It’s 9:45 pm here on October 11th. I got home late and am making an ambitious (for me) dinner of shepherd’s pie. So as I wait, I think back on another marginally bad day. It wasn’t horrible, it just was angsty. And most of the angst was mine. I was impatient, unorganized, forgetful and foggy all day. And it wasn’t until later in the workday, when I was beyond the point of salvaging it that I finally realized why I was so on edge.
Today was National Coming Out Day
For the past 10 years I’ve been flirting with various forms of outness, to varying degrees. And to the point where I’m essentially out to everyone except extended family. Even professionally to some degree it’s been know how I identify. Especially over the past year or so I’ve become far more comfortable with being out.
But today it was scary and triggery. It brought back memories of a workday interrupted by a call from a friend telling me that a website had posted my online journal and that it was circulating among my colleagues and the press. 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 evening news, the fear, the cowardice, the ignorance, the victimhood, and especially the punishment. It brought me back to a night where I was as close to suicide as I’ll ever get and breaking down as a last-ditch effort 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 every 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 clueless friends. The choice to come out is mine and not theirs.
So, instead, I came out on Twitter, reminding all 686 followers of who I am.
Those things are some of the easiest things to identify things about me. It’s what most people care about when they talk about coming out. But identity is such a rich and powerful blend of concepts, stories, and aspirations that simply saying I’m bisexual, polyamorous, kinky, queer, Chicana, femme, Mother, wife, lover, educator, lawyer, spiritual, and geek is just a superficial part of the story. Some of it is the sensational part of the story because ooooh—bi, poly and kinky–that’s out there. But it’s just scratching the surface.
There are other aspects of identity that go beyond the census items of nationality (American), race/ethnicity or income. There are the aspects of self that evolve over time but create the refinements of self that truly identify us closer to our core. Those aspects of ourselves are just as precious and vulnerable, worthy of being spoken as personal truths.
So tonight, I define more of who I am. Coming out as the woman I truly am at heart:
I am a public servant. I have always been drawn to government, politics, and the business of policymaking. But moire than anything I have been drawn to a life of being in service to the public in some capacity or another. Right now I provide direct services through a nonprofit,. but in the past, I’ve served in capacities that were more about the public good than my own advancement.
I am half white and half Mexican but identify as Chicana. This is very important for me to distinguish. I love both of my families, but the Mexican half of my family was the most influential in my upbringing. My dad’s family valued education but watching my Mexican grandparents’ pride when my mom earned her master’s struck a chord with me. It told me the legacy that was going to be passed to me to build upon. It is a responsibility that I take seriously. My father’s family is full of intelligence, accomplishment, and distinction–my role with them is less to carry on their legacy and more to just not fuck it up. But what I accomplish for the Mexican side of my family, like a law degree, creates a path for others to follow. I’ve already helped one family member with his law school application and LSAT prep. We rise together.
That said, I am also very privileged. Because my last name is white, my skin is light and freckled and my hair turning gray faster than my more indigenous parts of the family, I’m a dead ringer for your standard, run-of-the-mill white girl. That’s not what I feel inside and so I get somewhat defensive during conversations about race. I am so eager to relate to people that I end up ignoring my privilege, the same privilege that makes it easier for me to be heard. It has been an uphill battle for me to remember that my story isn’t more important than anyone else’s, particularly those who don’t get the benefits that come with passing for white, cis, het and able bodied.
I am bisexual and married to a man. So another privilege I carry is that I at least am always perceived as heterosexual. I’m not, of course, and that’s where some mental health issues come into play for many of us–being misidentified, ignored and rebuked within the LGBTQ community (mostly getting derision from the Ls and Gs) creates an insidious amount of hardship as we try to navigate our way through the world.
I am bisexual and I have known it since I was 12. But to the outside world, I had a fairy tale wedding and lived happily ever after. And while I love my husband dearly, part of why I love him is that he’s never had an issue with me living my life as fully as I am able. He’s always given me support and encouragement, to pursue what makes me happy–including exploring my attraction to women and non-binary/gender nonconforming folk. Ultimately this is aided immensely by being polyamorous–we negotiate the terms of our marriage and it decidedly doesn’t look at all like the heteronormative ideal. And I am happier for it.
Finally, I’m coming out as a visionary within the Catholic meaning of the term. Again, from the age of 12, I believe I was called to something powerful. This calling initially spoke to me through the images and rituals of the Catholic faith–I was strong in my devotion to the Church at the time (see, I still capitalize it). But as I grew into the woman I am, I recognized that Catholicism at its core no longer fit with the calling that I was given. It was just too large for such a narrowly-defined faith structure. So, I departed from the Church. I still miss it sometimes–going to Mass and adoration, praying the rosary, the cleansing I’d feel after confession. It is like my hometown. I’ll always have a connection to it. It’s part of my story. But it’s not where I choose to live now–I have moved on. My calling is what matters most to me, not ascribing to any one issue of faith.
With all of that said, I have an update on the shepherd’s pie: I burned myself making it last night which is why this is posted late. i’m doing better today–but I guess I also need to add clumsy to the list of identities that I have.
Note: I wrote this post originally in August, before my husband lost his job. Now that we are on food stamps and Medicaid because of our mutual lack of employment, my reasoning and rationale behind this post is even more personal than it was before. I have added references to my own experience in blue. This is intended to be a multi-part commentary. Links at the bottom to subsequent posts.
Therefore, I reject the notion that people who receive cash assistance just won’t do anything else to survive or to help themselves. And frankly it’s comments like yours, usually founded on false assumptions and skewed “facts” that cause people to not reach out for help when they need it the most. I do believe these programs need adjustments and in some cases a huge overhaul for improvements, but I suspect we may be coming from vastly different viewpoints here. I want programs that provide better benefits, that cover more people and provide more meaningful interventions than what we currently offer. We should be helping more people and not fewer. I refuse to believe that we cannot or should not take care of each other.
But before anyone can suggest HOW to make changes, I believe there needs to be significant discussions about pinpointing and defining the actual problems.
In order to even do this much, we must…
- Dismantle the abusive and dehumanizing myth of “welfare queens”. This will help isolate any actual abuse and identify unchecked errors that need to be remedied. But more importantly, this disintegrates the angry & racist welfare narrative that has prevented empathy in both policy makers and voters. This old narrative perpetuates a righteous indignation too enamored with its own false sense of superiority to have a meaningful conversation about the issue itself. Let’s be real, the “welfare queen” is a myth. An exaggeration. A lie. A damaging lie told by Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail which incited an indignation founded in racism and sexism. It was a formidable tool in getting white voters (the more likely voters) on board with his political and economic agenda. A tall tale that has outlived its maker and needs to be put to rest so that we can approach poverty policy from a place devoid of stigma and shame.
- Next, there needs to be a long discussion about the true nature of poverty itself and the reasons it persists around the world, much less in a country as prosperous and abundant as ours. This includes describing the very real biases that people hold about poor people, the disabled, the elderly and children born into poverty including class and wage inequality as well.
- Likewise, we must include conversations about the cultural values of personal generosity, survive vs. thrive, the role of charity in society, the pursuit of profits, sustainable outcomes, autonomy in personal or family decision-making, the role of sacrifice and hardship, and well, our values about humanity as a whole.
- We also need to critically re-examine our assumptions about marriage and family so that it better reflects the cultural and economic realities of Americans today. Many children are growing up raised by grandparents so that the parents can work, go back to school or get back to health. Likewise, many households are deciding to invite roommates or even the ex’s family to stay with them as a means of creating intentional community to provide better financial and emotional support to all involved. Yet, rights do not always flow in the direction of reality. This requires a critical examination of where our policy and legal assumptions about family need to be updated and retooled.
- We need to have a conversation about our policies that promote: access to affordable health care (including substantial mental health care), keeping people in their homes, access to justice, availability to improve or access social capital, education equity, and of course, the economic cost-benefit of a living wage. This also should address access to higher education, safe and affordable options for day care for working families and the cost of caring for our elderly.
- We must also reconcile our hypocritical messages about children and families in the United States. We must encounter head-on the cultural disconnect between our agendas on abortion, prenatal counseling/care with our utter disregard for a child, the mother and the family unit once the child leaves the protective cocoon of the womb. This includes critically assessing access to all family planning options, including sexual health education, birth control (including condoms), and screenings for STIs and cancer so that they are either completely free or covered fully by insurance providers and Medicaid. Include too foster parenting, availability for adoption, equality in education, access to nutritious foods, clean environments, support for parents through all stages of a child’s development up through college, remedying the pervasive cycles of abuse and violence and creating opportunities for higher education including student loan forgiveness.
- We must rewrite the myth of the American Dream which perpetuates a cultural standard of “with just some good, old fashioned hard work, you are able to have everything you need”. Great, good. But it’s not true for everyone. Many people who are poor work hard too, often in multiple jobs; then they encounter tragedy or loss and are right back where they started. Therefore, we must recognize that our policies and indeed our national narrative that distinguishes between the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor. We draw these distinctions in all of our communities—people who are either worthy (usually those who are like us) and those who are unworthy (not like us). A rather exaggerated and selfish example of these distinctions is detailed here: http://www.snopes.com/katrina/personal/volunteer.asp . (“WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I HELP PEOPLE WHO DON’T WANT TO HELP THEMSELVES!” has become our new national anthem ).
- And finally we must confront our history and our disappointing present policies that promote and enforce gross disparities in wages and living conditions based on a pervasive culture of sexism, cis-sexism, homophobia, ableism, ageism and racism. We must recognize and come to terms with how privilege operates in our public policy landscape much less our personal lives.
Without these conversations, meaningful change cannot even begin.
Without widespread recognition of that there is a powerful and enduring cycle of poverty, the status quo will endure.
Without a significant policy shift that places an emphasis on meaningful interventions at all levels and entry points to poverty there will be no change.
I reject the welfare myth that assumes that those on government assistance are lazy. This myth permeates because it gives fuel to the righteous indignation that many feel toward the poor. Anger that is sparked by assumptions and judgments based on someone’s appearance (clothing, jewelry, phone, car, furnishings, etc.) or a news article (urban legend) that highlights one instance of welfare abuse, which leads people to a panicked conclusion that there is widespread fraud within the system as a whole.
We assume laziness is the answer, but laziness doesn’t belong only to the poor. You know who else is lazy? You are, Mr. can’t -be-bothered-to-introduce-myself-properly Man. You know who else? I am. Ms. Didn’t-put-my-laundry-away-and-left-it-in-the-hallway Woman. You know who else? The guy who pays for fast food on the way home. Or the woman who took the elevator one floor up instead of the stairs. Or the teenager who played video games instead of mowing the lawn. Or the couple that decided to sleep in and let the kids watch TV all morning. Or the politician who took a week off to unwind at his favorite resort.
Let’s be real, each of us makes thousands of decisions every day many of which could be characterized as lazy. Yet it seems to be the national pastime to review and critique those decisions in order to be deemed “worthy” enough for our help. Since when do we have such special insight into anyone else’s life that we get to judge them for every imperfect result they have experienced?
But guess who we judge for their choices more than anyone? Celebrities and the poor. Funny mix, isn’t it? Well, no one is going to question whether you spent that $8 on a wheel of cheese; however, if you’re poor that’s cause for someone like you to automatically dismiss them to the “undeserving” zone and loudly confront them in line at the grocery store: “how DARE tyou spend ‘hard-earned taxpayer money’ on a luxury item such as cheese!?! The ungrateful sods.” No one is going to question whether you ate a donut for breakfast, but if Jennifer Lopez does it, it’s on grocery stands for the next week. “The fucking cow.”
Yet, dehumanizing suffering and tragedy and ignoring a desire for autonomy and dignity is a very easy way to let yourself off the hook from feeling anything and taking responsibility for the contribution you’ve made to the system that created this mess. Demonizing entire classes of people is an easy way to dismiss the problems of the world while giving yourself a congratulatory handshake for all your “hard work”. Achievement unlocked: Douchehattery 101. But all of this is just another method of playground bullying except this time you don’t have to see them cry when you do it.
Sorry, but that is not the world that I am here to create. I do have ideas and I do have critiques, but they involve better targeting of our resources combined with an expansion of aid available for longer periods of time. All of these are based not in anger or prejudice, but in empathy and a recognition of the realities of poverty. Maybe it comes from the years of working with individuals and communities that astonish me with their creativity and resilience. Maybe it’s from my struggle to survive the overwhelming bills and debt when I was unemployed.
Maybe it just comes from being someone who believes that generosity is a virtue and that each person is deserving of dignity and respect. Maybe it’s because I believe that we’re all in this together.
Note: I wrote this post originally in August, before my husband lost his job. Now that we are on food stamps and Medicaid because of our mutual lack of employment, my reasoning and rationale behind this post is even more personal than it was before. I have added references to my own experience in blue. This is intended to be a multi-part commentary. Links at the bottom to subsequent posts.
Unemployment is an income maintenance program. This has an absolute requirement to look for work. Basically if you are offered a job, you must accept it if it falls within certain category requirements or equivalents, even if the job pays less than what you had been earning before. It’s put up or shut up.
But on a larger scale, tell me how this scheme allows people to create their own destiny? There’s no holding out for a better offer. You cannot refuse a job. If you do, that safety net is gone and you’re on your own. Never mind the impact that unemployment has on a resume or what taking a job isn’t your dream job does to your attractiveness to future employers who are looking for a consistent and solid work history. Remember, employers don’t look fondly on any gaps in work history but they also want to see a gradual increase in responsibilities and achievement, something you can’t create when you have a temp job for 4 months.
And if unemployment required you to take a job A earning 25% less than your expected pay grade then in your next position Employer B is likely only going to offer you a modest bump up from your most recent all-time low. It can have a very clear ratcheting down effect that makes it that much harder to get back to your pre-unemployment potential. This, I can tell you from experience. I still haven’t broken the glass ceiling of my all time low to get back to what I was earning in my dream job 6 years ago, despite my qualifications and knowledge. A stint of unemployment longer than 3 months, can destroy a person’s bargaining potential for years to come.
But the mantra is “any job is a good job”, right? Sure, any job is a good job, particularly when it’s a step up from having no job at all. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right job or a long-term solution to crippling debt. It doesn’t mean it will pay enough to feed your family. It doesn’t mean that your children escape the detrimental effects of poverty. And it certainly doesn’t mean you have significantly improved your chances of escaping poverty.
In Denver County, for a typical family of 4 to survive (2 adults/2 children), the adults would have to be working in jobs that pay an equivalent of $19.65/hr ($40+K per year). Sounds reasonable, right? But that’s the living wage, the actual cost of what it takes to live in this county. The level of income they would need to qualify for most levels of aid (and to fall below the poverty line) is roughly $10.60/hr or $22K a year, still significantly below the wage they would need to earn to make ends meet. Working a minimum wage job (at $7.25/hr, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year) gives that family $15K to live on and pretty much automatically qualifies them for aid.
So, in order to make enough to get out of poverty in Denver county (let’s not include the debts accumulated in order to make ends meet or get utilities turned back on), they would need to be in one of the following types of positions: Management ($45.62/hr), Business and Financial Operations ($29.75/hr), Computer and Mathematical ($38.14 /hr), Architecture and Engineering ($35.93/hr), Life, Physical and social Sciences ($30.20/hr), Legal ($33.05/hr), Education, Training and Library ($21.37/hr), or Healthcare Practitioner and Technical ($30.13/hr). (Information courtesy of MIT’s Living Wage Calculator available here: http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/08031)
Do you notice any trends here?
That’s right, all of these are positions where one needs at least some post secondary training/education, significant work experience or a college or post-graduate degree. If they are in a position that requires only a high school diploma with little to no additional training, they are more likely, if not absolutely assured, to fall below the poverty level.
Add to that anecdotal evidence of people who are looking to go back to school so they can improve their chances—only to subsequently be let go or have their hours reduced for daring to utter or even investigate that dream. Employers have a lot of power to be as choosy, bitchy or negligent as they want. Not all jobs are created equal or provide an equal opportunity to advance or maintain a living. And in at-will states, you can basically be terminated for any reason.
[Oh and another little tidbit that I noticed on that site is that a single parent with two kids pays about $2000 more in annual taxes than a 2 parent household. Hence, a clear argument for the inequity applied to same-sex households with children and that disproportionately could land a same-sex household below the poverty level. Fortunately, the reversal of DOMA will help remedy this situation but not completely.]
Another cost of poverty that you may or may not have considered is the constant stress that comes with wondering where the next paycheck is going to come from. Sure, if you believe the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank) children living in poverty may or may not be going hungry each day. But you still have rent to pay, right? You still have electricity to keep on? And in this day and age, you still have to choose whether internet is a good idea to pay for as you try to find a job or complete online classes. Stress creates a whole host of health issues that, if left unchecked, could significantly lessen your chances of maintaining stable employment and thus ever escaping poverty.
Finally, let’s also consider those who are living just outside the poverty line. In my example above, it’s the difference between those making $22K and those making $40K. Quite a large number, if you think about it (two full-time, minimum wage earners with two kids fit here). These are people who are just one car wreck or one illness away from complete financial catastrophe. Even the family with $40K a year is hovering in that danger zone.
Think about what causes people to enter poverty. Think about the traumas, disasters and crises they may have experienced. The death of a spouse, a chronic illness requiring daily medications or treatments. The special needs child who requires constant care. The snowstorm where they slid into another car and totaled their vehicle. The lay-off. The divorce. The hurricane.
This isn’t laziness. This is life and it is threatening to eat us alive every day.
Sometimes you meet some winners on OKCupid. Earlier this month I met one the winners out there. The self-assured, confident guy who is also sensitive, caring and intuitive (putting it lightly). I have no idea how well that connection will turn out, but I’m willing to let it settle in a bit to see if it moves forward.
Then you meet some true assholes. In fact, I’ve held off responding to most messages in the past few years because frankly I just don’t want to spend much time slogging through the waste of messages that I get on a daily basis. There was a time I replied to each and every one of the stupid messages I got, but now I’m much more comfortable with the delete and block feature. First impressions count. I put a lot of thought into how I approach someone before I rattle something off to them in the hopes they will reply back. And if it doesn’t seem to fit, it’s not a biggie. It means we likely weren’t going to hit it off in the first place.
However, every now and then, a message arrives and sometimes you have no choice but to relentlessly make fun of it. I’m not normally a fan of mocking someone’s effort to find a special love, but sometimes the approach is so filled with hubris and presumptions that it begs to be publicized so we can point to it and make an example of it.
And in this case, this message from…let’s call him Timmy6917 (apologies to anyone with that username) was so arrogant, misguided and off-the-mark, that I felt obligated to spend a day researching my response which is posted below.
See, Timmy made three very crucial errors:
- He never once introduced himself, asked a question or even pointed to some commonality that might explain why he contacted me;
- He trotted out a lazy, conservative trope about welfare to a woman who is very clearly far left of center politically;
- He describes himself as “intelligent” and “sharp” in his profile, which sort of begs the question–who is he really trying to convince?
I needed to make sense of the rage I felt when I read his messages so I researched and I wrote. I wrote 8 pages and could keep on going. Writing out my thoughts on an issue that deals squarely with poverty and policy “suggestions” that rely on prevailing myths about poverty, I felt the need to expand even my own privileged horizons on this topic. It was more cathartic than I ever thought it would be, or so I tell myself to justify the full day of work and sleep that I lost to this project. It brought me back to a sense of pride for my political prowess. All knowledge is worth having, I suppose.
Disclaimer: I did not actually send the following message to Mr. Timmy as he forever shall be known. No, instead, I posted it as information for myself and my Facebook followers, many of whom know this subject far better than I can hope to emulate. What Mr. Timmy got in reply was a curt notice that he failed to state an argument with his conclusion and that anyone who hopes to be a partner with me must demonstrate a minimal amount of kindness, respect and humanity. I told him blatantly that the problem is not abuse of the welfare system, but rather limited and narrow viewpoints that shame those who live in poverty. I have since gotten a reply from him, but haven’t read it because…well, I’ve already wasted enough time on someone that I never, ever want to meet much less fuck.
Let me start off by saying that I’m not entirely sure what your basis is for the conclusions you’ve drawn. You say Medicaid “is easily one of the most abused programs available”. Okay? Abused in what way? Is it abused by the administrators of the program, those who receive benefits or the doctors/companies providing services? And by cash programs, it would depend on which cash program (I’m going to assume Federal) that you’re talking about. TANF? Unemployment? WIC? Disability? Is your beef with the federal program itself or the state administration of these programs? Or is it a state program you have an issue with?
But I hope to god that you’re not basing any of these broad opinions on the oft-debunked yet relentlessly persistent myth of the “welfare queen”.
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?
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
The shooting in Connecticut has been on my mind all weekend. I’ve been somewhat silent as I watch friends on Facebook or Twitter or elsewhere rally behind a cause that essentially says “more violence = less violence”. This whole concept is just abhorrent to me.
It feels low. It feels base. It feels like moving backwards.
The suggestion that arming teachers and administration would somehow have prevented this tragedy tells me that people I used to respect and like would rather see more violence, more fear, more aggression than try to establish peace and compassion. The fact that these suggestions are often accompanied by “evidence” that seems suspect or at least slanted doesn’t help their cause with me. I will not say that the other side doesn’t have skewed statistics either, but at least they are not advocating for more violence so that definitely wins out for me.
EDITS: I posted this in November 2012 on FetLife. I was asked to publish this in a larger forum where they could more easily link to the content for people who might have FetLife blocked or just aren’t members. With over 300 “loves” and 100+ comments and countless personal emails and messages I agree that this is worth sharing with a much wider audience.
As of 2016, I was banned from one of the local venues reportedly because of my activism, but also likely because of the connection they had to the person below.
I’ve also added a trigger warning on the title for those who are survivors of sexual assault whether in or out of the scene. However, there is no cut to protect against the triggers.
September Gateway 2007.
I’ve been part of the BDSM community for 8 years and the Denver community for 6 years. There was a time when I was new. And when you’re new you do some pretty stupid things.
When I was new I agreed to play with someone who told me he’d listen to and respect my boundaries, even though every conversation seemed to revolve around how great he thought he was. When I sent him my personal narrative about the “whys” of my limits, he told me “well, that was more than I ever needed to know”. But you know, I made a commitment to be there and I didn’t want to back out since absolutely no one else expressed an interest in playing with me (before the days of FetLife).
When we played I safeworded, calling Red, three times only to have him to continue the exact thing that I said I didn’t want on the spot that was already sore, the very thing I negotiated as off-limits and for the DMs to walk by or watch oblivious even when in earshot of “Red”. He ended the scene by shoving three fingers up my cunt as my face is covered in snot and tears and asking me if I liked it, expecting to be able to start on my front-side since it was clear he thought that went well.
I told him I was done and was non-verbal for the rest of the night. I didn’t confront him because it was clear that he enjoyed himself, chiding and mocking me for not being able to take more…that more would be expected of me next time. And the gall that he thought there would even be a next time combined with the passive-aggressive insult that I wasn’t a good submissive, that I didn’t give my all, that I was lacking in some respect told me that he would only try to justify his poor choices and blame me if I confronted him head-on or publicly about what he did. I was a nobody in Denver at the time nor did I feel strong enough in myself to not only endure having been outed but to also be unwelcome in a community I wanted to be a part of. Who would ever listen to me?
But the fact is, I wasn’t wrong to trust and communicate when things were going badly. I wasn’t wrong to trust someone who was in such a position of authority. I wasn’t wrong to communicate when there was a problem (screaming Red counts!). The only thing I really did wrong was waiting so long to really talk about this.
The parallels between this event and my rape are too sad when you think about it. Much like when I had been raped 16 years ago while hanging out with my friends in their dorm room, I didn’t tell others until much later. Much like the people who witnessed my rape and heard my “No” (and who jerked off as it was happening), no one stepped in to stop it, even when they had a duty to do so. And like 16 years ago I didn’t confront him, but just made sure to avoid him or anyone closely connected with him. As a person, I tend to always put blame on myself and I definitely did for this – I even thanked him a week later in an email (which years later is quite embarrassing):
Thank you for the time you spent last week…I’m still trying to piece together what I’ve learned. The fact that I safeworded concerns me. It’s never happened before, partly because I’ve never been played that hard before. And while you reassured me that I took it well, the tears streaming down my face the whole time also concerns me. This points to unresolved issues I have with my previous Dom that I want to figure out before I play any more with anyone else, including you. There is far too much history to allow it to play out with someone new. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to play with you, but I don’t think I can go any further than we did. I am not emotionally prepared for it…not to mention physically ready for it either. I will be taking the next few months to really piece together where I am with D/s right now…and whether it even still fits into my life. You opened my eyes to a lot of issues I’ve been failing to face up to…and it’s given me a lot to think about. Again, I am very grateful for that…but with where I am right now, where my experiences have led me to. This was a chance to see whether we’re a good fit for each other and sadly I don’t think we are, especially considering the issues I still need to work through in my own life.Email, Sept 22, 2007
It isn’t about naming names as naming the problem
What prompted this post? It isn’t to publicize his mistakes. It’s to share an experience that, much like the date rape I survived, is far more common and one where I see a lot of others wrestling with whether they should say something or just keep quiet. What’s worse is I see others who continue to act badly, who take no responsibility for their actions or the impact they might have on others (particularly in a public space) and continue to act as if they are the ones who are victimized whenever anyone wants to address their behavior.
I’ve had enough. It is precisely the pattern of consume-destroy-silence-shame-repeat that is hurting members of our community and I’ve had enough. Particularly with the influx of people coming to BDSM from 50 Shades I am quite concerned about the model we are setting for those who not only have unrealistic expectations to start but who genuinely feel a draw to practice what we do. What responsibility are we going to take as a community?
I know I’m not the only one who has noticed this. Hell, we wouldn’t have had to have hosted a FuK Yes! party if everything was working smoothly, we were protecting our own community effectively, and people weren’t getting hurt by the same limited few who continue on this path of consumption and destruction. We needed the community conversation and we need a LOT more of them. That conversation needs to continue but more than anything it needs to be followed by action.
The do-nothing or the no-drama response is cowardly, irresponsible, and does not actually fix anything. Nor does crying foul when someone is told they are no longer welcome at a particular venue or event. Nor does retaliation when you or a friend has been asked to stop a particular behavior such as touching things and people who aren’t yours or targeted harassment and stalking. Nor does shaming or silencing someone who decides to speak out about their experience whether privately or publicly.
For those on the “we just don’t know what really happened” or “we don’t have enough evidence yet” fence let me clarify how utterly insulting and insidious that response really is. First of all, there are very few of us in the community who have a law degree even fewer of us who are trained to be third-party neutrals. So to suggest that our community is even qualified to hear or evaluate evidence in any sort of neutral, balanced way is fucking ridiculous. And to sluff it off as if there is some magic organization that we created or even trust to sort out the problems in our community is invincibly ignorant.
When we imply that it is the survivor’s burden to bring forth that evidence in sufficient quantity (judged by whom?) suggests that justice basically consists of victim-shaming, silencing and outright dismissal until some superior (that we haven’t actually designated) finally decides that the complaint is “worthy” of listening to. And in those rare cases where the perpetrator was you know -really, really bad- then we won’t say anything about it publicly, but we’ll have some silent agreement (not always involving the actual stake-holders) on how we will deal with that person. Probation? Supervised by whom? Suspension? For how long? Who gets to decide what is needed to keep our community and its survivors safe?
Justice in our community should be easier, but often is just a trap of mainstream victim blaming summed up with “report or it didn’t happen”.
It’s our job to fix the broken stairs in our community spaces
At the risk of repeating the obvious, here is another link to the article “The Missing Stair”. Pretending you are dealing with the problem by ignoring the problem or rationalizing why it’s not a problem is akin to denial. And, for example, it’s what many families who are confronted with an allegation of sex abuse from within do as well. Denial, shaming and victim-blaming is anything but healthy because abuse is abuse. We as a family, we as a community are in denial and people will continue to be hurt until we wake the fuck up.
Yet when people actually do something about the problem such a party host, a bystander, or community leader who confronts someone either privately or publicly with an issue, the backlash is extraordinary. Whether it was the person who was confronted or their merry band of misfits who do the retaliation, it actively discourages others who felt or experienced the same from speaking up and standing up. But more than that it affirms the original perpetrator’s lack of remorse or empathy and allows the wrong behavior to continue as a pattern harming more people along the way.
Tell me how that is called responsible, much less safe or sane?? And yet, we continue to invite them or at least tolerate them in public spaces despite their alarming lack of concern for the consequences of their own actions. We have acquiesced and turned a blind eye and yet we have no problem judging other institutions such as churches who do the exact same thing.
The minute we call them out on their lack of action, they are on the attack instead of taking any amount of energy to determine whether these survivors might actually be right. Much like the abusers themselves, leaders become oppositional the moment they are confronted with wrong-doing and use every tool in their rationalization toolbox to assert themselves as the actual victim or excuse sexual assault as the survivor “not taking responsibility for themselves”. Blame-shifting is a dangerous defense mechanism, a wobbly, crooked, and sharp one that has been honed by years of people stepping out of its way instead of stopping it. And the more we allow these behaviors to continue the more we are the ones perpetuating the problem instead of solving it.
Lack of self-awareness in a partner is a deal-breaker for me. A non-starter because eventually, they will disappoint me when confronted with their own behavior. And when I see such a gross lack of awareness in the community, I likewise feel unsafe. The excuses and victim blaming make their shocking lack basic remorse and empathy even more dangerous. I do not trust their judgment and want them nowhere near my personal space. I have survived too many violations to my very reasonable boundaries and limits to simply “tolerate” those who excuse this level of harm. Nor am I the only one who feels this way.
We are all stewards of this community.
Look, I deal with conflict. It’s my job. It’s a job I chose. And it’s not that I don’t encourage us to deal with our problems peacefully in private with education or healing conversations. What I’m saying is that the people who are actually doing this have been confronted privately and they continue to engage in this behavior and worse yet, they try to lean on those who were trying to be understanding and compassionate about lapses in judgment by wrongly assuming we are on their side.
I know confrontation is scary to everyone. Everyone has their hackles raised. It’s uncomfortable and it’s hard. And those, like me, who normally are more willing to accommodate and accept blame rather than make anyone feel bad about themselves are the least likely to do it – as I proved in my email above. This is a normal response. But nothing stopped the many witnesses that night from either checking on me or reporting his abuse of my safeword.
When we take the passive way out, we remove ourselves from the community responsibility we share. We throw up our hands and wait for someone else to take care of it. We limit ourselves waiting for someone else, someone with the illusions of actual authority to step up to fix the broken stair.
Not anymore. We are each stewards of this community and responsible for making it as safe as we can.
I am no longer willing to wait for everyone else to wake up to this problem. And I support those who tell problem players that they are not welcome. I’m happy to shut doors of opportunity in our venues, pulling away welcome mats to those who continue to violate others and act without regard to the consequences of their actions. No more skipping over that stair for me.
Victim blaming leaders are quick to point out that personal responsibility, integrity and awareness are everything.
For Further Reading:
Earlier today I got an annoying message on Facebook from a HS acquaintance who wanted to correct me for the stance I have taken on gay rights and specifically same-sex marriage. I posted my response to my feed there but I decided that I wanted to take it a bit further and just keep saying it loud:
Obviously we need a reminder. Let’s be clear, I am a supporter of same-sex marriage. I am an advocate for equal rights for all people. And so I don’t react well when someone wants to “take me to task” for my beliefs.
For all the people trying to make this a religious argument–that marriage is a “religious act” that government should have no part of, then I highly suggest you make your actions match your words and reject any and all government benefits you receive for being married. I challenge you to file your 2012 taxes as “single”, to divide your property according to contract law and purchase your own insurance instead of benefiting from your spouse and to be subjected to a custody evaluation to ensure that you are fit parents for your children. Go out today and make a will that doesn’t rely on presumptions of law. Hire an attorney to draw up any powers of attorney you might need in the event of an unforeseen disaster. Oh and be sure that if you are asked to testify against your spouse in a court of law that you don’t invoke spousal privilege or marital immunity. Go on. If marriage is only a religious rite/right then this should be no problem…rejecting all the ways in which your marriage is entangled with government and getting government out of the way.
You can’t have it both ways.
If you’re unwilling to to give up your benefits for the status of your relationship then you better be willing to extend those same benefits to everyone else who has made just as sacred a commitment to their spouse as you have. They are prevented, by law, from obtaining a marriage license in order to have the same legal recognition as you. Why? Because of the gender of the person they have felt compelled to pledge their life to. A simple matter of gender and that somehow is enough to restrict their ability to enjoy the same benefits and certainties as you. Sorry, but marriage is not a private matter, not when so many governmental treats flow from that change in status.
The God I believe in loves unconditionally and blesses each of us unconditionally. You lose nothing in this deal except the peace of mind that the peculiar combination of your boy parts and girl parts make you special in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of God. Just like colleges, businesses and clubs were forced to open their doors to women or to men and women of color, you wrap your institutional identity so tightly around this concept of “specialness” that you feel you might lose your identity if others are allowed into the club.
Stop acting so persecuted and petulant. Recognize the privilege you have and extend that with grace and compassion to others.
Several years ago I was working with students at a local low-income middle school who were aiming to make something more of themselves. When asked who Martin Luther King, Jr. was they responded uncertainly with “he freed the slaves?” I wasn’t quite appalled, because it’s not surprising that most kids don’t understand the impact this man and those who have been inspired by him had on their everyday life. They know he did something important, but they just don’t understand how significant that impact is on them.
He has been an inspiration to me since I was in 4th grade. We were required to find significant quotes from him and create a poster with those quotes. While I was indeed inspired by the “I Have a Dream” speech, that wasn’t the one that stood out for me. Instead, what I was drawn to were his speeches about love. I may have been the only one that year who used this quote. Later in college he was assigned reading for my philosophy courses. And his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is still one of the most influential pieces I have read.
We owe it to ourselves and our communities to not just honor this man today, but to actively continue his work in each sector of life. To forge peace in our relationships with our loved ones. To recognize the interconnectedness of humanity in our dealings in everyday society. And to require of our leaders and policy-makers to reflect these values with each decision they make.
So say we all:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” Strength To Love, 1963
Last night a bit of a debate erupted over my post about the Focus on the Family ad during the Broncos-Patriots play-off game last night. While I thought my small opinion might be controversial what I didn’t expect was that two people so unlike each other would get into a snarky religious battle in the thread that I’m sure making people on either side of the issue uncomfortable. Okay, maybe I did foresee that just a little. But there I was at 2 am ready to settle in for some sleep when I finally checked my notifications and saw it. So after I woke, I updated my response and share it with you in every form I can imagine:
Dear friends…I am not going to get too involved in this at 2 am. However, if you have been on my list for any amount of time please let me remind you quite clearly that:
a) I believe in equal rights for all, including homosexuals, bisexuals and trans men and women, including but not limited to those who seek to engage in same sex marriage and non-traditional relationships;
b) I have spent the majority of my life defending those rights and fighting the injustice of those who would seek to undermine equality;
c) I believe that God creates us as true perfection and loves each of us with infinite wisdom, innate goodness and unconditional love and does not require the exclusion of anyone from the fullness of oneness with the divine;
d) I believe that freedom of consensual sexual expression is a fundamental right and indeed a gift from the divine meant to express connection to others and provide a greater experience of our shared humanity;
e) I respect the right of each individual to experience and share their experience of faith in an equally respectful manner including but not limited to Athiests, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Agnostics, Pagans, Taoists, Jewish and so many other traditions…I welcome all faiths because I find your journey fascinating;
f) However, remember that you are a GUEST in my space amongst some of my most intimate and respected friends and I ask you kindly treat it as such;
g) As the host of this page, I am unilaterally and unequivocally allowed in MY own space to share my opinions, ideas and observations and will attempt to do so solely as a reflection of my own experience and research;
h) I spent most of my young adulthood studying the bible and later working my way through some of the apocryphal writings and have concluded during my journey that there is not only one way to God, the divine or universal oneness, but many paths that lead in the same direction;
i) If, by some chance the god of love that I have personally experienced in my upbringing, research and my Calling does not exist and is indeed such a vengeful, jealous, emotionally needy, and fearful being will sit in judgment of me upon my death, I will happily risk exclusion from heaven to stand proudly by my beliefs hopefully having spent my lifetime lending my power to those whose voices have been shamed into silence by needless and destructive emotional, physical and spiritual violence condoned by their earthly brothers and sisters;
j) As an attorney and political activist I believe strongly in a separation of church and state…something many of our politicians should remember when accepting donations and our churches should stop trying to exploit through the historically blurred lens of religious freedom,
and finally…yes, finally, I believe in treating others the way I want to be treated.
You are allowed to disagree, you are allowed to debate, but understand quite clearly that I identify as an active and compassionate member of the LGBTQ community and deeply spiritual woman. Because I choose not to remain ignorant of either the Catholic faith I was raised in or the moral abundance of teachings from other sources, I cannot be swayed by arguments solely comprised of scripture. I am an intelligent, queer, cisgendered woman who has spent over 20 years healing the fractures left in human souls by the improbable demands of religion and the social fear manipulations surrounding among other things concepts of sexuality and gender.
Pray for me if you like…but when you have lived my life, borne witness to the messages on the hills of Podbrdo and Krisevac touched the hearts I have and loved as deeply and as fully as I have…then judge not. And I pray to the god, goddess or entity of my choosing that upon your death you will be greeted by a divine presence who is actually IS unconditional love made manifest through each of us.
I expect this message to suffice for the time-being. Defriend me, block me, rally against me. “Like” it if you wish, re-post and share as needed, but do not presume to teach me about my own faith and my god-given life experience any further. I do reserve the right to limit further commentary in my space. My inspirational playground, my rules. A clear statement of healthy boundaries that I expect you to respect.