Category Archives: Current Events

Your political opponent is NOT your political enemy

It’s the night after Super Tuesday. Supporters of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are drunk with glee and supporters of Mike Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren are processing their sadness. Each camp doing their thing in their own way – some are conducting outreach trying to bring displaced supporters into the fold, others are blaming anyone who dared to not support their candidate, and still, some others are just plain celebrating or mourning.

For what it is worth, I supported Elizabeth Warren in the primary (Castro had been my first pick) and like a good true blue Democrat, I’ve pledged to support the eventual nominee. At the time of this writing, Bloomberg has already dropped out and I’m hearing whispers that Warren might do the same. Yes, I’m disappointed that my candidate didn’t win more delegates, but I’m far more disappointed in the way each candidate’s followers are treating the relative winners and losers of this big political match-up.

And while this message applies to all (hi Republican friends!), tonight I focus almost solely on Democrats. It’s the party that raised and trained me, the party that has inspired and encouraged me. It’s also, right now the party most in danger of eating themselves alive.

I am a lifelong Democrat. I started in 1992, when I wrote a letter to Bill Clinton’s campaign asking some pointed questions about his stance on the environment, education and homosexual rights. I was in 8th grade. When I got to high school, I was involved in the campaign against Amendment 2 and organized around issues affecting our Latinx-majority school in the off years. I was devastated when Ben Nighthorse Campbell switched parties (he warmly responded to the letter I wrote him encouraging me to stay involved to fix things). I was one of the youngest delegates to the 1996 county and 1998 state conventions. I attended a handful of candidate training programs when I once thought about running for office. Over the years, I’ve grown more choosy about which candidates I’ll support; I will prioritize supporting good policymakers over the sparkle of pristine politicians.

Sometimes that means I’m on the losing end of things. And sometimes I actually win! But mostly, I’m used to my candidates of choice losing. I’m used to disappointment when my more progressive choices (Romanoff) don’t win, with a smaller experience of elation when others (Polis) do. I have seen great politicians make horrible policies (or not even care about it at all) and great policy minds lose at politics (because they care too much). I’ve also been blackballed by the party when I dared to work for and share passionate support for education reform. I have seen most aspects of how state and local campaigns work and how easily national campaigns can drown out the message.

The only reason I bring up my background is to remind you, and maybe also myself, that I’ve been a liberal Democrat for most of my life, trained by union leaders and involved in so many aspects of politics and policy to have some lived experience under my belt to evaluate emerging patterns. And what I see now scares me.

Why?

Because if we don’t stop inflicting shame on each other, we will never win, much less repair our fractured country.

First, a little about Shame

Sometimes speaking up feels like this…

Shame by definition is a personal and painful emotion, aligning with a sense of failure to live up to some standard or expectation. Once experienced, the feelings of inadequacy can linger within us weighing us down with persistently resistant thoughts and self-judgments.

“Although we often use the terms shame and guilt interchangeably, those who study these emotions are careful to distinguish them. Guilt is an emotion we feel about a specific behavior, while shame is an emotion we feel about who we are. Shame is a corrosive, destructive emotion that leads us onto the path of self-loathing where, in defense of ourselves and in a desperate struggle to break free of our painful feelings about our self worth, we justify our actions—and our identities—as caused by something or someone else. According to psychologist June Tangney, the more shamed we are, the greater our anger and the less we are able to feel empathy—because we so want to stop the painful feelings of shame that we realign our perceptions of the world so that we are not ashamed. It’s not our fault. We aren’t bad people. Everyone does it. We had no choice. Others made us do it. The process is called cognitive dissonance—our ability to distance ourselves from our pain by altering the way we perceive the people and events surrounding it.”

Dr. Janice Harper, “Bullying, Mobbing and the Role of Shame” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beyond-bullying/201309/bullying-mobbing-and-the-role-shame) (Emphasis added).

And while experiencing this emotion may be inevitable, inflicting it on others is entirely optional.

Using shame as a weapon isn’t at all a new concept. It has happened throughout history and even in our everyday lives:

  • The co-worker who sneers at our new haircut.
  • The parent who tells us we’re “not good enough”.
  • The boyfriend who fat-shames us into dieting.
  • The wife who calls our fetish “disgusting”.

Regardless of whether the expectation was expressed or not, whether someone said something mean or something nice, our exposure to conditions that inspire shame is a chronic experience for us all. And while shame can occur from really innocent things such as forgetting someone’s birthday, I’m fairly certain almost all of us can recall a time when another human passed along their own pain to us through shaming words and actions.

Torpedo art by Beni (Benito Ruiz) @ Dribbble. See more of his art here: https://dribbble.com/BenitoRuiz
Public humiliation. Abandonment. Rejection. Mockery.

The best way I can describe weaponized shame is self-loathing inflicted by third parties. And to distinguish from bullying for my purposes, I’m focusing on using hostile means (shame) to reach a righteous outcome (get your candidate to win). It has become more than just a strategy, it’s become the currency of our current debates. It’s so familiar, we hardly even recognize it.

Face it, even with the best of parents, we’ve all experienced what it feels like for someone else to go out of their way to make us feel small. Even if our first moments of shame weren’t inflicted by parents (“You should be ashamed of yourself” after some minor transgression), it was likely inflicted by peers in school (“Smelly Suzie” taunts in the schoolyard) and even teachers or coaches (“Well, Jonny, are you happy now? Now the whole class loses the pizza party because of you“). It continues through adolescence when our first crushes reject us (“eww…who would want to be seen with you?“) and throughout our college lives (“Alpha Cow Omega” instead of Alpha Chi Omega) and into our workplaces (“If you can’t handle that client, .that sounds like a you problem. No one else had had an issue“)

An extremely bokeh-ful capture of Winnie-the-Pooh’s friend Eeyore.
jdhancock.com | @JDHancock on Twitter | Facebook

For folks with anxiety or depression, for example, shame is particularly tortuous since we already worry about what others think of us. Hearing and reading those comments directed at us only amplifies those fears and gives them a face, a voice.

When I was outed by a small GOP gossip blog, I only had read a handful of comments about me before I started having panic attacks. One mused how much he might pay for a blowjob, several called me fat. But the one that detailed why my kids should be taken away from me sent me over the edge. The idea of losing my kids was terrifying and I couldn’t bear to read the rest. I shut down my life, I stopped going out, I stopped actively engaging in politics. I felt radioactive, only reinforced by the abandonment of my friends in the party elite. The experience of being so publicly ridiculed, dismissed, mocked, and scorned for being who I am was enough to drive me toward suicide as a last resort. And while I’m grateful I stopped myself, the experience is a major source of PTSD for me, a source of nightmares and one of the biggest reasons I’ve held myself back for so long.

Whether purposely or carelessly, when we choose harmful words, a disciplinarian tone, a rageful attack, make no mistake, the intention whether realized or not, is to make the person pay for their opinion with shame. Our pain, our hurt is so justified, so great that we have to make sure others have to suffer too. Our pride, our egos, our decisions are superior and thus we must righteously defend ourselves whenever they’re under perceived attack. And any mistake, no matter how small, will not escape our scrutiny. We will pile on until they acquiesce or leave public life entirely.

Because I left public life, outed for my “liberal agenda”, my persistence, my presence, and my insight also were absent from public life. So was my passion to bring people together. So was my energy for canvassing and phone banking. That one act of weaponized shame (by what I now suspect was an intern out to make a name for himself), not only removed me from politics entirely, it removed what some thought was a valuable voice from our party.

I stopped showing up because it was no longer safe to stand tall in myself.

We can’t win if people don’t show up.

Apparently we’re too busy with winning and shaming to take time to let people feel sad that their candidate lost. This isn’t helping anything.

And there is the problem, when we shame, when we destroy, when we wield punishment as if we have some authority to pass ultimate judgment, all we are doing is hazing others because someone hurt us. I was hurt, so you should hurt too. “Only the strong survive” is all well and fine, except with the 2020 election, we actually need everyone to show up. Not just those who can endure our punishment, but those who we’ve estranged as a result of it.

When we inflict shame on others, all we are doing to spreading the pain around, not to heal it, but to maximize its blast radius, to make the people like those who hurt us feel the same pain. Weaponizing shame by pushing people into a corner so we can control their thoughts, feelings, and decisions is abusive AF. Just another bully living out their revenge fantasies by proxy – since the candidate has no idea we’re doing this on their behalf. Controlling others, manipulating people into feeling shame and guilt might give us a temporary surge of power, but won’t change anyone’s mind. When we punish people for not meeting our expectations, we are telling them that we’re in control, we decide who gets in or out and we can destroy you if you step out of line.

Isn’t that exactly what we say we’re fighting against?

This has happened forever in party politics, but with social media has just grown louder, more persistent and with better documentation. We have the receipts now. So we can keep this going on forever. We can schedule tweets to piss you off hourly. We can post evidence of your mistakes and faux pax on Reddit and pop some popcorn as we watch them burn you. We can stalk, harass and pressure even more than before. Because we have to win, so the ends justify the means, right?

Bullying is bulling, no matter what cause we’ve attached ourselves to.

After a while, people are going to tire of the targeted shame and harassment, the inherited pain and collateral damage and will just stop showing up. Our democracy and indeed the entire Democratic agenda of defeating Trump depends on us being able to unify in large numbers against this rising tide of hatred.

And to do that we need people to show up!

If we want to be the voice of inclusion in this election, we have to live it.

It will take all of us to fix this broken system, both in our government and in our party.
None of us can be left out if we want to win.

In an era where we are challenged to come together to address collective and global crises (Coronavirus and climate change, for example), we are so distracted by our worst impulses and fears that we likewise succumb to our lowest selves. We classify our opponents and critics as “haters” or the “enemy”. We paint them with a wide brush and feed them hatred hyperbole for breakfast. And we feel satisfied like we’ve done the world, and our candidate a favor because we put the other guy’s supporters in their place.

“Guess what? That wasn’t your job, jackass,” says the universe.

As supporters you have one job:
get people to vote for your candidate, not push them further away.

We were supposed to bring people to the Bernie/Biden/Warren/Bloomberg party, not set them on fire because they didn’t show up to ours right away. We were supposed to persuade people to join our cause, not push them further away when they voiced concerns. We were supposed to sow seeds of growth for our vision of the party, not destroy everyone else’s.

We are far too quick to inflict emotional pain, and far too slow to listen and keep our mouths and keyboards shut. I have been dismayed at how easily we resort to belittling, mocking and bullying behavior. We push the boundaries of dignity and make veiled threats and jump to slurred half-cocked conclusions. But more than anything, we are damaging our own credibility – how can we say we’re for diversity if all we’re doing it shouting down anyone who expresses a different idea or priority?

But more than anything, we are damaging our democracy.

Democracy relies in no small part on the cooperation and trust of others. In a functioning republic, the representative democracy that we have, we elect people to faithfully represent our interests and work together toward the good of the nation. In my experience, trust and cooperation are necessary components for success. And because there will always be more than one way to solve a problem, more than one opinion about what to do, and more than a few feathers that are ruffled no matter which decision is made, we have to have something to anchor us in our collective purpose. Thus, we recognize and accept that to resolve conflicts and failures of trust and cooperation inherent in bringing disparate parties together for the good of the nation, we agree to be governed by a core set of rules and values and we put our trust in that.

We have opponents, we have rivals and even sometimes a nemesis might persist, but we are not enemies. We all are governed by the same rules, participate in the same systems, but have differences in how we experience those, augmented by the very authentic differences that make us so damn shiny – our identities, our communities, our lived experiences, faith, values and so much more. We each have a reason to shine and our political success should not depend on suppressing that authenticity but harmonizing it. That’s sort of the beauty of being a nation based on the core freedoms we’ve identified – we have such an array of experience, backgrounds, and insights that we have all the tools we need to succeed. Together.

Except we don’t want to be together. Because, as we all learned in school, group projects are hard. We get frustrated when we’re not heard. We hate when people don’t pull their weight. Our ego gets bruised when the group decides on something different. We have such poor conflict management skills as a society, that we would rather seal ourselves away in our echo chambers that we wouldn’t recognize a good idea unless and until it pierces that sacred space. We burrow ourselves in our false sense of righteousness and punish anyone who tries to share their insights. And so we shame, we belittle, we mock, we antagonize, we point fingers and call names.

Source unknown.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t call out racism and sexism when we see it or that we shouldn’t correct ableism or transphobia when it shows up. We absolutely should call that out. Generational patterns of unhealed trauma and systemic violence has heaped a ton of unbearable shame onto communities that are righteously and gloriously fighting back. But that well of strength and energy are not self-replenishing. And sometimes, we need to tap into the talents of others who can either help us build a bridge or enforce our boundaries. We are not in this alone, which is sort of the beauty of it all Others feel the same, but have different talents, different stressors, different tolerance levels. Not everything needs our control or input.

Right now, our passion for our causes and candidates has caused us to take a weed whacker to the whole garden, cutting down all the new growth and ideas that we were cultivating. And with the amount of invincible ignorance we encounter, sometimes it feels like we’re playing a neverending game of whack-a-troll. We are only human – it is okay to step back, put the spade and shovel down and let nature take its course.

We can plant the seeds, nurture the message, leaving some room for the light to get in, pulling out the weeds of shame and fake news when they threaten the growth of a better world.

You can’t fight darkness with darkness. Limiting access to only those who have the perfect point of view, the right ideas, and the right opinions only serve to further exploit and marginalize others. By limiting the voices at the table, forcing them into lockstep with us, we are in danger of becoming the very opposite of what we say we’re here to do. We blur facts and with opinions, problems with solutions, feeling with reason until there’s so much dissonance that people start dropping out.

This is literally the opposite of what we want.

If we want to win, people have got to feel welcomed enough to show up & grow.

If we want to win, people have to feel valued enough to show up & grow.

If we want to win, people have to feel safe enough to show up & grow.

Shame threatens to remove some of our most vulnerable, valuable and marginalized voices from the conversation, thus removing our greatest chance of a solution. So if we are serious about winning, serious about repairing our nation and our earth we have to be in this together. We cannot afford for anyone to be left behind.

Blog Rewind: Journey to the Reasonable (1/11/04)

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?

15 Ways Twitter helped me grow as a person

 

  1. I joined Twitter just a little over 10 years ago this fall. I can’t remember whether I joined as a fad, as an alternative to LiveJournal, or as a valiant attempt to connect to those I adored. While my time on Twitter hasn’t always been consistent or notable, I have grown to rely on this medium as one of my primary means of engagement, expression, and community. Throughout my life, I’ve utilized technology to connect to people in ways that aren’t always available in real life. I mean, back in my early adolescence I played around on QLink, then AOL – and got a lot of disappointed, angry looks from my dad when I spent more than our paid time. College was more AOL, law school was MySpace and eventually LiveJournal.

    But Twitter is a different animal – it has fluffy content and deep rabbit holes. It has the best (@DanRather) and worst of humanity (He Who Shall Not Be Named). It has gifs & clapbacks, sweet tenderness juxtaposed on the timeline with porn & politics. It takes a strong stomach sometimes, but when you find a community and a group of people worth following, it can be a wonderful experience.

    This week I reached 2500 followers. More than 70% of whom only started following me in the past 3 years. During that same period, I’ve experienced a significant growth in my career, my relationships, my confidence, and my mental health. I think there is something to be said for at least so new people drawn into my orbit since I decided to start healing myself. I have learned from them, created a community with them, and now celebrate all the ways in which that medium, and more importantly, the people who use it, have influenced my world in such a positive way.

    Here are the ways Twitter has influenced my life – in no particular order:  Read the rest of this entry

Lessons from Men: Sincerity is Sexy

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.

Here’s why:

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:

Sincerity

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.

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: how being outed influenced my non-traditional endorsement

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

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