Monthly Archives: October 2020
Last week we celebrated National Coming Out Day. I live for celebrating stories of authenticity, courage, and acceptance. But, behind all the love I want to pour out for others on this day there is a tender, bittersweet memory that hangs over me.
It was the same time of year that the choice to come out was stolen from me. Just days before Coming Out Day fourteen years ago I was outed for being #bisexual and #polyamorous by a now-defunct Republican blog.
I cannot understate just how traumatizing it was to lose control over how and when I came out. I didn’t have a chance to approach my family privately. I didn’t have a chance to surround myself with support. On a Friday afternoon at 4pm, I had to deal with it right then and there because a newspaper was already sniffing around for the story. It wasn’t just that I had been outed, it was that they added the false narrative of “a lobbyist who traded sex for votes” to make sure they got the attention they wanted.
Gossip is conditioned humiliation disguised as truth-telling
Eager to make a name for themselves they wanted to expose liberals acting badly. Everyone was fair game, especially elected officials. But I was just a nonprofit advocate quietly blogging in my corner of LiveJournal about my new bisexual and polyamorous journey, a chronicle of those early years of both marriage and motherhood. I didn’t appreciate the gravity of my position or how it might garner unwanted attention. Nor did I account for how much public humiliation had become the official political pastime.
As I was dating, I became downright reckless with my online settings in order to accommodate lovers who didn’t have a LiveJournal, but wanted to see what I wrote about my dates with them. (Yeah, you read that right. My journal was more open to the public in order to appease men who wouldn’t make the effort to follow me. We all make mistakes!). It was low hanging fruit, a salacious glance into my “liberal agenda”, whetting the appetites of conservative strangers locked in an echo chamber of their own sexual repression.
The goal wasn’t just to expose liberals, but to punish them. I was ripe for the picking in 2006 when Amendment 43, a “one man, one woman” constitutional amendment, was on the ballot. They wanted to expose not just the evils of bisexuality and the slippery slope toward polyamory, but liberals as a whole. They couldn’t resist the opportunity to slut shame a young, Democratic woman. When no one took the bait, they invented enticing details constructed entirely from their speculative scrutiny of my life. They wanted a public spectacle, to etch the imagined sins of my private existence onto my skin for all to see.
The truth is far less salacious and far more ironic than the layered embellishments they made up. But, it’s easy to get attention when you wrap the truth in a distortion.
Gossip is about making ourselves feel superior
When you train others in consent and balancing power dynamics for a living, you start to see the micro-aggressions, the small ways in which we tear each other down in order to feel better about ourselves. Gossip is no different. It exerts power and influence to bolster one’s superiority, even passively.
What compels us to expose and share someone else’s story? Who are we to declare ourselves narrator of their life story? What compels us to disguise opinions and empty judgments as facts in order to get the pearl-clutching validation that we want? What is so broken about ourselves that we need to stoop to pulling the rug out from under someone in order to feel better about ourselves? Why are we so intent on making others’ lives our business to the point of punishing them for details that only succeed in making them an avatar of their worst day?
Because we want to punish those who deviate from the norm. We, as a society, have been sold a specific narrative of what we should aspire to be. We have accepted this impossible fairy tale, a two-dimensional image of success, love, happiness, morality. We flatten and distort others’ stories in order for the subtext to tell the story we really want the listener to hear: validation that unlike this person, we are actually normal.
We become desperate for the approval and attention of others. We want to know we’re accepted, that we’re heard, we’re valued. And the less that we see these things in ourselves, the more we draw negative attention to anyone who is “worse” than us. We medicate our fear of rejection, judgment and separation with gossip and passive aggressive communication. Tarnishing others so we appear to shine brighter.
Make no mistake, I was outed by a man, likely one I rejected. A man that now represents the angry, intolerant smallness of men I’ve rejected throughout my life. Men who offered to swing a vote my way if I’d go out to dinner with them, meet them at their hotel room, come back to their car with them. Men who tried to grope me in crowded lobbies or lonely bars after a long day. But this time, I rejected some guy and he were able to exert enough influence to ensure I was adequately punished for it.
We have all done this – spread gossip, whispered in ears, shared private information. Small changes in our tone, our wording, project the image of the story we want someone to hear. We actively contribute to a first draft of an idea that might start with kernels of truth but become embellished with time. The more we let our insecurities play with others’ stories, the more we conjure false realities to soothe and medicate ourselves. These false narratives play on our own fear of judgment and our repugnance to authenticity. The more someone deviates from our expected norms, the more easily we can justify our derision and dehumanization of them.
Gossip distorts our reality to profit off our misery
Remember the days we played “Telephone” in elementary school? You whisper something to the person next to you and it gets passed down the line, whisper to whisper, ear to ear. You start by whispering “I like Ryan because he’s cute when he plays guitar” and by the end of the exercise it becomes “Janet chased Ryan and broke his guitar because he’s cute”. The truth is in there somewhere.
Distortions are inherent in how we communicate, how we listen, speak and describe the world to one another. We miss information and fill in the blanks with whatever our brain conjures as the truth. And sometimes, just sometimes, we intentionally alter one word, one image, one small phrase that tells the listener/reader exactly what WE want them to hear about that person or event.
In deviating from the straight, monogamous norm, I presented an alarming and incongruent reality in their lives – I was living my truth and they weren’t.And when faced with a situation that challenges their reality, exposes their flattened existence, they filled in the blanks to assuage themselves from confronting the depressing default reality they had never questioned before.
The Gossip Establishment, the forces that profit off our desperation to be “normal”, tell us what to think. They snap a photo of a celebrity kissing someone we didn’t expect and we busy ourselves to arrange the scant facts of the story according to whatever will keep our reality intact. We tell the story, filling in blanks influenced a cultural norm of monogamy, for example. Even though we are not actually privy to the details of their romantic life and are sifting through intentionally filtered information, we conclude that they must be cheating!
We project our own feelings onto the situation, crafting a narrative to support our emotional response to this new stimuli. We craft a judgment based on images of what we want to affirm in ourselves. The benefit is that we share the news to the profit of those invested in fueling our lust to prove our normalcy.
Which is what can be so pernicious about gossip. It preys upon the cultural miseries we’ve been fed to snake its way through our relationships, slowly infecting them with anxious judgment and shameful paranoia. It encourages us to overthink, make assumptions, rush to judgment, adopting narratives and stories that help us feel superior to anyone else. We superficially fill a hole that only grows deeper as we punish authenticity expressed outside our norms.
Weaponized Shame: Patriarchy’s Favorite Power Tool
It would be bad enough if it were just privately held distortions, but when we weaponize it with shame, we consistently undervalue the collateral damage it will cause. The Gossip Establishment does not care because so long as we are engaged in examining everyone else’s life, we don’t have to pay attention to examining our own.
My fatal flaw all these years was internalizing the disproportionate hyped-up shame leveled at me by people already predisposed to misunderstand me. It wasn’t that I cared that much about the opinions of those people, I cared about the impact those opinions had on those I worked with, those I advocated for, those that I fell on my sword to protect. While the impact of PTSD, anxiety and depression has at times been overwhelming, it’s nothing compared to the vicarious impact on those I served and loved.
The reverberations of that event are in my face everyday in the weight I gained as emotional armor, the startle response when the phone rings, or my household’s deep aversion to watching the nightly news. I internalized the judgments about my perceived selfishness (“isn’t one man enough for her?”) and culpability (“If you didn’t want to be judged, you shouldn’t have put your information our there.”) continuing my punishment long after those men forgot my name.
It wasn’t until Harvey Weinstein was arrested that I started to see how easily men who follow cynical formulas of privilege are threatened by self-possessed women. They routinely have to lower themselves to manipulate and force an outcome. They tarnish and cajole, coerce and undermine to ensure their superiority, to make the rest of us suffer for their narcissistic wounds. It wasn’t until we had the moment of justice that I started to reclaim my own story.
Liberate Our Authenticity to Reject the Gossip Establishment
Honestly, my story is kind of bad ass. Here is how I have reframed this story to take back the narrative once again:
I was a fiercely compassionate, systemically minded, endearingly hot Chicana do-gooder on a mission to serve as the hands of the goddess. In only my second legislative season, I demonstrated that I could master chaos and make it my bitch through honesty, transparency and love. I took the wild, impossible dreams on our legislative agenda and made them a reality. I owned my sensuality but tempered it with regular re-examinations of my own ethics. I nurtured my family and spoke from the heart. I was a true believer and a lead by example in both politics and in love.
How dare I live such an authentic, substantive, open-hearted life?
When I internalized their victim blaming narratives, their weaponized shame, it corroded my confidence and kept me trapped in cycles of self-loathing and woundedness. It blocked me from seeing that it wasn’t my existence that was the problem, it was that it made them aware of the painful truths they might otherwise avoid. My life made them aware that they were living an empty existence fueled by rage channeled into an obsessive pursuit of “winning”. My openness showed them they were just making excuses for abusive, deceptive behavior to cheat on their significant others. They building a carboard empire that was vulnerable to the faintest whiff of a woman’s fully-deserved success.
All of this makes me wonder how much of our history is just gossip that has been preserved, aggrandized and exaggerated into legend? How much of the stories we tell years later are told to gain the reaction of an invisible audience or control over a real one? How willing are we to consume the worst of others as a balm for the worst in us? How much are we willing to sacrifice to the anticipated rejection of the Gossip Establishment to continue our passive, default lives? How can we tell a new story?
Only when we are willing to see ourselves and each other for the valuable, complex people we really are will we truly be free. We must be willing to let go of the shame narratives that manipulate our sense of self. But in freeing ourselves to recognize the goodness in each other, to witness stories of courage, empowerment, and resilience, we can finally break apart the systems that depend on our collective insecurity and ignorance.
Shine your light, my friends. Celebrate the true you to create a more nurturing world for us all.
Fact: The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is trying to leave the abusive relationship. Expect the abuser to escalate his threats and coercive control tactics to force the abused party to stay.
We are witnessing these tactics first hand in real time for the past four years. Survivors are quite familiar with the ways in which this power hungry lump of a fool will make everything all about him in order to gaslight us into staying. He will get more dangerous, more sinister, more reckless through Election Day. And just like an abuser, he won’t willingly go. He’s throw our stuff to the curb and call the police on us if we don’t comply.
It will likely take force to make him leave. He will never want to let go of his unearned importance and fallow mental real estate he occupies on a daily basis.
Some don’t yet know they’re being abused – and at this point we can’t do it for them. We can’t open their eyes or do their reasoning for them. We just have to make sure the resources are there when they are ready to reject him.
But others are absolutely complicit in allowing this abuse to occur. Those with power who have either said/done nothing or worse, helped him gain more power make excuses for his behavior as they rush around to please his every whim, making him comfortable in his delusions of grandeur. And as such they share responsibility for advancing his abuse tactics on those who are most vulnerable, making his continued presence even more dangerous and ruthless. They had an opportunity to be the grown up in the room and instead they gave him more weapons, more praise, more groveling and more power.
It is beyond time…it will get dangerous…but even more reason to stand united together to get this man out.
There is something so pure about sitting down to the computer, the pad of paper and purging myself of the attachments and expectations in my life. A torrent of words flowing without restraint. The blessed opportunity to be fully free with my expression, my words, my voice.
But for a long time now, my words have seemingly dried up, my voice too parched with anticipated embarrassment to speak. I have plenty of ideas and none of the energy to communicate them appropriately. I keep believing there was some magical time in my life where I didn’t feel that pressure, that potential for rejection, and where I could just pour my heart out.
As nostalgic as I can get, when I look back through my own journals, I now see a clear pattern of memories that remind me that even back then I wasn’t telling my full truth. I was documenting a prepackaged response designed to align with the person I always wanted others to see me as, but not necessarily what my full self truly was or would become.
My life has been a series of self-conscious, half-remembered events that reinforced how neurotically awful of a person I believed I was. I was careful to avoid ever expressing anything that indicated I was anything less than a perfectly faithful, compassionate, and accommodating soul. Even in my obvious struggles to take the high road with the boys who were breaking my heart, I blamed myself. Not misogyny by proxy, but because I believed it was the holy thing that a visionary would be expected to do. Even though I was seeking out deeper truths and meanings, I rarely spoke about my spiritual calling and especially kept very quiet about the sexual component of it. I would only mention it to shame myself for any perceived failures to be a girl worthy of that calling. I wrote, not for myself, not to document the truth, but to set the narrative for the story I wanted to be told instead of the true one that sits in my heart. Yet I still treated that as truth.
For as creepy and paranoid as this sounds, I have always lived my life as if I’m being watched and will be judged throughout. Mindful that someday any of my writings might have an audience who would be critically unkind, I always aimed to demonstrate my self-awareness, my willingness to accept responsibility for my actions and bad deeds. My journals were a companion piece to the sanitized confessions I was making to the priests. As I read through those journals, I could remember the places where my pen hesitated, the specific decision points where I could have given voice to my truth, in my own space, but didn’t. What was important to me, even then, even in the words I used to describe my own experiences and feelings, is that I was portraying myself in accordance to the avatar of a visionary I wanted people to know about me. It was an image that denounced my childish anger and my greedy needs. Hands clasped in prayer (but in a cool way) “Lord, I need nothing from you but clarity. Please give your servant clarity so I don’t mess up everyone’s life”.
I was trying to contain myself in a vision of what I thought people might want from me, instead of admitting and dealing with the actual pain I was feeling. It was another way to justify the sacrifice and suffering.
It is also why I believe the phrase “fake it ’til you make it” is complete bullshit. Even when I thought I was being true to that vision, I wasn’t. I was only hiding my truth from myself, punishing myself for what I lacked instead of celebrating what I had.
I remember one specific journal entry from April 1994, the entry right after I gave my virginity to someone after breaking up with my boyfriend. Not only was I beating myself up about it, but I also understood why it was bothering me: “I guess as an only child who had to be in control all the time, I find it hard to be out of control.”
I was convinced at the time that my feelings were out of control. Staying up late at night worried that my sex drive was out of control. Not only did I believe myself to be selfish and jealous but I was strategic in how I portrayed it. Hesitating as I wrote to choose whether to take the high ground or tell the awful truth. In my mind, I was a flawed, immature, and insecure girl who was chosen, likely by mistake, for a big spiritual calling. I started from a place of unworthiness for such a grand mission that I spent the past 30 years trying to beat myself into submission to become a person worthy of such a demanding role. I modeled myself after others who stood for equity, justice, under an umbrella of divine love. I was brutally honest with myself so that others wouldn’t have to be. I conformed myself to what would most allow others to forgive my inevitable lapses when my human flaws leak out and sour my good intentions. I control the reader’s point of view of me. And so in my expressions, my deeds, everything I said to even myself about who I am was meant to conform to a model that was aspirational at best. A constrained and captured essence of deeper realizations that helped me survive the chaos of my world.
That chaos, that lack of control is what so many of us are feeling right now. The ways in which we compartmentalized ourselves, controlled ourselves for the pleasure and acceptability of others are either disappearing, unavailable, or now too uncomfortable to continue. We each have been wearing masks, for years, for lifetimes and generations. We filter ourselves, show only the best photos, choose the best words, use the right fonts to construct a reality that not only reaffirms the personal brand that is totally, really completely authentic© but also satisfies us that we don’t have to reveal our full selves to be liked. More masks that we wear to be the
I admit I’m so very confused by the spiritual people who complain about wearing physical masks and yet won’t address the mental ones they continue to wear. Aggressively declaring “Love and Light” as they actively resist attempts to listen to someone else’s truth is as restrictive as face coverings. Just like the ones I wore in my journal. Portraying myself to be all about “love & light”, who was I trying to convince?
April 13, 1994 (my 16 year old self)
“I have sinned so much. Give me the strength to get through the days. Help me see my many failures. Help me trust in you. I will not promise, but I will control myself according to your will. Help cure me of my selfishness, greed, and pride. Let me just fall into your arms. ”
And yet, those words were chosen, deliberately to prove to myself that I was the problem, not the men who were fucking with my heart. I manipulated my own intentions, begging forgiveness instead of demanding apologies, showing how contrite I was for my transgressions even though theirs were worse. God, or Spirit or the Divine, knew the content of my heart just as well as I did, but instead, I was trying to convince myself and the future, the unintended audience of the sincerity of the responsibility I felt to have acted better. I can still feel the rage I was suppressing, the excuses I had to forcefully set aside to defiantly turn a harsh mirror on myself. To prove I could withstand it.
Those restraints on even my own history, my own view of myself are worth seeing in context. I deliberately made myself small so I would never be too big for anyone else, so I wouldn’t exceed the small container of tolerance that I imagined others would give me room to occupy. I deliberately robbed myself of the triumph of all the ways in which I exercised control over that moment in my life, so I could meet the finger-wagging judgments of those who came after me.
I deprived myself of the miracle, the true awakening of womanhood, where I was able to truly choose my sexual expression with someone else. I got to choose how, when and who I was going to give my virginity to, but I also chose why. I chose to a path the showed me an innate power I have. But despite what I remember and felt, the words in my journal barely even hint at the awakening that this was for me. The mask I designed to fool even myself actually diminished the true joy I felt and instead punished me with unearned shame and guilt. A way to fit in to the image I thought I needed to maintain to make everyone else happy with me. The truth was far too expansive than I ever was willing to document or admit; I needed to control the narrative, constrain the truth in order to fit in the small container I restricted myself to.
Part of what I see happening around us is that our illusions of control, the containers that we used to compartmentalize, and thus, the ways in which we think we exercise direct control over our lives, are breaking down. This aligns with these changes of the Tower (that i’ll be posting about in the next two weeks), where our overall systems of power and control, are crumbling past the point of meaningful repair. But even more specifically, whether it be in the jobs we’re doing or communities we’re sharing in, we are starting to feel the squeeze of trying to fit into the containers that once held our lives, or rather the image of our lives, together.
The family feels different now that we’re all working and playing in the same space together in drastically different ways. Work feels different when the office politics are now seen through the unfiltered lens of Zoom. We feel more raw and numb than before, an awareness we hadn’t noticed before. We’re noticing that not only are those masks meaningless, but the ways in which they contain the full complexity of us, reducing us to two-dimensional avatars of ourselves is no longer a comfortable place to live.
So, my promise tonight with this post and all others that come behind it is that I will share more than the mere impression of my truth. I’ll get into the nitpicky, down and dirty truth of my perspective, my experience, my background, and my vision. I’m tired of pleasing audiences who view me through the cracked lenses of their own self-pity or defense mechanisms. Their truth isn’t mine, but I will listen to it nonetheless. Because witnessing the truth in one another is the only way we’ll survive the challenges coming our way. Living in our truth, breaking out fo the containers meant to keep our lives in tidy conformity to the whims of a collective world that is on its last legs.