Category Archives: Current Events
Since I now have some time on my hands, I’ve been going through all my various writing projects. Shortly after my son was born, 16 years ago, I started an online blog at LiveJournal. As I’m evaluating all of my current projects, I’m starting to look at some of my past ones. I think to get past the cringe factor, I need to spend a little bit of time with my past self so my future self has a better idea of where she’s headed.
I only intend to share the more relevant tidbits, the ones that have insight or perspective that is worth sharing. So, consider this a Rewind back to a more innocent time, a younger me, hopefully with some new insight and wisdom.
January 11, 2004
So, this year I am in the process of completing my master’s degree in public policy. As one of the requirements, I am taking a class that teaches us how to discern the bullshit from the real good policy information. While I believe this class should be absolutely essential to anyone who wishes to engage in public policy, it is interesting how many students in the class couldn’t be less interested.
Most of the students in the class need to wake up and inform themselves. Many of them have lived out their public lives under the impression that their view of the world is the right one–the only valid viewpoint. Most of them have entered public policy with the intention of conforming the world to their version of reality, not adapting the world to match the lived reality of others.
Most of them lack vision of any depth and even worse many of them will one day wield power and will become the rule-makers. They will have ignorance in their arsenals and hatred at their sides. So how can a class teach them to become enlightened individuals? Most of them reject the very notion of reason and instead cling to some far off belief system that has no basis in fact. Most of them live in this second level of reality which is only one step above pure ignorance. They can rattle off statistics to bolster their cause, but they have yet to answer whether it is a cause worth fighting for. We’ll see what this quarter brings.
Which brings me to another question–if someday I am to become a policymaker and shaker, how should I incorporate my knowledge and love of counter-culture in my policy considerations?
Where I am 15 years later
It’s jarring to think of where we are now. Where we are with “fake news” and climate change. Where are with what counts as leadership and what counts as outrage. Too many of us have been trying to make the world conform to our personal point of view, instead of taking the opportunity to see how the world is (or isn’t) working for others. Seeing what makes them successful, what stands in their way.
I have always felt out of place in the world. I don’t see things the way that others do, nor am I eager to learn how things have always been done. When I see the world not working for people of color, for survivors of trauma, for members of the LGBTQ+ community, for immigrants and educators, for public servants and nonproits…I feel justified in my resistence to conformity. When I see people bend public policy to suit their will, instead of creating it to be responsive to the needs of the people served, then I know it’s just an exercise of ego.
But ego is killing us right now. Our pursuit of the temporary glories of soundbites and ,ikes carry far greater consequences than we allow ourselves to imagine. We focus so much on the micro that we’re never questioning the macro. What is worth our time and attention, our collective consequence and action?
Since I was a teenager I’ve gotten into the habit of not giving much weight to compliments. I don’t absorb them easily, don’t take them seriously and I try to avoid a lot of situations that would result in ever receiving them. As I age, now in my 40’s, I give them even less attention than I did when I was younger. I have fallen into a habit of dismissing them as useless noise in otherwise great conversations.
It’s no understatement to say that I don’t accept compliments very well. Whether it’s my intellect, my beauty or my impact, I’m very reluctant to accept positive feedback about myself no matter who it comes from. But when I receive romantic or sexual compliments, particularly from men, my reluctance turns to suspicion.
The men who came before you ruined it.
My first job was at an ice arena in the 90’s. For a while I was the only female under the age of 50 who worked there, so most days, I was working with 3-5 men at any given time. When I wasn’t on the ice or behind skate rental doing my homework I was shooting the shit with the guys.
Leaving alone some of the more unsavory and illegal aspects of that job (the sexual harassment & uncompensated hours), every afternoon, when the rink was closed and we were between events, we sat in the box office or my boss’ office and talked about everything. I felt accepted in a way that I didn’t with others. The geeky boys at school rejected me, the jocks ignored me, the smart guys were weirdly protective over me and the beautiful boys didn’t know I existed. Not only were these guys paying attention to me, but they were giving me advice, insider information on how to attract guys.
My sexual education mostly had consisted of Catholic judgment tempered by access to a library with loads of books about puberty and sex. But even though I had resources I felt like a freak for my bisexual desires, the frequency of masturbation, the obsession over wanting to show off my body. I was able to contain the freak enough to date, to learn from the boys that I was with, but most of those messages revolved around seeking the approval of men.
Navigating Toxic Masculinity
So during those times at work I fancied myself a spy who had been given a glimpse into a deeper thread of masculinity. I gained access to the spaces where sexually dysfunctional assumptions are embedded in deep currents of shame. I knew even back then that these men were wearing masks to impress each other. Yet they were playing a game designed so that none of them would ever really win. I knew that a lot of them felt pressure to brag and boast, to put up walls and hide their needs with a well-placed wink at their friends.
I also saw the men underneath. The ones who really wanted a happier relationship, the ones who were working through issues of self-worth and managing stunted independence. I eventually got to see the vulnerability, sometimes more acutely than their wives or girlfriends – because after a while, they forgot that I was a spy and they considered me one of them.
And while all of that would be ample reason to not trust their advice about boys, I was working from a skewed sense of self, insecurities run amok. Specifically, I paid attention to their strategies behind compliments. They taught me their code for how they talk about women and how to get what they wanted from women:
- Tell a smart girl she’s pretty
- Tell a pretty girl she’s smart
- Beautiful – when you want her to fall for you.
- Gorgeous – to keep her attention or get out of trouble.
- Cute – girl next door that you want to fuck but might have to play the friend zone for a while before you can.
- Hot – to get her to act sluttier.
- Sexy – the more breathless you say it, the more she’ll want to please you.
- Nice/sweet – clingy woman who you’re trying to gently let down.
All of these strategies and definitions overlapped to a certain extent and varied from person to person. But the lesson was clear – compliments were manipulations used to reinforce desired results.
From there I always had reason to doubt the sincerity of the compliments I received. I developed a deliberate response system, using this code to uncover hidden intentions and build strategies of my own. I started seeing through the strategic use of eye contact when told I’m “gorgeous”. I could hear the impatient expectation hidden in their voice when told I’m “hot”. Poems and platitudes dismissed over and over. It’s all bullshit, packaged and sold as smooth seduction and I wasn’t going to get emotionally drawn into the value of the compliment.
I got to the point where I could anticipate each compliment through seeing the corresponding intention. I could easily weave through the different road signs and guideposts, avoiding pitfalls of falling for just any guy who called me beautiful. I modeled the frankness about sex that I wanted for myself. If I wanted to date someone, if I wanted to have sex with them, I just told them. No pretense, no seduction by compliment; I would just call it out. It didn’t always work in my favor – definitely got turned down a lot, but at least it was honest.
Expect and deflect.
Sincerity plants seeds of growth
Eventually and especially after going through sexual trauma, any compliment became seen as dangerous, a potential manipulation I had to guard against. And while I was only trying to keep myself from getting hurt, I know that this was also hurting those who really just wanted to connect with me by expressing their interest. I’m honestly ashamed to think of all the really wonderful people who I’ve rejected because of the advice of these men.
I wish I could go back to the girl I was and tell her that the real lesson to take from the guys at the rink was how to discern insincerity from genuine interest. To notice that the way they treated women was more reflective of how they treated themselves. They manipulated because they were constantly wearing a mask that denied them the experience of connection. It was easier to define women and pussy as grotesque and mysterious than it was to admit that the 4 minute fucks they were hustling weren’t impressing anyone.
I would tell her that the people she would most value in her life, who would rock her world sexually and spiritually, would all have one quality in common:
An open heart, an open mind will always be the epitome of sexy for me.
Whether it’s maturity or confidence, I know myself better than I did back then. I still have insecurities, but I no longer allow them to decide how I feel about myself or what boundaries matter to me. I simply don’t have time to waste on those who offer half-truths and generic innuendos. Nor do I care about the opinions of those who bring nothing but their desperate emptiness, no matter how much they try to hide it behind compliments.
I am most strongly attracted to those who are genuine within themselves. I care most about those who express empathy and even simple curiosity. Those who act consistently to express their own truth in a way that connects, rather than destroys. Sincerity always contributes more energy than it drains. And those who embrace their truth, no matter how ugly or damaged they feel it is, these are the people I want to know. These are the people I want to share myself with. And fuck, sincerity is just so damn sexy.
Manipulation doesn’t have the power to change someone. At best, it temporarily deprives them of the ability to make a conscious choice. Manipulations are the tools of the weak, those who can’t stand on their own with confidence. Yet, compliments shared from a sincere heart are hard to ignore, kind of impossible to dodge. Once a sincere person shares their truth, it plants a seed of connection that give us new life, new energy, a change for the better.
Sincerity forces us to take off the mask and be seen for our honest selves. It is vulnerable and intimidating for certain, but it is entirely what our world needs more of right now.
We all have our heroes. The people we look up to and who give us inspiration when times are tough. All of us have a mix of personal, professional, real & fictional heroes that are part of our lives. And this week one of my first heroes hits the big screen to fill the void of women’s voices in superhero fandom. In honor of Wonder Woman finally getting her own movie (and at that it appears a movie worthy of such an icon) consider this an ode, a love letter of all the reasons why this particular icon is my first and my favorite.
I’ve been a fan of Wonder Woman for as long as I can remember, dating back to at least 4 years old. Back then we had comics and Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman. I was too young back then to pay much attention to the story line, to know the patriarchal evils she was truly fighting. All I knew in those early years is that she was a woman who was beautiful, powerful, honest and looked a lot like me with her dark hair and light skin. She was the earliest pop culture example of the type of woman I wanted to grow up to be.
Wonder Woman also fits in to some of my earliest and fondest childhood memories.
I was raised by mostly the Mexican half of my family both in tradition and in frequency and depth of connection. Every summer I would usually spend a week with my grandparents in a small rural community north of Denver. During the day I’d go to my grandma’s prayer group with her or join my grandpa at the library. At night, I’d get to play dress up after dinner and the evening news. Sometimes grandma and I would play cops & robbers or I’d dress up like a queen and we’d have a tea party.
But the fondest memory i will always have is when my grandpa, a tough, well-read and witty state patrolman, made me a golden lasso, a crown and bracelets just like my beloved Wonder Woman. He had spent the day cutting out the forms from cardboard and painting them to match Wonder Woman’s costume from the TV show which I would watch religiously on syndication every afternoon. When dinner was over and the dishes had been done, he came upstairs and presented me with my very own Wonder Woman gear to wear for that night’s dress up. It is still one of the best gifts I have ever received and one I wish I had been able to keep to show my kids.
Dawning Awareness & Adolescence
It is no surprise to anyone who knows me that I identify as a geek. I grew up on comic books, Star Trek and Star Wars. I was a child of the 80’s where our popular culture started moving from B-movie sci-fi to a more pronounced market for nerddom. Dungeons & Dragons, Goonies, Thundercats and Revenge of the Nerds gave us a language to start uniting our nerd culture. Technology was about to make it much easier to find our people, to find communities of people who enjoy the same things as we do.
This was also the time that I was just starting to wake up to sex. I was an early bloomer (I grew out of training bras by 5th grade). And as the boys teased me and girls started to exclude me and make me the butt of their jokes, I clung to my traditions of sci-fi, comics and fantasy. I hollowed out a place for myself locked between childhood and adulthood. A place where I acted out fantasies with my Jem dolls, where the Misfits were sly seductresses tempting our heroes into sin. A place where I imagined Q could make me do anything he wished.
But even here, Wonder Woman still had an influence. It only took a few comics to realize that there is a trend of her always getting tied up. One comic in particular, Issue 296 (“Mind Games”), features General Electric forcing Wonder Woman to play along with a mind control video game. And oh god, this image still gets to me. The force by which the villain is trying to control her and yet, she still overcomes and is able to reject his desire to enslave her to his will. And yet, that force, the bondage, the temporary overpowering of someone’s will was the first time I remember ever being turned on.
It’s 9:45 pm here on October 11th. I got home late and am making an ambitious (for me) dinner of shepherd’s pie. So as I wait, I think back on another marginally bad day. It wasn’t horrible, it just was angsty. And most of the angst was mine. I was impatient, unorganized, forgetful and foggy all day. And it wasn’t until later in the workday, when I was beyond the point of salvaging it that I finally realized why I was so on edge.
Today was National Coming Out Day
For the past 10 years I’ve been flirting with various forms of outness, to varying degrees. And to the point where I’m essentially out to everyone except extended family. Even professionally to some degree it’s been know how I identify. Especially over the past year or so I’ve become far more comfortable with being out.
But today it was scary and triggery. It brought back memories of a workday interrupted by a call from a friend telling me that a website had posted my online journal and that it was circulating. It brought me back to the pacing through the hallways going mad from the ringing of the phone. It brought me back to 8 months of unemployment and 10 years of trying to scrape my way back to believing that I deserved to make an earning even close to what I was making before. It brought me back to the rumors, the panic attacks during the news, the fear, the cowardice, the ignorance, the victimhood and the punishment. It brought me back to a night where I was as close to suicide as I’ll ever get and breaking down to ask for help before I could finish the act.
I didn’t come out on Facebook today like I had wanted to. I have family who, as well intentioned and loving as they are, tend to call my parents over ever minor quip I post. As much as I love my parents, my coming out isn’t worth them having to field phone calls from worried family members and well-intentioned, but clueless friends. The choice to come out is mine and not theirs.
So, instead, I came out on Twitter, reminding all 686 followers of who I am.
Those things are some of the easier to identify things about me. It’s what most people care about when they talk about coming out. But identity is such a rich and powerful blend of concepts, stories, and aspirations that simply saying I’m bisexual, polyamorous, kinky, queer, Chicana, femme, Mother, wife, lover, educator, lawyer, spiritual and geek is just a superficial part of the story. Some of it is the sensational part of the story because ooooh—bi, poly and kinky–that’s out there. But it’s just scratching the surface.
There are other aspects of identity that go beyond the census items of nationality (American), race/ethnicity or income. There are the aspects of self that evolve over time but create the refinements of self that truly identify us closer to our core. Those aspects of ourselves are just as precious and vulnerable, worthy of being spoken as personal truths.
So tonight, I define more of who I am. Coming out as the woman I truly am at heart:
I am a public servant. I have always been drawn to government, politics, and the business of policymaking. But moire than anything I have been drawn to a life of being in service to the public in some capacity or another. Right now I provide direct services through a nonprofit,. but in the past, I’ve served in capacities that were more about the public good than my own advancement.
I am half white and half Mexican but identify as Chicana. This is very important for me to distinguish. I love both of my families, but the Mexican half of my family was the most influential in my upbringing. My dad’s family valued education but watching my Mexican grandparents’ pride when my mom earned her master’s struck a chord with me. It told me the legacy that was going to be passed to me to build upon. It is a responsibility that I take seriously. My father’s family is full of intelligence, accomplishment, and distinction–my role with them is less to carry on their legacy and more to just not fuck it up. But what I accomplish for the Mexican side of my family, like a law degree, creates a path for others to follow. I’ve already helped one family member with his law school application and LSAT prep. We rise together.
That said, I am also very privileged. Because my last name is white, my skin is light and freckled and my hair turning gray faster than my more indigenous parts of the family, I’m a dead ringer for your standard, run-of-the-mill white girl. That’s not what I feel inside and so I get somewhat defensive during conversations about race. I am so eager to relate to people that I end up ignoring my privilege, the same privilege that makes it easier for me to be heard. It has been an uphill battle for me to remember that my story isn’t more important than anyone else’s, particularly those who don’t get the benefits that come with passing for white, cis, het and able bodied.
I am bisexual and married to a man. So another privilege I carry is that I at least am always perceived as heterosexual. I’m not, of course, and that’s where some mental health issues come into play for many of us–being misidentified, ignored and rebuked within the LGBTQ community (mostly getting derision from the Ls and Gs) creates an insidious amount of hardship as we try to navigate our way through the world.
I am bisexual and I have known it since I was 12. But to the outside world, I had a fairy tale wedding and lived happily ever after. And while I love my husband dearly, part of why I love him is that he’s never had an issue with me living my life as fully as I am able. He’s always given me support and encouragement, to pursue what makes me happy–including exploring my attraction to women and non-binary/gender nonconforming folk. Ultimately this is aided immensely by being polyamorous–we negotiate the terms of our marriage and it decidedly doesn’t look at all like the heteronormative ideal. And I am happier for it.
Finally, I’m coming out as a visionary within the Catholic meaning of the term. Again, from the age of 12, I believe I was called to something powerful. This calling initially spoke to me through the images and rituals of the Catholic faith–I was strong in my devotion to the Church at the time (see, I still capitalize it). But as I grew into the woman I am, I recognized that Catholicism at its core no longer fit with the calling that I was given. It was just too large for such a narrowly-defined faith structure. So, I departed from the Church. I still miss it sometimes–going to Mass and adoration, praying the rosary, the cleansing I’d feel after confession. It is like my hometown. I’ll always have a connection to it. It’s part of my story. But it’s not where I choose to live now–I have moved on. My calling is what matters most to me, not ascribing to any one issue of faith.
With all of that said, I have an update on the shepherd’s pie: I burned myself making it last night which is why this is posted late. i’m doing better today–but I guess I also need to add clumsy to the list of identities that I have.
Earlier tonight a friend of mine posted this article criticizing the #FeeltheBern fervor drowning out all of those Hillary supporters who are just as passionate about their candidate.
I took an hour to pen the following response while my kid waited patiently for supper. I decided to post it here because, I needed a place to expand on these ideas that I have felt too inhibited from proclaiming to a wider audience. In the 10 years since the event described below, I have changed my view on politics and what I expect from our system.
And here I talk very frankly about being forced to create new ideas about myself and about the concept of loyalty. Take from it what you will, but it is my story and my reasons for believing we are on the precipice.
The choices that we make today for ourselves and our generation matter more than ever. Read the rest of this entry
Note: I wrote this post originally in August, before my husband lost his job. Now that we are on food stamps and Medicaid because of our mutual lack of employment, my reasoning and rationale behind this post is even more personal than it was before. I have added references to my own experience in blue. This is intended to be a multi-part commentary. Links at the bottom to subsequent posts.
Therefore, I reject the notion that people who receive cash assistance just won’t do anything else to survive or to help themselves. And frankly it’s comments like yours, usually founded on false assumptions and skewed “facts” that cause people to not reach out for help when they need it the most. I do believe these programs need adjustments and in some cases a huge overhaul for improvements, but I suspect we may be coming from vastly different viewpoints here. I want programs that provide better benefits, that cover more people and provide more meaningful interventions than what we currently offer. We should be helping more people and not fewer. I refuse to believe that we cannot or should not take care of each other.
But before anyone can suggest HOW to make changes, I believe there needs to be significant discussions about pinpointing and defining the actual problems.
In order to even do this much, we must…
- Dismantle the abusive and dehumanizing myth of “welfare queens”. This will help isolate any actual abuse and identify unchecked errors that need to be remedied. But more importantly, this disintegrates the angry & racist welfare narrative that has prevented empathy in both policy makers and voters. This old narrative perpetuates a righteous indignation too enamored with its own false sense of superiority to have a meaningful conversation about the issue itself. Let’s be real, the “welfare queen” is a myth. An exaggeration. A lie. A damaging lie told by Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail which incited an indignation founded in racism and sexism. It was a formidable tool in getting white voters (the more likely voters) on board with his political and economic agenda. A tall tale that has outlived its maker and needs to be put to rest so that we can approach poverty policy from a place devoid of stigma and shame.
- Next, there needs to be a long discussion about the true nature of poverty itself and the reasons it persists around the world, much less in a country as prosperous and abundant as ours. This includes describing the very real biases that people hold about poor people, the disabled, the elderly and children born into poverty including class and wage inequality as well.
- Likewise, we must include conversations about the cultural values of personal generosity, survive vs. thrive, the role of charity in society, the pursuit of profits, sustainable outcomes, autonomy in personal or family decision-making, the role of sacrifice and hardship, and well, our values about humanity as a whole.
- We also need to critically re-examine our assumptions about marriage and family so that it better reflects the cultural and economic realities of Americans today. Many children are growing up raised by grandparents so that the parents can work, go back to school or get back to health. Likewise, many households are deciding to invite roommates or even the ex’s family to stay with them as a means of creating intentional community to provide better financial and emotional support to all involved. Yet, rights do not always flow in the direction of reality. This requires a critical examination of where our policy and legal assumptions about family need to be updated and retooled.
- We need to have a conversation about our policies that promote: access to affordable health care (including substantial mental health care), keeping people in their homes, access to justice, availability to improve or access social capital, education equity, and of course, the economic cost-benefit of a living wage. This also should address access to higher education, safe and affordable options for day care for working families and the cost of caring for our elderly.
- We must also reconcile our hypocritical messages about children and families in the United States. We must encounter head-on the cultural disconnect between our agendas on abortion, prenatal counseling/care with our utter disregard for a child, the mother and the family unit once the child leaves the protective cocoon of the womb. This includes critically assessing access to all family planning options, including sexual health education, birth control (including condoms), and screenings for STIs and cancer so that they are either completely free or covered fully by insurance providers and Medicaid. Include too foster parenting, availability for adoption, equality in education, access to nutritious foods, clean environments, support for parents through all stages of a child’s development up through college, remedying the pervasive cycles of abuse and violence and creating opportunities for higher education including student loan forgiveness.
- We must rewrite the myth of the American Dream which perpetuates a cultural standard of “with just some good, old fashioned hard work, you are able to have everything you need”. Great, good. But it’s not true for everyone. Many people who are poor work hard too, often in multiple jobs; then they encounter tragedy or loss and are right back where they started. Therefore, we must recognize that our policies and indeed our national narrative that distinguishes between the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor. We draw these distinctions in all of our communities—people who are either worthy (usually those who are like us) and those who are unworthy (not like us). A rather exaggerated and selfish example of these distinctions is detailed here: http://www.snopes.com/katrina/personal/volunteer.asp . (“WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I HELP PEOPLE WHO DON’T WANT TO HELP THEMSELVES!” has become our new national anthem ).
- And finally we must confront our history and our disappointing present policies that promote and enforce gross disparities in wages and living conditions based on a pervasive culture of sexism, cis-sexism, homophobia, ableism, ageism and racism. We must recognize and come to terms with how privilege operates in our public policy landscape much less our personal lives.
Without these conversations, meaningful change cannot even begin.
Without widespread recognition of that there is a powerful and enduring cycle of poverty, the status quo will endure.
Without a significant policy shift that places an emphasis on meaningful interventions at all levels and entry points to poverty there will be no change.
I reject the welfare myth that assumes that those on government assistance are lazy. This myth permeates because it gives fuel to the righteous indignation that many feel toward the poor. Anger that is sparked by assumptions and judgments based on someone’s appearance (clothing, jewelry, phone, car, furnishings, etc.) or a news article (urban legend) that highlights one instance of welfare abuse, which leads people to a panicked conclusion that there is widespread fraud within the system as a whole.
We assume laziness is the answer, but laziness doesn’t belong only to the poor. You know who else is lazy? You are, Mr. can’t -be-bothered-to-introduce-myself-properly Man. You know who else? I am. Ms. Didn’t-put-my-laundry-away-and-left-it-in-the-hallway Woman. You know who else? The guy who pays for fast food on the way home. Or the woman who took the elevator one floor up instead of the stairs. Or the teenager who played video games instead of mowing the lawn. Or the couple that decided to sleep in and let the kids watch TV all morning. Or the politician who took a week off to unwind at his favorite resort.
Let’s be real, each of us makes thousands of decisions every day many of which could be characterized as lazy. Yet it seems to be the national pastime to review and critique those decisions in order to be deemed “worthy” enough for our help. Since when do we have such special insight into anyone else’s life that we get to judge them for every imperfect result they have experienced?
But guess who we judge for their choices more than anyone? Celebrities and the poor. Funny mix, isn’t it? Well, no one is going to question whether you spent that $8 on a wheel of cheese; however, if you’re poor that’s cause for someone like you to automatically dismiss them to the “undeserving” zone and loudly confront them in line at the grocery store: “how DARE tyou spend ‘hard-earned taxpayer money’ on a luxury item such as cheese!?! The ungrateful sods.” No one is going to question whether you ate a donut for breakfast, but if Jennifer Lopez does it, it’s on grocery stands for the next week. “The fucking cow.”
Yet, dehumanizing suffering and tragedy and ignoring a desire for autonomy and dignity is a very easy way to let yourself off the hook from feeling anything and taking responsibility for the contribution you’ve made to the system that created this mess. Demonizing entire classes of people is an easy way to dismiss the problems of the world while giving yourself a congratulatory handshake for all your “hard work”. Achievement unlocked: Douchehattery 101. But all of this is just another method of playground bullying except this time you don’t have to see them cry when you do it.
Sorry, but that is not the world that I am here to create. I do have ideas and I do have critiques, but they involve better targeting of our resources combined with an expansion of aid available for longer periods of time. All of these are based not in anger or prejudice, but in empathy and a recognition of the realities of poverty. Maybe it comes from the years of working with individuals and communities that astonish me with their creativity and resilience. Maybe it’s from my struggle to survive the overwhelming bills and debt when I was unemployed.
Maybe it just comes from being someone who believes that generosity is a virtue and that each person is deserving of dignity and respect. Maybe it’s because I believe that we’re all in this together.
Note: I wrote this post originally in August, before my husband lost his job. Now that we are on food stamps and Medicaid because of our mutual lack of employment, my reasoning and rationale behind this post is even more personal than it was before. I have added references to my own experience in blue. This is intended to be a multi-part commentary. Links at the bottom to subsequent posts.
Unemployment is an income maintenance program. This has an absolute requirement to look for work. Basically if you are offered a job, you must accept it if it falls within certain category requirements or equivalents, even if the job pays less than what you had been earning before. It’s put up or shut up.
But on a larger scale, tell me how this scheme allows people to create their own destiny? There’s no holding out for a better offer. You cannot refuse a job. If you do, that safety net is gone and you’re on your own. Never mind the impact that unemployment has on a resume or what taking a job isn’t your dream job does to your attractiveness to future employers who are looking for a consistent and solid work history. Remember, employers don’t look fondly on any gaps in work history but they also want to see a gradual increase in responsibilities and achievement, something you can’t create when you have a temp job for 4 months.
And if unemployment required you to take a job A earning 25% less than your expected pay grade then in your next position Employer B is likely only going to offer you a modest bump up from your most recent all-time low. It can have a very clear ratcheting down effect that makes it that much harder to get back to your pre-unemployment potential. This, I can tell you from experience. I still haven’t broken the glass ceiling of my all time low to get back to what I was earning in my dream job 6 years ago, despite my qualifications and knowledge. A stint of unemployment longer than 3 months, can destroy a person’s bargaining potential for years to come.
But the mantra is “any job is a good job”, right? Sure, any job is a good job, particularly when it’s a step up from having no job at all. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right job or a long-term solution to crippling debt. It doesn’t mean it will pay enough to feed your family. It doesn’t mean that your children escape the detrimental effects of poverty. And it certainly doesn’t mean you have significantly improved your chances of escaping poverty.
In Denver County, for a typical family of 4 to survive (2 adults/2 children), the adults would have to be working in jobs that pay an equivalent of $19.65/hr ($40+K per year). Sounds reasonable, right? But that’s the living wage, the actual cost of what it takes to live in this county. The level of income they would need to qualify for most levels of aid (and to fall below the poverty line) is roughly $10.60/hr or $22K a year, still significantly below the wage they would need to earn to make ends meet. Working a minimum wage job (at $7.25/hr, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year) gives that family $15K to live on and pretty much automatically qualifies them for aid.
So, in order to make enough to get out of poverty in Denver county (let’s not include the debts accumulated in order to make ends meet or get utilities turned back on), they would need to be in one of the following types of positions: Management ($45.62/hr), Business and Financial Operations ($29.75/hr), Computer and Mathematical ($38.14 /hr), Architecture and Engineering ($35.93/hr), Life, Physical and social Sciences ($30.20/hr), Legal ($33.05/hr), Education, Training and Library ($21.37/hr), or Healthcare Practitioner and Technical ($30.13/hr). (Information courtesy of MIT’s Living Wage Calculator available here: http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/08031)
Do you notice any trends here?
That’s right, all of these are positions where one needs at least some post secondary training/education, significant work experience or a college or post-graduate degree. If they are in a position that requires only a high school diploma with little to no additional training, they are more likely, if not absolutely assured, to fall below the poverty level.
Add to that anecdotal evidence of people who are looking to go back to school so they can improve their chances—only to subsequently be let go or have their hours reduced for daring to utter or even investigate that dream. Employers have a lot of power to be as choosy, bitchy or negligent as they want. Not all jobs are created equal or provide an equal opportunity to advance or maintain a living. And in at-will states, you can basically be terminated for any reason.
[Oh and another little tidbit that I noticed on that site is that a single parent with two kids pays about $2000 more in annual taxes than a 2 parent household. Hence, a clear argument for the inequity applied to same-sex households with children and that disproportionately could land a same-sex household below the poverty level. Fortunately, the reversal of DOMA will help remedy this situation but not completely.]
Another cost of poverty that you may or may not have considered is the constant stress that comes with wondering where the next paycheck is going to come from. Sure, if you believe the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank) children living in poverty may or may not be going hungry each day. But you still have rent to pay, right? You still have electricity to keep on? And in this day and age, you still have to choose whether internet is a good idea to pay for as you try to find a job or complete online classes. Stress creates a whole host of health issues that, if left unchecked, could significantly lessen your chances of maintaining stable employment and thus ever escaping poverty.
Finally, let’s also consider those who are living just outside the poverty line. In my example above, it’s the difference between those making $22K and those making $40K. Quite a large number, if you think about it (two full-time, minimum wage earners with two kids fit here). These are people who are just one car wreck or one illness away from complete financial catastrophe. Even the family with $40K a year is hovering in that danger zone.
Think about what causes people to enter poverty. Think about the traumas, disasters and crises they may have experienced. The death of a spouse, a chronic illness requiring daily medications or treatments. The special needs child who requires constant care. The snowstorm where they slid into another car and totaled their vehicle. The lay-off. The divorce. The hurricane.
This isn’t laziness. This is life and it is threatening to eat us alive every day.
Sometimes you meet some winners on OKCupid. Earlier this month I met one the winners out there. The self-assured, confident guy who is also sensitive, caring and intuitive (putting it lightly). I have no idea how well that connection will turn out, but I’m willing to let it settle in a bit to see if it moves forward.
Then you meet some true assholes. In fact, I’ve held off responding to most messages in the past few years because frankly I just don’t want to spend much time slogging through the waste of messages that I get on a daily basis. There was a time I replied to each and every one of the stupid messages I got, but now I’m much more comfortable with the delete and block feature. First impressions count. I put a lot of thought into how I approach someone before I rattle something off to them in the hopes they will reply back. And if it doesn’t seem to fit, it’s not a biggie. It means we likely weren’t going to hit it off in the first place.
However, every now and then, a message arrives and sometimes you have no choice but to relentlessly make fun of it. I’m not normally a fan of mocking someone’s effort to find a special love, but sometimes the approach is so filled with hubris and presumptions that it begs to be publicized so we can point to it and make an example of it.
And in this case, this message from…let’s call him Timmy6917 (apologies to anyone with that username) was so arrogant, misguided and off-the-mark, that I felt obligated to spend a day researching my response which is posted below.
See, Timmy made three very crucial errors:
- He never once introduced himself, asked a question or even pointed to some commonality that might explain why he contacted me;
- He trotted out a lazy, conservative trope about welfare to a woman who is very clearly far left of center politically;
- He describes himself as “intelligent” and “sharp” in his profile, which sort of begs the question–who is he really trying to convince?
I needed to make sense of the rage I felt when I read his messages so I researched and I wrote. I wrote 8 pages and could keep on going. Writing out my thoughts on an issue that deals squarely with poverty and policy “suggestions” that rely on prevailing myths about poverty, I felt the need to expand even my own privileged horizons on this topic. It was more cathartic than I ever thought it would be, or so I tell myself to justify the full day of work and sleep that I lost to this project. It brought me back to a sense of pride for my political prowess. All knowledge is worth having, I suppose.
Disclaimer: I did not actually send the following message to Mr. Timmy as he forever shall be known. No, instead, I posted it as information for myself and my Facebook followers, many of whom know this subject far better than I can hope to emulate. What Mr. Timmy got in reply was a curt notice that he failed to state an argument with his conclusion and that anyone who hopes to be a partner with me must demonstrate a minimal amount of kindness, respect and humanity. I told him blatantly that the problem is not abuse of the welfare system, but rather limited and narrow viewpoints that shame those who live in poverty. I have since gotten a reply from him, but haven’t read it because…well, I’ve already wasted enough time on someone that I never, ever want to meet much less fuck.
Let me start off by saying that I’m not entirely sure what your basis is for the conclusions you’ve drawn. You say Medicaid “is easily one of the most abused programs available”. Okay? Abused in what way? Is it abused by the administrators of the program, those who receive benefits or the doctors/companies providing services? And by cash programs, it would depend on which cash program (I’m going to assume Federal) that you’re talking about. TANF? Unemployment? WIC? Disability? Is your beef with the federal program itself or the state administration of these programs? Or is it a state program you have an issue with?
But I hope to god that you’re not basing any of these broad opinions on the oft-debunked yet relentlessly persistent myth of the “welfare queen”.