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Reflections of Resilience: Shine On You Crazy Diamond

(This is a story of my comeback from rape, prior and subsequent experiences of sexual assault and harassment, internalized misogyny, depression, anxiety, PTSD and Catholic guilt. Read Part 1 here. )

TW: Descriptions of rape, sexual assault, child sexual assault, sexual harassment.

It wasn’t until the past year or so that I started to see the night of my rape in the larger scheme of things. Patterns started to emerge that were both good and bad for me, for us as a society. The following is just a dispassionate description of those observations, loosely woven into the part of my personal story i’m willing to share with the public.

Sexual assault is far more common than we think. 

In the three years I was in college (yes, gradutated a year early), I encountered many stories from women and men who had been sexually assaulted. Either taken advantage of when drunk or high or coerced and pressured into sex by a needy, jealous and demanding partner.

One night, at the end of my senior year as our sorority held one of its fireside chats (usually an attempt to clear the air about our grievances with each other), I confessed to them this story I shared here. More than a third of the sorority shared similar stories that night. I remember all of us sitting there, tears in our eyes as we recalled the humiliation of objectification and dehumanization. It had never been quantified for me like that before.

But beyond this, I started to recognize and see all the minor ways in which sexual assault has been normalized. So when we talk about rape culture, this is what we mean. The legitimization of smaller aggressions against the consent of those involved in a sexual scenario.

Tolerance and acceptance of sexual assault, harassment and objectification have been way too common in my life.

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As a woman and at that a Catholic, Mexican-American woman, I had been conditioned to accept violation of boundaries on a near constant basis. I mean, when the Church condemns women to a grave sin for exercising control over their own bodies, we send a very powerful message about the sanctity of female autonomy. Or rather, the lack of it. When we control, regulate, gaze at and objectify women we create a world in which rape and sexual assault is normalized and accepted.

I learned just recently how normal it was in my life (and I mean even as a child) to put up with this kind of behavior. I use the word “inappropriate” to describe these today, but I was definitely trained through experience to treat these things as normal and expected. Because going along with it has usually been safer than calling it out–after all, I’ve been close to death a few times for daring to say no.  And it’s not just the assaults or attempts or harassments that are important, it’s the cultural attitudes and expectations that made them acceptable and relieved the perpetrators of any consequence or responsibility for honoring my consent or autonomy.  Here are some examples of what I mean.

  • Someone close to my family sexually assaulting me at the age of 6 or 7.
  • Grown men in the Army sending me naked pictures of themselves when I was as young as 13. At least two of them knew my real age.
  • My boyfriend at 13 stalking me, slashing my neighbors tires and making threats outside my window while I slept after I refused to have sex with him.
  • Co-workers at my first job taking monetary bets as to who would get to fuck me first.
  • A 36 year old co-worker trying to finger me when I was 15.
  • A 40 year old delivery man inviting me to his house alone when I was 16.
  • The biggest womanizer in school stalking me until I’d have sex with him. I lost my virginity to him at 16.
  • Being pressured into having sex with a classmate as a way to be jumped into a gang at 13. I backed out at the last minute. Getting punched by one of my friends afterward for chickening out.
  • Compulsively craving the attention of all men to the point of making a complete fool of myself. Because what was supposed to matter to me was how attractive I was to men, not how respectful I was to myself.
  • Engaging in sexual activity as more of a defense mechanism than as a rational and enthusiastic choice.
  • Being drugged by two men who secretly tried to record me “consenting” to sex. I eventually escaped.
  • Being outed and slut shamed by a republican blog and losing my job as a result.
  • Being “okay” with not orgasming so long as the other person came.
  • Being uncomfortable with someone going down on me because I wasn’t supposed to be the recipient of pleasure, my job was only to give.
  • Being in scary domestic violence situations with four different men. I was lucky to survive each of those.
  • Telling the story of my rape and then the listener trying to coerce me into anal sex a week or two later.
  • Getting unsolicited dick pics whenever I’m on any dating site.
  • Relentless harassment to coerce me into sending nude photos despite personal risks I would have to bear.
  • Having a job held over my head in exchange for sexual favors. Having those promises not realized with no recourse.
  • Sexual prowess in male co-workers are joked about with ease; sexual interest I expressed being condemned as a stain against the organization.
  • Pressuring me  into sexual activity that I clearly don’t want.
  • Emotional manipulation including guilt and shaming if I express  limits. Usually takes the form of “not a real submissive” or “not really poly”, especially when trying to hold someone responsible for behavior that violates those limits.
  • Threats of violence for refusing a drink/kiss/ride home.
  • A president-elect who has bragged about women he’s sexually assault as a result of his wealth and power. A president-elect who feels entitled to judge women based on their appearance.
  • The powerful slut shaming whenever I do ask for anything that I want. What’s worse is how internalized it is.
  • The silent treatment if I stand up for myself.
  • The boy in high school who shamed me for having any body hair at all and stopped dating me as a result.
  • having  men propose to me without possibly knowing me well enough to know I’m the right person. They’re convinced they’re being romantic and impulsive and were angry with me when I declined. Two of them stalked me for years after.
  • A man passing out during a blowjob but I get in trouble for not finishing him off.
  • Being called the wrong name during sex.
  • Told I’m “good enough for a blowjob but not good enough to fuck” because of my weight.
  • Being given a dildo as a present by my boss when I turned 17; my acceptance of that gift was used to imply consent for all sorts of touching, grabbing and propositions for years to come.
  • Subjected regularly to groping when doing absolutely nothing–like ordering a drink at the bar or even standing at a bus stop.
  • Having to be “okay” with men just disappearing after getting what they want. The constant trigger of feeling used, rejected and discarded while still feeling so fucking connected, attracted and smitten with them as well.
  • Having my consent violated in a scene by an “elder” who never obtained my consent for a needle scene he had planned.
  • Not reporting any of these because of the fear of retaliation, ruin and rejection.
  • Having no recourse when men I send photos to as a gift of vulnerability and trust will later share and publish them to cruelly mock me and expose me–because it’s happened.
  • Being judged not thin/white/ethnic/tall/young/hot/attractive enough for a man.
  • Screaming red in a dungeon and having no one intervene in our scene; this was after the DMs held me down for a tickling scene I did not consent to.
  • Being banned from a club because I was critical of the consent practices of people close to the club owner. Being banned from community events when I speak up about consent.
  • The protection we offer to the abusers, rapists and harassers in our communities but require victims/survivors to encounter their abusers, rapist and harassers face to face because it’s always going to be he said/she said or construed as just a “misunderstanding”.
  • Making any situation he said/she said and for it always to balance out that we believe the “he” part of that formula.
  • Sacrificing my own needs and voice in order to protect the ego of the person I was with.

I just don’t have the energy to describe each and every detail but I think you get my drift. I have been raised to not just expect this behavior, but to reward it with my attention, time and politeness. And guess what? So have you.


This is about as far as I can get tonight. The rest is just too raw on the surface.

Too much shit has been stirred up lately.

Example: Playing with a new submissive boy, still dipping my toes in the water of what my own dominance might look like, he fell oddly distant and cold afterward. Stirring up those feelings of rejection, feeling exposed and like I was being judged for my size, my taste, my age, my grace, my fashion, my ignorance. That feeling, that all too familiar feeling like I was supposed to change myself to accommodate invisible expectations that he didn’t communicate, but I am supposed to somehow anticipate. I could be wrong–we haven’t discussed it, but even my equivocation of how I feel is evidence of this trend to set aside my own insight in favor of someone else’s.

Shine On You Crazy Diamond

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How much of my existence has been defined as being the pretty, little doll existing solely for the pleasure and whims of others? And let’s face it, I’m not the prettiest, so it’s an existence that is easily defined as being the doll at the very bottom of the trunk that carries nostalgia, memory and this sensation of soul-full-ness. I’m kept around for memory’s sake, but used, discarded and forgotten until I’m needed again.

I have spent most of my life trying to convince myself, through the excuse of my calling, that this was the purpose of my life. I molded myself around these awful, horrible experiences, trying to become the perfect woman that could easily slide into people’s hearts unobtrusively to bring out goodness and love. It’s not to say I didn’t do that or that the goals were bad, but it was that I became an avatar of myself, a projected 3-D image of myself that was real in every way, except my own desires, needs, hopes and dreams. Those were always irrelevant to the more important business of pleasing the people I was with.

None of this is to say that the rape was my fault, that the sexual assaults and harassments I’ve endured are my fault. Those men made choices. Choices that they knew were wrong. Choices that knew were a violation of my autonomy and free will. These violations, because they bundle together super vulnerable things–like sex/nudity, self-worth, guilt and shame–they are easier to manipulate and exploit. It’s not our fault that these things are vulnerable–they are vulnerable for everyone, but we are wrongfully accused of being too open to sharing those intimate parts of self, when it was the manipulator who violated the terms of that sharing. Most of the time we are left shadow boxing with ourselves in a distorted mirror of shame and guilt, feeling utterly responsible for the fallout of choices that someone else had the audacity to make for us.

We have to remember that this mirror only reflects a particular facet of ourselves. The part locked away in time and trapped behind the glass. But diamonds, those hard as fuck little mini crystals that manifest from the pressure of the earth, have several facets to them. The ultimate in resilience, radiant with reflection and beauty. And what we see in that mirror, in that battle with ourselves, the shame and guilt that were projected onto us, that’s just one facet of who we are. But we contain so much more than that and deserve so much more than that.

So shine on you crazy diamonds.

I sit with all of these thoughts, reflections on what it took for me to become a whole and healthy person. I can’t say I’ve done it well, but the fact that I’m still here, still fighting, still making these realizations, understanding my patterns and fighting to change the perverse patterns of exploitation around…this is how I will continue to shine, the crazy, hard as fuck diamond that I am.

 

 

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.

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

Note:  I wrote this post originally in August, before my husband lost his job.  Now that we are on food stamps and Medicaid because of our mutual lack of employment, my reasoning and rationale behind this post is even more personal than it was before. I have added references to my own experience in blue.  This is intended to be a multi-part commentary. Links at the bottom to subsequent posts.

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Therefore, I reject the notion that people who receive cash assistance just won’t do anything else to survive or to help themselves.  And frankly it’s comments like yours, usually founded on false assumptions and skewed “facts” that cause people to not reach out for help when they need it the most.  I do believe these programs need adjustments and in some cases a huge overhaul for improvements, but I suspect we may be coming from vastly different viewpoints here.  I want programs that provide better benefits, that cover more people and provide more meaningful interventions than what we currently offer.  We should be helping more people and not fewer.  I refuse to believe that we cannot or should not take care of each other.

But before anyone can suggest HOW to make changes, I believe there needs to be significant discussions about pinpointing and defining the actual problems.

In order to even do this much, we must…

  1. Dismantle the abusive and dehumanizing myth of “welfare queens”.  This will help isolate any actual abuse and identify unchecked errors that need to be remedied.  But more importantly, this disintegrates the angry & racist welfare narrative that has prevented empathy in both policy makers and voters. This old narrative perpetuates a righteous indignation too enamored with its own false sense of superiority to have a meaningful conversation about the issue itself.  Let’s be real, the “welfare queen” is a myth.  An exaggeration.  A lie.  A damaging lie told by Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail which incited an indignation founded in racism and sexism.  It was a formidable tool in getting white voters (the more likely voters) on board with his political and economic agenda.  A tall tale that has outlived its maker and needs to be put to rest so that we can approach poverty policy from a place devoid of stigma and shame.
  2. Next, there needs to be a long discussion about the true nature of poverty itself and the reasons it persists around the world, much less in a country as prosperous and abundant as ours.  This includes describing the very real biases that people hold about poor people, the disabled, the elderly and children born into poverty including class and wage inequality as well.
  3. Likewise, we must include conversations about the cultural values of personal generosity, survive vs. thrive, the role of charity in society, the pursuit of profits, sustainable outcomes, autonomy in personal or family decision-making, the role of sacrifice and hardship, and well, our values about humanity as a whole.
  4. We also need to critically re-examine our assumptions about marriage and family so that it better reflects the cultural and economic realities of Americans today.  Many children are growing up raised by grandparents so that the parents can work, go back to school or get back to health.  Likewise, many households are deciding to invite roommates or even the ex’s family to stay with them as a means of creating intentional community to provide better financial and emotional support to all involved.  Yet, rights do not always flow in the direction of reality.  This requires a critical examination of where our policy and legal assumptions about family need to be updated and retooled.
  5. We need to have a conversation about our policies that promote:  access to affordable health care (including substantial mental health care), keeping people in their homes, access to justice, availability to improve or access social capital, education equity, and of course, the economic cost-benefit of a living wage.  This also should address access to higher education, safe and affordable options for day care for working families and the cost of caring for our elderly.
  6. We must also reconcile our hypocritical messages about children and families in the United States.  We must encounter head-on the cultural disconnect between our agendas on abortion, prenatal counseling/care with our utter disregard for a child, the mother and the family unit once the child leaves the protective cocoon of the womb.  This includes critically assessing access to all family planning options, including sexual health education, birth control (including condoms), and screenings for STIs and cancer so that they are either completely free or covered fully by insurance providers and Medicaid. Include too foster parenting, availability for adoption, equality in education, access to nutritious foods, clean environments, support for parents through all stages of a child’s development up through college, remedying the pervasive cycles of abuse and violence and creating opportunities for higher education including student loan forgiveness.
  7. We must rewrite the myth of the American Dream which perpetuates a cultural standard of “with just some good, old fashioned hard work, you are able to have everything you need”.  Great, good.  But it’s not true for everyone.  Many people who are poor work hard too, often in multiple jobs; then they encounter tragedy or loss and are right back where they started.  Therefore, we must recognize that our policies and indeed our national narrative that distinguishes between  the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor.  We draw these distinctions in all of our communities—people who are either worthy (usually those who are like us) and those who are unworthy (not like us).  A rather exaggerated and selfish example of these distinctions is detailed here:  http://www.snopes.com/katrina/personal/volunteer.asp .  (“WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I HELP PEOPLE WHO DON’T WANT TO HELP THEMSELVES!” has become our new national anthem ).
  8. And finally we must confront our history and our disappointing present policies that promote and enforce gross disparities in wages and living conditions  based on a pervasive culture of sexism, cis-sexism, homophobia, ableism, ageism and racism.  We must recognize and come to terms with how privilege operates in our public policy landscape much less our personal lives.

Without these conversations, meaningful change cannot even begin.

Without widespread recognition of that there is a powerful and enduring cycle of poverty, the status quo will endure.

Without a significant policy shift that places an emphasis on meaningful interventions at all levels and entry points to poverty there will be no change.

I reject the welfare myth that assumes that those on government assistance are lazy.  This myth permeates because it gives fuel to the righteous indignation that many feel toward the poor.  Anger that is sparked by assumptions and judgments based on someone’s appearance (clothing, jewelry, phone, car, furnishings, etc.) or a news article (urban legend) that highlights  one instance of welfare abuse, which leads people to a panicked conclusion that there is widespread fraud within the system as a whole.

We assume laziness is the answer, but laziness doesn’t belong only to the poor.  You know who else is lazy? You are, Mr. can’t -be-bothered-to-introduce-myself-properly Man.  You know who else?  I am.  Ms. Didn’t-put-my-laundry-away-and-left-it-in-the-hallway Woman.  You know who else?  The guy who pays for fast food on the way home.  Or the woman who took the elevator one floor up instead of the stairs.  Or the teenager who played video games instead of mowing the lawn.  Or the couple that decided to sleep in and let the kids watch TV all morning. Or the politician who took a week off to unwind at his favorite resort.

Let’s be real, each of us makes thousands of decisions every day many of which could be characterized as lazy.  Yet it seems to be the national pastime to review and critique those decisions in order to be deemed “worthy” enough for our help.  Since when do we have such special insight into anyone else’s life that we get to judge them for every imperfect result they have experienced?

But guess who we judge for their choices more than anyone?  Celebrities and the poor.  Funny mix, isn’t it?  Well, no one is going to question whether you spent that $8 on a wheel of cheese; however, if you’re poor that’s cause for someone like you to automatically dismiss them to the “undeserving” zone and loudly confront them in line at the grocery store: “how DARE tyou spend ‘hard-earned taxpayer money’ on a luxury item such as cheese!?! The ungrateful sods.”   No one is going to question whether you ate a donut for breakfast, but if Jennifer Lopez does it, it’s on grocery stands for the next week.  “The fucking cow.”

Yet, dehumanizing suffering and tragedy and ignoring a desire for autonomy and dignity  is a very easy way to let yourself off the hook from feeling anything and taking responsibility for the contribution you’ve made to the system that created this mess. Demonizing entire classes of people is an easy way to dismiss the problems of the world while giving yourself a congratulatory handshake for all your “hard work”.  Achievement unlocked: Douchehattery 101.  But all of this is just another method of playground bullying except this time you don’t have to see them cry when you do it.

Sorry, but that is not the world that I am here to create.  I do have ideas and I do have critiques, but they involve better targeting of our resources combined with an expansion of aid available for longer periods of time.  All of these are based not in anger or prejudice, but in empathy and a recognition of the realities of poverty.  Maybe it comes from the years of working with individuals and communities that astonish me with their creativity and resilience.  Maybe it’s from my struggle to survive the overwhelming bills and debt when I was unemployed.

Maybe it just comes from being someone who believes that generosity is a virtue and that each person is deserving of dignity and respect. Maybe it’s because I believe that we’re all in this together.

Click here to read Part 1

Click here to read Part 2

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

Note:  I wrote this post originally in August, before my husband lost his job.  Now that we are on food stamps and Medicaid because of our mutual lack of employment, my reasoning and rationale behind this post is even more personal than it was before. I have added references to my own experience in blue.  This is intended to be a multi-part commentary. Links at the bottom to subsequent posts. 

Need a job

Unemployment is an income maintenance program.  This has an absolute requirement to look for work. Basically if you are offered a job, you must accept it if it falls within certain category requirements or equivalents, even if the job pays less than what you had been earning before.  It’s put up or shut up.

But on a larger scale, tell me how this scheme allows people to create their own destiny?  There’s no holding out for a better offer.  You cannot refuse a job.  If you do, that safety net is gone and you’re on your own. Never mind the impact that unemployment has on a resume or what taking a job isn’t your dream job does to your attractiveness to future employers who are looking for a consistent and solid work history.  Remember, employers don’t look fondly on any gaps in work history but they also want to see a gradual increase in responsibilities and achievement, something you can’t create when you have a temp job for 4 months.

And if unemployment required you to take a job A earning 25% less than your expected pay grade then in your next position Employer B is likely only going to offer you a modest bump up from your most recent all-time low.  It can have a very clear ratcheting down effect that makes it that much harder to get back to your pre-unemployment potential.  This, I can tell you from experience. I still haven’t broken the glass ceiling of my all time low to get back to what I was earning in my dream job 6 years ago, despite my qualifications and knowledge. A stint of unemployment longer than 3 months, can destroy a person’s bargaining potential for years to come. 

But the mantra is “any job is a good job”, right?  Sure, any job is a good job, particularly when it’s a step up from having no job at all. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right job or a long-term solution to crippling debt.  It doesn’t mean it will pay enough to feed your family.  It doesn’t mean that your children escape the detrimental effects of poverty.  And it certainly doesn’t mean you have significantly improved your chances of escaping poverty.

In Denver County, for a typical family of 4 to survive (2 adults/2 children), the adults would have to be working in jobs that pay an equivalent of $19.65/hr  ($40+K per year). Sounds reasonable, right?  But that’s the living wage, the actual cost of what it takes to live in this county.  The level of income they would need to qualify for most levels of aid (and to fall below the poverty line) is roughly $10.60/hr or $22K a year, still significantly below the wage they would need to earn to make ends meet.  Working a minimum wage job (at $7.25/hr, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year) gives that  family $15K to live on and pretty much automatically qualifies them for aid.

So, in order to make enough to get out of poverty in Denver county (let’s not include the debts accumulated in order to make ends meet or get utilities turned back on), they would need to be in one of the following types of positions: Management  ($45.62/hr),  Business and Financial Operations ($29.75/hr),  Computer and Mathematical ($38.14 /hr),  Architecture and Engineering ($35.93/hr), Life, Physical and social Sciences ($30.20/hr),  Legal ($33.05/hr),  Education, Training and Library ($21.37/hr),  or Healthcare Practitioner and Technical ($30.13/hr).  (Information courtesy of MIT’s Living Wage Calculator available here: http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/08031)

Do you notice any trends here?

That’s right, all of these are positions where one needs at least some post secondary training/education, significant work experience or a college or post-graduate degree.  If they are in a position that requires only a high school diploma with little to no additional training, they are more likely, if not absolutely assured, to fall below the poverty level.

Add to that anecdotal evidence of people who are looking to go back to school so they can improve their chances—only to subsequently be let go or have their hours reduced for daring to utter or even investigate that dream.  Employers have a lot of power to be as choosy, bitchy or negligent as they want.  Not all jobs are created equal or provide an equal opportunity to advance or maintain a living. And in at-will states, you can basically be terminated for any reason.

[Oh and another little tidbit that I noticed on that site is that a single parent with two kids pays about $2000 more in annual taxes than a 2 parent household.  Hence, a clear argument for the inequity applied to same-sex households with children and that disproportionately could land a same-sex household below the poverty level.   Fortunately, the reversal of DOMA will help remedy this situation but not completely.]

Another cost of poverty that you may or may not have considered is the constant stress that comes with wondering where the next paycheck is going to come from.  Sure, if you believe the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank) children living in poverty may or may not be going hungry each day.   But you still have rent to pay, right?  You still have electricity to keep on?  And in this day and age, you still have to choose whether internet is a good idea to pay for as you try to find a job or complete online classes.  Stress creates a whole host of health issues that, if left unchecked, could significantly lessen your chances of maintaining stable employment and thus ever escaping poverty.

Finally, let’s also consider those who are living just outside the poverty line.  In my example above, it’s the difference between those making $22K and those making $40K.  Quite a large number, if you think about it (two full-time, minimum wage earners  with two kids fit here).  These are people who are just one car wreck or one illness away from complete financial catastrophe.  Even the family with $40K a year is hovering in that danger zone.

Think about what causes people to enter poverty.  Think about the traumas, disasters and crises they may have experienced.  The death of a spouse, a chronic illness requiring daily medications or treatments.  The special needs child who requires constant care.  The snowstorm where they slid into another car and totaled their vehicle.  The lay-off.  The divorce.  The hurricane.

This isn’t laziness.  This is life and it is threatening to eat us alive every day.

Click here to read Part 1

Click here to read Part 3

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

Note:  I wrote this post originally in August, before my husband lost his job.  Now that we are on food stamps and Medicaid because of our mutual lack of employment, my reasoning and rationale behind this post is even more personal than it was before. I have added references to my own experience in blue.  This is intended to be a multi-part commentary. Links at the bottom to subsequent posts.
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Sometimes you meet some winners on OKCupid.  Earlier this month I met one the winners out there.  The self-assured, confident guy who is also sensitive, caring and intuitive (putting it lightly).  I have no idea how well that connection will turn out, but I’m willing to let it settle in a bit to see if it moves forward.

Then you meet some true assholes.  In fact, I’ve held off responding to most messages in the past few years because frankly I just don’t want to spend much time slogging through the waste of messages that I get on a daily basis. There was a time I replied to each and every one of the stupid messages I got, but now I’m much more comfortable with the delete and block feature.  First impressions count.  I put a lot of thought into how I approach someone before I rattle something off to them in the hopes they will reply back.  And if it doesn’t seem to fit, it’s not a biggie.  It means we likely weren’t going to hit it off in the first place.

However, every now and then, a message arrives and sometimes you have no choice but to relentlessly make fun of it.  I’m not normally a fan of mocking someone’s effort to find a special love, but sometimes the approach is so filled with hubris and presumptions that it begs to be publicized so we can point to it and make an example of it.

And in this case, this message from…let’s call him Timmy6917 (apologies to anyone with that username) was so arrogant, misguided and off-the-mark, that I felt obligated to spend a day researching my response which is posted below.

See, Timmy made three very crucial errors:

  1. He never once introduced himself, asked a question or even pointed to some commonality that might explain why he contacted me;
  2. He trotted out a lazy, conservative trope about welfare to a woman who is very clearly far left of center politically;
  3. He describes himself as “intelligent” and “sharp” in his profile, which sort of begs the question–who is he really trying to convince?

I needed to make sense of the rage I felt when I read his messages so I researched and I wrote.  I wrote 8 pages and could keep on going.  Writing out my thoughts on an issue that deals squarely with poverty and policy “suggestions” that rely on prevailing myths about poverty, I felt the need to expand even my own privileged horizons on this topic.  It was more cathartic than I ever thought it would be, or so I tell myself to justify the full day of work and sleep that I lost to this project.  It brought me back to a sense of pride for my political prowess.  All knowledge is worth having, I suppose. 

Disclaimer:  I did not actually send the following message to Mr. Timmy as he forever shall be known.  No, instead, I posted it as information for myself and my Facebook followers, many of whom know this subject far better than I can hope to emulate.  What Mr. Timmy got in reply was a curt notice that he failed to state an argument with his conclusion and that anyone who hopes to be a partner with me must demonstrate a minimal amount of kindness, respect and humanity.  I told him blatantly that the problem is not abuse of the welfare system, but rather limited and narrow viewpoints that shame those who live in poverty.  I have since gotten a reply from him, but haven’t read it because…well, I’ve already wasted enough time on someone that I never, ever want to meet much less fuck.  

Dear T,

Let me start off by saying that I’m not entirely sure what your basis is for the conclusions you’ve drawn.  You say Medicaid “is easily one of the most abused programs available”.  Okay?  Abused in what way?  Is it abused by the administrators of the program, those who receive benefits or the doctors/companies providing services?  And by cash programs, it would depend on which cash program (I’m going to assume Federal) that you’re talking about.  TANF? Unemployment?  WIC? Disability? Is your beef with the federal program itself or the state administration of these programs?  Or is it a state program you have an issue with?

But I hope to god that you’re not basing any of these broad opinions on the oft-debunked yet relentlessly persistent myth of the “welfare queen”.

Read the rest of this entry

A Non-Con Weiner: The Bigger Danger

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

Carlos Danger isn’t the big problem  

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

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

The Stranger Danger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Manifesto for the Age of Soul-Starved

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

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

Reid Mihalko: Make a Joyful Noise

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For someone, like me who has long been a sex-positive advocate (although not really an educator), I was super geeked to attend one of Reid Mihalko‘s talks in Denver. I had seen his keynote address at Beyond the Bedroom back in October, but unfortunately was unable to make his other classes that Weekend. So this was a real treat for me.

It was only about 2 years ago that I really discovered my own personal trick to my orgasms. See, while I’ve been experiencing great orgasms by myself since I was 11, I was very reluctant to share those with others. I was happy to be on the receiving end of someone’s orgasm, but I wasn’t going to share mine.

Part of the reluctance came from the fact that I had worked with several older men in my adolescence, and for better or for worse, I learned quite a bit from them. And each day for almost 4 years I heard them complaining about how selfish the female orgasm was. How they had to “waste” their time trying to get a woman to cum. They hated giving a woman oral and often complained about the taste or smell. It left a clear impression on 15 year old me, so that by the time I finally gave my virginity to a high school senior a year later, I treated the whole experience as an experiment in -being the opposite of all these selfish women I had heard about.

Now, with the caveat in mind that I have known very few men to ever complain about a blow-job in general, I do consider myself rather adept at that particular skill. That has been my sure-fire claim to fame for almost all of my sexual life. Hell, I was coached by my first boyfriend, who is now gay. I listened to my male co-workers describe what they liked and what they didn’t. I am a quick learner and proud of the way I take time to learn a man’s body well enough to tease and please quite well.

By it wasn’t until I met Warrior that I found a cock that I couldn’t use those same tricks on. Hence, why I think classes like Reid’s are quite necessary. It doesn’t matter how much you think you know about sex, because there is always something new you can learn and a new way to approach each person’s individual likes and dislikes. And at the very least a new way to frame how you decide to look at your own abilities.

But more important than just learning technique is the breaking down of the shame and guilt we experience about sex. For a while after meeting Warrior I felt I was losing my touch and thus unenjoyable as a partner because i couldn’t make him cum from a blowjob. It took months before I realized that he needs a lot of sensuous build-up, because while his body is “online” and ready, his mind is in twelve different directions. And now I hold the honor of being the person (male or female) who has given him the most orgasms from oral ever. Why? because his orgasm isn’t about me. I could use the best technique in the world and it still might not happen. I could be the hottest woman on earth and it might not happen. But I can create an environment and experience where if it is going to happen it can and we will both be happy simply because we are together.

So, what does this have to do with my own realization two years ago or the class last night? We pick up some fucked up ideas about sex. I mean, here I was growing up to grown men moaning about how tedious the female orgasm is. I already had a lot off self-judgment around selfishness in general and wasn’t about to become the type of lover who was selfish and wouldn’t give the same level attention being given to me. In fact, I was the type of person who was determined to give and pamper, but never fully receive.

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Far from Straight

Here is what I posted today in response to a post called “Anything Other Than Straight” by a great blogger I absolutely love to read: Single Dad Laughing.

Dear Dan,

I absolutely loved this post and have considered writing one of my own for quite some time.  I’m probably going to end up sharing way too much here, but you know, I believe in authenticity.  I believe in honoring one’s own truth.  I believe in honoring each other’s journeys so I share a little of mine.

I remember the first inkling I had that I was attracted to women was when I was in 6th grade…in Catholic school.  I was heavily Catholic.  Believed in and practiced the Church’s teachings to the fullest extent possible. Believed with my whole soul.  And back in the early 90’s, bisexuality wasn’t really a thing yet.  Not like it is now.  I chastized myself heavily for even looking at other girls, for thinking anything sexual about them at all. Read the rest of this entry

Same-sex and Same Rights

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.

Read the rest of this entry

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