Category Archives: Current Events

Finding Hope within the Shadows: Reclaiming Authenticity

This isn’t like my other posts, but I hope you’ll stick with me as I put together the pieces of the puzzle that has been my life for the past 40 years. This will be a very long post, but one that I hope brings some hope in the wake of current events.

Targeted because of truth

I have always been an expressive woman. I tend to dominate conversations because I can usually find some connection to the topic, the person or the theme. I make my point of view known by weaving in the threads of my life with the topics at hand. I’m a classic ENFP and love connecting individuals to the bigger picture through narrative.

As such, I had an online journal where I attempted to do just that. And of course, because I’m me, I focused on sexuality, politics and real-life storytelling. It was a display of sexual confidence, but also sexual healing.

Eleven years ago that blog was exposed by a republican website seeking to make its bones with political gossip. They effectively outed me as bisexual, kinky and poly. Friday the 13 of October 2006.

It was my own damn fault I told myself. I got careless with the security settings. I was revealing too much about my own life, family. I put everything and everyone at risk. For what?! for sex? For authenticity? For my truth? My truth was dangerous to my family, my career and my psyche.

The blog that outed me had no problem using my journal and photos to speculate wildly about my sex life, so within two hours, I became a liability to my employer and I resigned. I could no longer do my job because my credibility had been ruined, not because I was honest and transparent about my life, but because I was a slut and proud of it.  I didn’t speak up.  I felt such shame, such repugnant regret for my hubris that I hid out, taking low-level jobs, deliberately staying off of anyone’s radar, feeling undeserving of anything more.

I acquiesced, sacrificing authenticity for security.

The poison well of toxic masculinity

As I took time away, getting progressively more isolated, alone and depressed, my anxiety flourished. We couldn’t watch the news. I screened every call. I got used to never having enough, never being enough, never feeling deserving. And when I would take one triumphant step forward another obstacle would hurtle toward me. It was kind of like a brutal game of dodgeball where I was also taking friendly fire from trusted friends, family, and partners. My perimeter of safety contracted and filled with a toxic dose of self-doubt resulting in a few suicide attempts that I don’t discuss. I knew my view was distorted, but I was so deflated, so traumatized, I could no longer even trust myself.

This darkness has led me down several different paths of healing. But there was a recurring theme in that healing: my sexuality never fully came back to the voracious lust that it had once been. It’s not that I don’t have an exciting or fulfilling sex life, but that I felt like that previous life had all been a dream. My consent had been violated in a deeper way than I had ever identified now was in a constant state of hypervigilance.

I had no choice but to illuminate the patterns that were starting to emerge. The influence of an early childhood sexual assault, continual pressure for Much of the sexual history and identity I had been so anxious to get back to had been heavily influenced by some distinct experiences with men who had taken their lack of power out on me. A poisoned well of pride.

While a handful of men from my childhood and adolescence infected me with poison from that well, far more benefitted from the impact it had on me. They didn’t care that it would poison my thoughts about myself. They didn’t care that they were inflicting sexual assault, harassment, and exploitation that would carry a current of trauma in my life. They didn’t care that their actions were wrong and criminal. They felt desire and they felt entitled to have their shot, no matter what price I would personally pay. They normalized the abuse and dismissal of my consent with the constancy of it. What might my life had been without that?

I adapted to survive

Shining the light on this part of my life has been the hardest thing I’ve had to do. Tearing apart my sexual experience and examining my lopsided relationship with consent has thrown everything I believe about myself into question. Where I once thought I was sexually liberated and commanded respect for how I approached sexuality, I realized how often my consent had been coerced, how often I succumbed to the intimidation or perceived threats of harm. It wasn’t the whole of my history or even the majority of it, but those distinct moments shaped me and what I should expect from men.

But in examining this, I had to also acknowledge that I survived. Not because anyone else came to my rescue. I survived because of me.

After I was raped, I developed abilities that I used to protect myself.  I used limited acquiescence for reconnaissance. I learned how to read them before they could read me. I learned how to touch a raw nerve to get them to back off or show their true colors sooner.  I developed closer female friendships and learned how to use our stories as examples so that other survivors would know they weren’t alone. I was able to speak up, safeword if needed and fight back.

Ten years later (last year – October 2016), my life was finally starting to shift for the better. I was ready to start emerging from the cocoon. Trusting others was still a minefield, but I’m better at trusting my knowledge, my intuition, my sacredness, my value. I’ve faced a lot of the scariest parts of myself, some of the scariest situations and have emerged stronger than I expected. By walking through my own darkness, allowing myself to recover threads of resilience, I started to love this new wholeness of me.

The personal is political

Around the same time I chose to cast aside my self-doubt and shame, the infamous “Grab ‘em by the pussy” comment came out.  Despite my political expertise, I was struck that Donald Trump had the audacity to defend it. The people around him had the audacity to defend it. The news became a too real personalization of rape culture.

I wasn’t alone in recognizing that this event retriggered most survivors of sexual assault. All the work I had done to regain my strength, confidence and sexual joy was smashed right back down with a deluge from that poisoned well of toxic masculinity. This sudden onslaught of smug entitlement, fueled by open victim blaming and lame justifications for criminal behavior has brought back all of the memories of every other lonely, angry man who decided he was entitled to whatever he wanted from my body.

The personal is political now. This Presidency has been an eerie real-life example of the abuse many of us have suffered in our personal lives.

Abuse relies on an insidious spiral of control and power. It starts as small boundary-pushing, floating test balloons to see where we’re willing to tolerate their foolishness (questioning Obama’s citizenship, Mexicans are rapists and murderers). If they can get close enough, they can start to condition us (“lock her up”), feed us lies (“fake news”) so that we don’t believe what previously trusted sources would have told us. They continue the isolation and they prevent us from asking for help (pissing off our allies), screen our visitors (ICE raids and travel ban), control our money (health care costs will rise). They openly mock us (disabled reporter impression), they make a big personal issue out of an innocent gesture (Take a Knee), control our bodies (birth control), they make us dependent on their help (Puerto Rico vs Houston vs California), they expect to receive better treatment than us (unjustified costs of protection and travel for administration). And when they know they’ve gone too far, they give the hearts and flowers usually with the delivery of a backhanded compliment (“very fine people”).

Alone, powerless, you endure it the best you can because you’re just hoping someone will notice and come save the day. 

This entitlement and power hungry structure are not just confined to Trump. Much like the poison that infected my own sense of self, it permeates our culture. Harvey Weinstein exposes just how poisonous our culture is. How truth is stifled through intimidation. How mind-boggling common it is for this behavior to persist, not just in Hollywood, but everywhere. The courage that I have seen this week has been extraordinary. The more we speak our truth, the closer we come to freedom and justice for us all.

Freedom is Found in Authenticity.

This weekend Professor Marston and the Wonder Women was released on the same day as the anniversary of when I was outed. What was so remarkable and inspiring for me in this movie is that it celebrated all of the things that I was outed for: bisexuality, polyamory, and kink. The problem is not that we are different, it is that others feel entitled to project their vulgar interpretations on us, to taint authenticity with judgment, fear, and shame.

To see this triad fight through prophecies and internalized shame was a beautiful affirmation of what I have fought to regain for myself. To watch them submit to the authenticity of their love and prioritize their intimate connection over the compliance society expected is exactly the message we need right now. Living a lie just won’t work, not when those lies are used to subdue others into compliance. We must take the plunge into authenticity with our whole heart and soul, despite what the outside world convinces us to believe.

This especially is true when faced with harmful patterns of abuse and control.

Owning our own story, declaring ourselves to the world matters in the current environment. Being visible matters. Representation matters. Your truth matters. Your consent to live and experience life on your terms also matters. And in the reckless, power hungry, abusive patterns of men like Trump and Weinstein and the unfathomable number of other powerful men like them, speaking your truth matters. Because living authentically gives others permission to do so as well.

Wonder Woman was the hero I looked up to as a young girl. In seeing some of the origins of her creator and the inspiring women who inspired her, I am more and more convinced that she is the symbol of the power that we need right now in our national narrative. So many women share a common experience, have found our truth stifled for too long, that we are speaking up, speaking louder and refusing to drink the poison fed to us by toxic masculinity. She stands for relentless truth, compassionate justice and an unwavering alignment with her authentic self.

And what is encouraging isn’t just that women are speaking up, but men too. We’re making room for more of us to be heard and to hold more people accountable as we wake up to admitting our own truth. A truth that cascades into our selves and starts to wash out the poison, healing the toxicity left behind in the wake of our too common traumas.

The golden lasso of awareness is starting to wrap itself around the body of the American politic – accountability demanded by those whose power has been most stifled and stunted: Women and marginalized communities. The powers that be are scared, lashing out and doubling down on their abuses.

But we are reaching the tipping point where the cost of silence is no longer a price we’re willing to pay. Putting pressure on America to confront itself: its racism, misogyny, rape culture, violence worship, cycles of poverty and inequality, and devastating patterns of environmental abuse and injustice. We are shining a light on the monsters the lurk deep within the American psyche.

It’s time for us to face our collective shadow, to recover the threads of our connective community that have been torn apart by hatred and oppression. To find inspiration in the collective light of our resilience and strength. Only in confronting the deepest truths within, pulling forth the authentic power of our true selves, will we realize the freedom, equality, and respect we each deserve.

Fight on, my friends. We are in this together.

Wonder Woman: My first feminist icon

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.

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Origin Stories

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.

 

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Panel art from Issue 296 of Wonder Woman called “Mind Games”. Cover Artists: Ernie Colan, Frank Giacoia / Writer: Dan Mishkin (Plot by Roy Thomas) / Pencils: Gene Colan / Inker: Frank McLaughlin / Letterer: Ben Oda / Colourist: Carl Gafford / Editor: Marv Wolfman / Story Title: Mind Games! [Info & panel from Amazon Archives]

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.

 

shttp://www.amazonarchives.com/ww296.htm

 

National Coming Out Day

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Courage to Bern

sanders-2016-feel-the-bernEarlier 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

Poverty Battle Royale: a commentary on welfare (part 3)

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.

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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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 ).
  8. 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.

Click here to read Part 1

Click here to read Part 2

Poverty Battle Royale: a commentary on welfare (part 2)

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. 

Need a job

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.

Click here to read Part 1

Click here to read Part 3

Poverty Battle Royale: a commentary on welfare (Part 1)

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.
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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:

  1. He never once introduced himself, asked a question or even pointed to some commonality that might explain why he contacted me;
  2. He trotted out a lazy, conservative trope about welfare to a woman who is very clearly far left of center politically;
  3. 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.  

Dear T,

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”.

Read the rest of this entry

A Non-Con Weiner: The Bigger Danger

There are a 1001 posts rolling around in my head right now ranging from a critical assessment of the pejorative “self-indulgence” to the Pope’s recent statements about homosexuality.  But since I’m running a facilitated conversation about consent practices in the kink community within the next week, issues about consent are more prominent for me.  And where have consent issues been most irksome and public is with the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal.

Carlos Danger isn’t the big problem  

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In almost everything that I’ve read reporters and media treat this as yet another scandal.  They cover the texts and explicit images that were traded with women and his brazen defiance to prevailing political wisdom’s call for him to step down from the NYC mayor’s race with equal amounts shock and consternation. And while I agree with the political analysis of this, most commentators focus on the sex 

addiction (which is questionable) or the Carlos Danger = bad decision-making aspects.  Yet, they continue to miss the dangerous and pervasive cultural point that has a greater impact on his qualifications as a leader: Weiner is the equivalent of the creepy trench coat guy who got caught and expects us to give him a free ride.  And this troubling predatory behavior that has become all too commonplace and excusable.

The Stranger Danger

Do not think for a moment I’m referring to two sex partners, romantic partners or even occasional fuck buddies who consensually

exchange explicit texts or pictures.  And at least some of the women Weiner has texted with over the years were certainly consensual.  See, my issue isn’t with the “terrible decision-making” that would make his run for mayor questionable.  Nor is it the fact that he’s unapologetic about the impact on his wife or family.

It’s the fact that on at least one of those occasions and possibly more, he has sent those pictures and sexually explicit messages unsolicited. And it’s this level of aggressive and needy boundary pushing that makes it scary that he would be in a position of real power over New York City (or any agency for that matter) much less the obvious disrespect he has for the women he was doing this to after only a few messages sometimes.

And right now, the people who are raising this important consent issue are bloggers at Shakesville and Yes Means Yes blog but not the reporters, the politicos or the public who will get to ignore him at the polls.  And ever since I encountered another post from Yes Means Yes blog about the unsolicited cock photo is really about pushing boundaries, I have been starting to look at online behavior in a much different way.   And that level of boundary pushing nags at my mind throughout this latest scandal.

I agree with the bloggers and and tend disagree with the media and most of the opinion gurus, who come close without ever delving into the troubling behavior:

Weiner, who seems to have sent at least one illicit photo to a woman without any encouragement whatsoever, seems to have a thing for exhibitionism. Some might see in his behavior the online equivalent to donning a raincoat in an alleyway and flashing women who walk by, but others suggest he represents something else: A man whose deviance could only exist in the online world, which makes spontaneous flashing possible without the effort involved in the more traditional variety. “I’d bet my whole Ph.D. that he wouldn’t be standing on a corner doing that,” notes Barry McCarthy, a sex and marital therapist, and professor of psychology at American University.  – Bianca Bosker, Huffington Post

And yet doing it online relieves him of facing the immediate reaction where he otherwise would likely face inevitable punch in the face or the audible horror screams at his deflating schlong. For me this goes beyond mere thrill seeking or “exhibitionist” behavior.  It’s still non-consensual.

But more than that, I think Melissa McEwan at Shakesville really hits the nail on the head with this piece of wisdom :

He has repeatedly used his position, privilege, power, and access to solicit the sexual attentions of young women who do not have anything like the kind of position, privilege, power, and access he has. He isn’t interested in an equal. He is, when necessary, indifferent to consent.

Let’s be real about what sexual predators are about.  This isn’t about sex.  This isn’t about getting off.  This isn’t about pursuing a relationship.  This is about establishing an imbalance of power and control.  In this situation, Weiner was the guy in charge.  Making promises and pushing the boundaries of women online, escalating the pressure and pleading for acceptance of his wildly inappropriate behavior.

Flasher in Trench CoatThe Real Danger
But this wildly inappropriate behavior is so commonplace that it’s become cliche to pretty much any woman who uses an online dating site.  It’s not just the Weiners of the world who have engaged in this type of behavior.  I’d say about 60% of the men who contact me on dating sites do to varying degrees whether it be sending me the unsolicited cock shot or being so blatant as to make it their profile pic (quite common on FetLife).  I love Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel for putting together this nifty little guide to when a man should send a woman a picture of his dick.  But this tidbit is priceless:  And yet, he’s asking the people of NY to trust him making decisions for their welfare and enforcing the laws.  I dunno, do you want to give the creepy trenchcoat flasher that level of power? Over one of the most visible cities on the globe?  The fact that he refuses to take public accountability for his actions, accept criticism from political powers much more forbidible than he is (not to mention his wife’s boss), and of course the constant lying and covering up to the now blatant “fuck off” sort of attitude he is carrying around with him is dangerous in a policy maker.  (Oh and his staff calling a former intern who likewise critiqued him as a “slutbag” takes the whole campaign down the toilet of sexist rhetoric.)

Scenario 8: You are a Congressman and your ambitious, beautiful, and pregnant wife is never around and she’s like no fun at all and you just want to feel LOVED and ADORED and your ego is hungry, hungry for approval. Tons of hot chicks follow you on Twitter and Facebook, because you are a Famous Politician, and you just know they want to see your junk. Your perfect, unimpeachable junk.

Should you send the lady a dick pic? No, you fucking creepy dumbass. No you should not.

The fact Weiner is still standing isn’t a testament to what a big New Yorker he is.  It’s a testament to the powerful influence of predatory behavior.  Habitual, unrepentent and predatory non-consent is given a free pass if Weiner continues into the election.  Yes, the voters will likely give him the boot (I would hope so), but by then the damage will have been done.

The fact that he has a political career at all in this moment legitimizes every creepy guy who thinks an appropriate introduction into sexual contact is a virtual flash of his penis in a woman’s face whether she wanted it or not.  Staying in the race puts the mayor’s personal seal of approval on this all too commonplace violation of consent* in a digital age.

*Note I have no research on how common this is in a more LGBTQ context.  Do men send unsolicited pics to other men?  Do women send unsolicited pussy shots to other women?  i’d be interested to find out.

Patriarchy, rape culture and totally missing the point

*edited to correct auto-correct presumptions and clarify two points*

Tonight I responded to someone on FetLife who was rather personally offended that the term patriarchy had been applied and connected to rape culture.

The offense started with a photo of a brilliant exchange that blames a mugging victim for being “generous” and having “post-donation regrets”. It ended with “Fuck the patriarchy”.

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I found it an apt way to describe why people (mostly women) don’t report rape or sexual assault. but this special snowflake found it “selectively prejudicial” and interpreted all of this to mean that “any man in power” is to blame for rape culture.

blinks in bewilderment

From what I gathered from his very lengthy exchanges with anyone who bothered to clear up that misinterpretation he apparently is above all of that and was hell bent on demonstrating both his lack of prejudice as well as his stand-up-guy-ness in terms of rape culture.

The exception-to-the-rule guy. Which of course is another way to sidestep analyzing and thus acknowledging any relationship between patriarchy and rape culture and instead do a very um…patriarchal thing and dismiss the critique of the connection or existence of either altogether with his singular but stunning example of being such an awesome guy while still defending his fellow men (good and bad) from further “discrimination”.

Ummm…K. If patriarchy were actually about that and not a sociological descriptor I could see his issue. But the problem flows not just from a fundamental failure to understand the meaning of the word patriarchy, but also any observance of its influence in society. Gah!!!!

Because it is 4 am and I’m sleepy this the best I could do in response.

Read the rest of this entry

A Manifesto for the Age of Soul-Starved

Tonight, I watched a portion of the State if the Union address. I was inspired, particularly at the end where the President called upon the courageous acts of valor and the tragic ends found by so many children and families. I was so moved that i cried. I cried for those hearts and this country. Where did we go so wrong?

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Afterward was the inevitable mocking of our President by pundits and armchair activists alike. The accusations that Obama is stepping outside his authority (he’s not). but the ones that really got to me were the many, many messages i saw on Facebook that again, push for more guns, more ammo, more ways with which to “protect” ourselves. It’s not just the message that is discouraging, it is the rage with which it is delivered. Read the rest of this entry

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