipping.

Start now, please.

Before This Week, I Have Never Felt Afraid for My Life as a Queer Person the Way I Have Routinely as a Woman and as a Black Person

I highly recommend Staceyann Chin’s powerful, poetic response to the Orlando Massacre.

Staceyann speaks from her perspective as a black, lesbian immigrant, about the experience of coming to this country to evade persecution as a lesbian twenty years ago and being lulled into the false sense of security that so many of us have that things are getting better for queer people – and about what happened when we wake up and see how unsafe we are – and what to do about it – to wave our rainbow flags – to love and celebrate and take action to make change, because, as she says:

“After 20 years of safety, my lesbian body is awake to the terror of what black body, my woman body, my immigrant body, has always known. These barbaric ideologies are only getting bolder and bolder by the proverbial hour, as a whole.

As a whole person I have never been more aware of how race and class and religion and sexuality and hate can converge into some bizarre concoction of violence and rage and prejudice and the vulnerable target of an unsuspecting crowd.

These young men in a dance club, in a dance club in Orlando, were simply looking for a space to love and live and be safe and be celebrated inside the borders of a country whose history whispers the tradition: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” ”

In that first sentence I quoted, she essentializes the truth that has so upended me for the past week. For 22 years, I have been aware of myself as a queer person and for 22 years, I have had the great good fortune and the extraordinary privilege to feel safe in my body as a queer person.

I spent most of those 22 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, so surrounded by queer community that I have had the privilege to feel safe walking down any street holding hands with my lovers, making out at intersections or across the table at restaurants or in airports or in front of kids or cops. As a queer woman, I have not felt afraid that to do so would garner anything more violent than a surprised or rude look or comment.

I have known discrimination as a queer person and I have feared discrimination as a queer person. I have experienced overt and covert homophobia. But, before this week, I have never felt afraid for my life as a queer person the way I have routinely as a woman and as a black person.

I am conscious of my blackness and of my femaleness as sites of past, future, and potential life-threatening violence almost daily.

What must it be like to go through life unlikely to be raped, shot by the cops, or massacred by racists or homophobes? What must it be like to walk down the street, entirely unconscious of your embodiment & what you are wearing & whose hand you are holding, because it is entirely unlikely to be a factor in your assault or your untimely death?

No wonder I and so many of the strong, brilliant, beautiful queer people I know and love have been losing our minds with grief and fear and anger over what has happened in Orlando. It didn’t just kill those 49 people and harm 53 others and those who knew and loved them. I hazard to say that it impacted almost every queer person in this country in a fundamental way. It obliterated our illusion of safety.

Taking away someone’s sense of safety impacts a person on a bodily level, as well as an emotional level. It impacts the physiology of the human being. It isn’t just a theoretical thing that happened; it isn’t just mental or emotional. How many of us are dealing with some kind of trauma based in the realization that our bodies are not safe and have never been safe and may never be safe again?

It is no wonder that queer people all over the country are losing our fucking shit over this. Something happened to each and every one of us, not just to the people who had the horrific misfortune to go dancing at Pulse on the night of the massacre.

I want to acknowledge that not all of us have felt safe. Many of us – maybe even the majority – have known very keenly that we might die for being queer or trans or gender nonconforming. Many of us have lived with that daily fear – the same daily consciousness that hatefulness might result in murder or assault – that I have known as a woman and as a black person. For the very many that have always known fear as queer or trans people, this event may have confirmed and validated the fear that has always been there.

But for many (especially those of us who are younger and cis – perhaps especially cis female – and living in liberal cities) it has been a horrible waking up out of an illusion of safety, a dream that things have been getting better and safer for queer people over the years. I want that to be true so badly that when the worst shooting on American soil in my lifetime targeted brown queer people, I almost lost my mind with the cognitive dissonance of it all.

I am in the center of a bullseye that too many different systemic forms of hatred are taking shots at.

A year ago, almost to the day, I was shaken and unsettled by a massacre that targeted black people. My embodied sense of vulnerability as a black person was renewed. Now it is my vulnerability as a queer person that is getting burned into my nervous system.

This is what intersectionality feels like in my black, queer, female body.

Today, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a white male stranger on the street hailed me and asked, “Do these pants make me look gay? She thinks these shorts make me look gay.” The “she” in question confirmed that she thinks he looks gay in those bicycle shorts and should get rid of them. I reeled. This is a question that a stranger might casually toss out to a person on the street? How socially sanctioned is casual, microaggressive homophobia in this town that you can enlist a stranger to participate in it, less than a week after a queer massacre? I felt sick to my stomach and my heart started pounding and my eyes lost their ability to focus as my fight flight reaction engaged. While I wished I had said, “Well, as a gay person…” and then launched into some succinct and powerful retort that helped wake them up to the impact of their casual homophobia, that is not what I did, because I am newly in fear for my life. Because I am more aware than I have ever been that homophobia is potentially life-threatening, my amygdala took over and I could barely think. I stammered something inarticulate and vaguely gay-friendly and I fled.

Tomorrow, I will figure out how to be brave. Today, I am still integrating the reality of just how unsafe I am.

Politeness is a Strategy for People With Less Power to Remain Safe From Further Harm by People With More Power

Dear white boysI find myself wanting to repost this, because it represents something that has been really powerful, pervasive, and personally problematic in my life experience – the idea that the white male perspective is logical and rational, and, therefore, beyond reproach and, by implication, that that which involves emotion is inherently illogical, irrational, and/or dismissible. I encounter this phenomenon a lot and it is oppressive.

Yet, I was hesitant to repost this tweet, because the person who wrote it (Ava Vita Ciccarelli) doesn’t mince words and I fear offending some of the very beloved white men in my life, many of whom I have had this experience with, at one time or another.

I have found it very difficult in my life to name things that aren’t working across lines of power – race, class, and gender, especially. It is hard for me to name specific racial dynamics that are happening in the moment between myself and white people. It is hard for me to name specific gender dynamics that are happening in the moment between myself and cis men. It is hard for me to name specific class dynamics that are happening in the moment between myself and people who have substantially more access to resources than I do. In the places where two or three of those intersect, it becomes that much more difficult. I am practicing it more and more, but it is not easy and the fear that I may alienate someone with whom I deeply want to be in connection (friends, lovers, partners, colleagues, neighbors, clients, etc.) creates a powerful prohibition in me that sometimes has implications not only for my well-being and ease of relating but also for my safety.

Naming these things is profoundly taboo in our culture.

“Politeness,” which often involves keeping quiet when people are causing harm or offense, is a strategy for people with less power to remain safe from further harm by people with more power.

I am descended from many lines of people who were able to stay safe from harm by not giving offense to the offender by naming that offense or harm was done. Anything could happen if you told someone with more power than you that they were harming you. Alienation, loss of relationship, withholding of resources, insult, embarrassment, humiliation, censure, defamation, blacklisting, banishment, bullying, threat, rape, assault, arrest, murder. Anything can still happen. I think of Sandra Bland, dead in police custody under mysterious circumstances after she expressed her honest truth to a police officer about the fact that he was harming her without any right to do so.

The knowledge that anything can happen lives in my body daily. There is a man who hangs out on the street where I work. I practice friendliness toward the people I encounter on my way around town. I smile. I nod. I say hello when people greet me. That results in a great deal of men wanting to interact with me in ways that are over-familiar. Today, I was walked to my car by someone who often greets me and I was hugged three times, without regard for mutuality and at the end of the third embrace, I received a peck on the neck. After the uninvited kiss (and having reached the relative safety of my car), I managed to eke out some kind of statement that indicated that it was over-familiar, but it had been over-familiar and non-consensual from the first. I couldn’t find a way to safely deflect the attention, because anything could happen if I did so, so I did not.

I have strayed from the topic of logic, but when I have tried to delete the paragraph on why it is so hard to refute things across power differentials, I keep coming back to it. It feels essential to name the analysis of risk that is present under the surface of people in positions of less power relative to one another.

I don’t bring this up because the examples in my personal life in which I have clashed with a white man who in that moment believed in his superior logical position were as extreme as to make me fear for my physical safety. In most of them, I feared other things. Alienation, loss of connection or relationship, insult, embarrassment, humiliation. But, because the threat of worse consequences lives inside me, all the time, it can be very difficult to speak up and it can feel laden with risk, even when risk of violent reprisal in the specific circumstance is nil.

I posted my dilemma, because while I actually think it is important to talk about this thing (this assumption of logic that simply comes from being in a privileged and dominant social position), it feels risky to do so, and the risk feels important to be naming, also.

I really appreciate the author of this tweet finding a way to name something that is hard to name – and, in doing so, pushing back against the power structure that holds that in place. She did so in her way and I am glad she did so, inspiring me to open up an internal conversation that is useful for me to have with myself (and, by the miracle of the internet, with all of you). Still, I am not 100% comfortable with the language that the person who wrote the tweet uses. I am not sure if my lack of comfort is because I am so accustomed to accommodating people with greater power or because there may be some assumptions going on in the statement that I would not wish to make or because I think that if I present someone I love with that language, I will lose relationship. I would like to find my way of languaging about this oppressive assumption that the white male perspective is logical (and that other perspectives are not) in ways that are clear and honest and direct and have, at least, the potential to build relationship, rather than to alienate the listener. Most of the time, the listener is someone beloved to me, someone with whom I would wish to address with the utmost respect.

I want to find a way of saying something about this truth that I could say to someone beloved to me when it arises, something like, “I hear that you believe in the logic and the rightness of what you are saying, but your perspective is also informed by your social location (your maleness and your whiteness) and the privileges inherent in those positions and that may cause you to have some blind spots in your being able to see things and relate to truth emerging from other perspectives. My point of view has logic and reason, as well, whether you are able to see it from where you are standing, or not. It is not a given that messages with restricted expression of emotion have less bias or even less emotion guiding them than messages expressed with more affect.”

But I’d like to be able to say that in fewer words (and without the word “affect”). You may have noticed that being concise is not my strong suit.

Any suggestions of how to do it clearly and compassionately with fewer characters?

Recite it the Way Black People Can Recite White People’s Stories Like The Back of Our Hands

Please read: Why I’m Absolutely an Angry Black Woman, by Dominique Matti

I am sharing this powerful article by Dominique Matti with you, because I could have written it myself. Because I share so many of these experiences. Because instead of the parts about having a child, I could tell you similar stories about not having a child. Because I feel grateful that I don’t have to figure out how to raise a beautiful black child within conditions of white supremacy. Because I feel grateful that I don’t have to worry every day that my beautiful black child might be killed or abused by the police or have freedom taken away or suffer the same daily indignities and invisibilities we black people do. Because this is my story and our story and because it needs to be told over and over and over and over again until people who never lived it can recite it the way black people can recite white people’s stories like the back of our hands, stories about freedom, about democracy, about opportunity, about liberty, about justice, about happily-ever-after, stories that were never, ever for us.

“Handsy” = The “Cutesy” of Sexual Predation

I’m not sure how I feel about the word “handsy.”

It’s come up in a variety of contexts lately. “He was getting kind of handsy.” “I was warned that he was handsy.” I have only encountered the word “handsy” when describing male people who have touched women’s bodies without consent. I understand that it may be applied in other contexts. But, I wonder about it. I like that there is a word that is easier to use to talk about something that for too long has not been easy to talk about. At the same time, I wonder at the ways that word is so protective of the (often male) offender.

It is a word that does not speak of violation, of sexual violence, of entitlement, abuse, or aggression. It’s a diminutive word. It’s kind of like “cutesy.” It’s the “cutesy” of sexual predation.

“He was getting kind of handsy” makes nice with the offense and the offender in a way that “He assaulted me,” or “He grabbed my breasts,” or “He pressed me between his body and a wall,” or “He put his hands all over me without my consent” does not.

Also, there’s something passive about the word “handsy.” It’s a word like “hungry” or “horny.” Being hungry doesn’t necessarily describe the behavior that was taken when the person was hungry. (i.e., “because he was hungry, he devoured that steak”) or when horny (i.e., “because she was horny, she pulled out her vibrator”). With hungry and horny (for example), there are a variety of options for what to do when one is in those states.

The word handsy implies that sexual violation is some kind involuntary of state of being. On the contrary, I think it corresponds to behavior or to a set of behaviors that a person exerts will and choice to perform. The person wasn’t, just, for example, getting “horny” (a state of being). When the person was, perhaps, horny / turned on / attracted to someone, the person touched someone in an intimate way without consent.

I acknowledge that I kind of liked the term, myself, when I first heard it, but as I heard it applied in more (and more serious) contexts, I felt less good about it. I’m not sure about all of the ways in which it is used, and I understand that there are different kinds and levels of sexual violation. Nevertheless, in each case, I want language that makes it clear that there’s nothing cute about it and that there’s nothing involuntary about it, regardless of the level of violation.

I want the language to indicate that someone actually did something and what they did caused harm.