I was sexually assaulted by an ex

This is the piece that preceded the “Why I Stayed” post. I shared it in a note on facebook but then I lost the nerve to post it publicly.

It’s taken me a long time to be able to type these words:

I was sexually assaulted.

It took me a long time to be able to call it what it was, even before I could say it aloud.

I’m the biggest feminist, supporter of women, of survivors, but when it came to myself I kept coming back to “I should’ve known better.” As though the world should not be presumed to be a safe place, as though those we have once cared about should never be trusted again once they’ve betrayed it.

I was sexually assaulted by an ex, and I should’ve known better.

Because dating someone means they have access to my body without my consent for the rest of my life? No, that’s silly, but that’s what I thought. She was my ex,that means it wasn’t sexual assault. I believe in marital rape – the idea that just by marrying someone, one does not grant them unlimited access to sex whenever they desire it – but I thought it was somehow less a violation because I had consented sometime in the past.

She– oh that’s another thing. Could it really be sexual assault if we are both women?

There are probably many people who say a woman can’t sexually assault another woman.But does an entire gender or sex, 50% of the population have unfettered access to me because we happen to both be female? No, that can’t be right. 50% of the population don’t have the right to touch me if I say no, but yet I couldn’t name it for the longest time.

I went over to her house of my own volition. So I must somehow be culpable. I had alcohol to drink. Because going to someone’s house and having alcohol means in itself that I consent to sexual activity. No, that’s not right. My brain knows these things don’t add up. That if someone else was saying them to me, I would be saying “No, you can go to someone’s house and that doesn’t mean you consent to sex just by showing up there.” I couldn’t say it to myself for a very longtime. None of these things, none of these things mean that no doesn’t mean NO.

I do know that.

The person I am now would not date her. I do know that, too. It’s everything that led up to that night that makes me feel culpable in what happened. I was instantly attracted to her when we met. She was good looking, physically, and she was smart, really smart. She was funny, a feminist, more butch than me, she was everything I was looking for in a partner. I should’ve been frightened when she showed me the bookcase she shattered one night when she was angry. She said she had left it there on the floor so I knew what I was getting into. I thought she was tortured and I could get her to see how amazing she was, because I could see it. Instead everything good had a scary flipside. The night we danced to “Brown eyed girl” over and over in her dining room, restarting it every time it ended; the night I locked myself in her bathroom contemplating whether or not I could crawl through the window to escape her rage.

You would think that would have been the end, but it wasn’t. My fear always evaporated in the daylight, when her smile was warm and my heart told me that I had misunderstood, overreacted, that it wouldn’t happen again. That the anger that erupted over me getting takeout from the wrong place was an isolated thing; that it wouldn’t happen again. Maybe I didn’t know that I deserved anything better than that. I hadn’t always been a good person, I had treated people badly, maybe I only deserved the laughter and fun and sex with the anger and fear attached. Maybe some of us don’t get one without the other.

You would think that all of that would have kept me from going over there that night, six months later. It should have. That’s probably why I felt responsible for so long, but the thing about abusive relationships is that we brainwash ourselves into believing that every act of violence, every outburst, every out of control situation is an isolated incident, a fluke.

Even when we stopped seeing each other socially, our paths still crossed. We had both attended a conference out of town, and I was still processing some of the things that had happened there when we spoke. I don’t know if she texted me or I texted her, it’s long enough ago that I simply cannot recall how we began talking that night. After a while, she asked if I would like to come over to talk in person, and so I went over to her house. I didn’t think that it was anything more than that. I had a girlfriend, a girlfriend that she knew, who I was in a committed monogamous relationship with. I actually thought that maybe we could salvage some sort of friendship, it was naïve looking back, but I still didn’t see the big picture clearly. I went to her house, and she made me a cocktail the way that she always did. We sat on her front stoop and we talked about the conference, until she said, “Where’s your girlfriend tonight?”

“At work.” I said.

“Does she know that you’re here?” She asked me.

“She trusts me.” I told her. And then she leaned in to kiss me. I pushed her away,with both hands. I said, “No. I didn’t come here for that.”

I dropped my hands and I turned away, I guess that I thought that would be enough.

Again,she said “Where is your girlfriend?” and then she kissed me.

I pushed her away and said “Stop it!” and she picked up the empty beer bottle at her feet and smashed it against the steps.

I don’t know if she wanted to intimidate me or just show me she was angry, but six months had given me the strength to stand up and walk away. I wasn’t scared of her anymore, she didn’t have any power over me. I got in my car and I drove away.

I told my girlfriend what had happened, and she was understanding. She believed that I hadn’t been asking for any of it. I told a couple people about it after it happened, people that I thought might be able to help. I wasn’t concerned for myself so much as I wanted to make sure that it didn’t happen to someone else.I had gotten strong, somewhere between the shattered bookcase and the broken beer bottle, but I wondered who would be on the stoop next and I didn’t want her to have to be strong. I wanted her to be safe.

As it turns out, no one knows what to do about this kind of thing. Not feminists, not people who are supposed to be doing something about all the shit that happens to women. No one knows what to do when a woman sexually assaults a woman who happens to have consensually dated her at some point. So I got tired and I got quiet. I got sick of always being the person who is making the fuss and causing the problem. I pushed it all into a tiny place inside me that stopped aching after a while, as long as I didn’t push on it. Eventually someone else got loud and spoke out about the woman who had done this to me,but I was still too wounded and felt too alone to care about whatever she had done to anybody else. No one really wanted to listen when it was me and I just didn’t have the strength to be anyone else’s advocate. Years went by and we all went on and you know the sickest part? She got away with it. What she did tome, what she did to the women after me and what I’m sure she will keep on doing because no one knows what the fuck to do about an adult female who preys on other adult females. No one really seems to know what to do with anyone that preys on other people, but doesn’t do it in a way that’s overt enough to make us feelgood about labeling them.

If you’ve gotten this far, you already read through my reasoning. Dating someone doesn’t give them unlimited rights to my body for the rest of my life. A woman doesn’t have the right to violate me because we happen to be the same gender or sex. Going to someone’s house and having a cocktail isn’t consenting to sex, or even to a kiss. I know these things and this is what I would say to my sister or my best friend or my daughter if I ever had one, this is what I would say to her if she experienced that. I still blame myself a little. My heart knows that it is rape culture though. I don’t remember what I was wearing that night, but it’s not relevant. Nothing we do or say gives ANYone the right to do something to us against our will, there is no implied consent. I lost a lot of my faith and my idealism during that time, but what I never lost is my voice. I will not be ashamed anymore. I did nothing wrong.

I define myself

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The tale of the faux leather leggings

Last Tuesday, I noticed a post on The Militant Baker’s facebook where she shared a photo of herself with a google autocomplete pop-down over her face. It linked to a post on her website called “What Autocomplete Will Tell You About Fat Hate and Why it Needs to Stop”.

Jes the militant baker

I thought, in quick succession, “how awful is that?” and “how cool is that?” Awful that these things are what people search google for most often (why are you googling looking for someone to back-up your opinion that fat girls shouldn’t wear leggings btw? I feel like the only people googling are fifteen year old girls…) and how cool is it that she’s combating it in such a bold and fierce way.

After a little while, I noticed that in my feed there were images popping up that were obviously not professional photos, like the first few. Jes, the Militant Baker, was asking people to make their own posters to share, so I did.

me in the leggings Here I am, in my faux leather leggings.

The story of the leggings actually begins four days earlier, the Saturday after thanksgiving. I’ve re-lost about 15 pounds, weight that I’ve lost before, gained back, and lost again, so I call it re-lost. I’ve worked hard and I’m still working. I’m proud of the weight I lost, and re-lost, and of my body. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I will be. My clothes are too big, and I feel good. I’ve blogged about my struggles with eating disorders and body hatred before, so I won’t get into that, but running is the only thing that has made me look at food in a somewhat healthy way. As my clothes have gotten baggy, buying some new things has been fun.

I don’t know why, maybe it’s because I follow the 2 least annoying Kardashians on instagram (and one Jenner, shhh.) but I started really wanting some of those faux leather leggings like the ones in the Kardashian Kollection. I make no apologies for it. There’s not a Sears in my area, but luckily they are fairly trendy so I tried on a pair of Vera by Vera Wang leggings at Kohls, liked how my ass looked, and said – why the hell not.

The plan was to wear them out bar-hopping, but when bar-hopping was postponed because of my sister’s possibly fractured foot I decided to wear them out to dinner instead. I spent about a week picturing them with different items from my wardrobe, and finally decided to dress them down a little with an AC/DC t-shirt and the flowy jacket I bought to wear with them. The outfit exactly as I pictured it, is above. I got dressed for dinner, and I have to admit, I felt hot. It was a very “tell me about it, stud” kind of moment. No matter how I looked to anyone else, I felt amazing. And then I got body shamed.

I happened to have a houseguest over Thanksgiving, a good friend of many years. As I took my bound-for-facebook selfies, she asked “Is that what you’re wearing?”
And the world came crashing down.
Suddenly I was catapulted back to when I was about twelve or fourteen years old and I would get dressed for church. I would feel like I looked nice, but then I would come out of my bedroom and my mom would say “Is THAT what you’re wearing?”
It happened enough times as a kid that the simple phrase now throws me into a spiral of self-loathing and despair.

So I started changing tops. Long tops, tunics, longer tunics with the flowy top over them. I chose one and asked “Does this look ok?”
The response was “Well if YOU think it looks good…”
but I didn’t. Nothing could look good on me. I was fat and shamed. I should never have bought those faux leather leggings. I’m still fifty pounds heavier than someone who should wear those kinds of leggings.

I hated myself, I hated my body. I hated her for knocking me back to childhood emotions that she had no way of knowing one simple question would evoke in me. See I’ve always been fat – in my mind I was fat at 115 and I was fat at 215 and I’m still fat at 190. There isn’t a number where I get to be not-fat. Whether or not other people viewed me that way, even with 100 pounds between my heaviest and my lightest weight I always saw myself as “pretty, but too big.” it didn’t matter if I was restricting food or binging on ice cream.

Finally I left for dinner in a longer shirt underneath the flowy jacket. “Cameltoe” hidden. 45 minutes late, I arrived at my parents’ house, with a bag full of other outfits. I had longer tops, a thigh-grazing sweater, and if all else failed a pair of jeans. They told me I looked cute, so I didn’t change. I didn’t feel cute though. I felt a little naked, but I think I probably would’ve felt that way even if I had never been questioned on my outfit.
me in the leggings

When I saw the post from The Militant Baker, I wanted to contribute a photo. I tried to think of what photo to use, what phrase to google, and then I realized – my faux leather leggings. I knew that by googling “fat girls shouldn’t wear” that “leggings” would come up. I had a choice. I hadn’t posted this particular photo to facebook, because I was too self-conscious about the pants. Even though when I took the photo I felt hot as hell. So I had a choice – would I be brave enough to send this photo to a blog that has 27,000 fans on facebook? It only took a minute to decide. I slapped those google searches on there and I sent it. Now the whole world got to see my fat thighs smushing together in faux leather leggings. Even if I had wanted to take it back, I couldn’t.

The silly thing is? I don’t think I look fat in that photo. Maybe you do or some stranger on reddit, or whomever, but I don’t look fat to my own eyes. That’s a pretty rare and recent thing. I feel better at 190 than I felt at 115 – more confident, more sexy, more fabulous. It hurts me how quickly I can go back to that place of shame, but no one said you have to love your body 100% of the time, without wavering, in order to truly love your body. I will probably never love my body 24/7/365. But I worked really hard to be where I am today in all aspects – in body love, in self-acceptance, in weight, in healthy eating… Should I not celebrate the 15 pounds I lost because I have 25 pounds more to go (and 50 pounds if I want a “healthy” BMI?).

Fuck. That.

This is me. Almost 33, and for the first time in my life, I actually really like myself. So the next time I’m going out, I’m putting on those leggings. And if you have a problem with my fat thighs, keep it to yourself.

Inspirational quotes that shouldn’t inspire

I’m a big fan of the inspirational quotes on pretty graphics that seem to make up about 20% of all my friends & liked pages facebook posts. It’s nice when having a rough day to see a quote from Depak Chopra or something from Rumi to put things in perspective. Maybe even a song lyric or Audrey Hepburn insight to brighten a dreary day. If it’s on a pretty background, hey all the better!

I realized something the other day though. You have to be really careful what you deem “inspirational” because you can paste just about anything on a sunset or graphic of a jumping silhouette and make it seem positive if no one reads it closely enough. Such is the graphic that I spotted posted on a friend’s facebook page the other week:

hopeless romantics

Now, at first glance this seems like your typical, albeit not super pretty, inspirational graphic. However, most of what is on this isn’t inspirational at all. Yes, the part about falling and still getting up is indeed, a good plan and should be celebrated, but the rest of this is really dysfunctional crap. If you love someone that doesn’t love you, don’t keep daydreaming. You’re not going to get the happy ending you dream about by loving someone that doesn’t love you back. In fact, you’re not going to get a happy ending by dreaming – period. There’s nothing wrong with being a hopeless romantic, most days I consider myself one, but don’t be a brainless romantic.

If someone doesn’t love you, pining for them doesn’t make you a hopeless romantic, it makes you a person who is clinging to a hope that is unrealistic. We don’t win people over when it comes to love, you shouldn’t have to convince someone that they want to be with you. Sometimes we look at things like these quotes, or songs, or books, or other people’s blogs to give us an excuse for inaction – “other people have felt this way, so therefore it must be ok for me” we say. Yes, it’s ok to feel what you feel but don’t pretend that refusing to let go gives you some sort of courage or nobleness. Refusing to grieve the hurt of not being loved in return is a decision to stay mired in pain, loneliness, and imagination. Daydream, but don’t daydream that she is going to turn to you one day, out of the blue and say “It’s you, it’s always been you. My God, why didn’t I see it before?” after you’ve waited for years and years for her to “see” it. She’s going to turn to you and say “Do you mind if my new girlfriend comes to the movie with us?” and you will be crushed, yet again.

No, refusal to move on is not being a hopeless romantic. A hopeless romantic cries for her broken heart and still believes that even though she thought that this one was the one that would stick, that someone is still out there. One that will love her back and meet her needs and not make her feel like a failure or too fat or not pretty enough or like she should’ve been “better” in order to “deserve” their love. We have no control over the emotions of others, or their actions. We want to believe that we do, so we tell ourselves if we were _________ they’d love us back and want to be with us. Even if that were the case, if you changed everything about yourself so she would love you, she wouldn’t be loving YOU.

So ignore the crap that reinforces your negative habits. Half the inspirational crap about love and relationships is codependent. “If I had to choose between loving you and breathing, I’d say I love you with my last breath” is pretty, but it’s also pretty fucked up. I choose breathing, I will find love again. (yes, that is a real saying that has been turned into a graphic!)

Try this one on instead:
worth it

Scrambling, as a career

The other day I was having a conversation about career and job search with a friend on facebook. I post a lot of political and socially liberal articles, quotes, and other things of interest on my personal facebook account – I like to think of facebook as a way to share information and learn/read, in addition to playing candy crush saga of course. I like to encourage discussions on my posts, especially links to articles that people read and then comment on. I posted this article, There are 3 unemployed people competing for every job opening followed closely by Confessions of a conservative “deadbeat”.

The friend, who has been out of work and searching for a couple months, commented with, ” I’ve applied for admin jobs (my last 3 jobs were in the field), I’ve applied for retail jobs, I’ve applied for anything I think my skill set will support…and nothing. I had one interview last week and a phone interview this morning, but I’m not expecting to hear anything positive from them. Of course, that’s not counting all of the other applications I’ve submitted since mid-May. I’m to the point of considering Wal-Mart, which is just…ugh.
Oh, and you know what I dislike? When you get asked in an interview (this has happened twice) what your career path is and how this job fits into it. I’m like, people, I just want a job so I can pay my bills and not lose my house. Career path be damned.”

A lot has been written the last few years, about how the job market is different than it used to be. For Gen Y (born 1980s – 2000) “career” does not look the same as it did for any other generation, even Gen X the one that came before us. We crave purpose and fulfillment in our jobs, something that Gen X seems to have pioneered – yet we have much more difficult economic circumstances in which to try to achieve this. For those of us in our 30s, life is not an episode of “Girls”. We are past the point where we can even dream of being able to blunder through life, relying on mom & dad for help while we “find ourselves.” Most of us know who we are by our 30s, thankfully. Some of us even know what we want to do for a living, but that doesn’t make doing it it any easier. Although pop culture would have us believe everyone in their 20s and early 30s lives in Brooklyn or Portland; treats drugs and sex as casual hobbies; and is hoping to make it big in the arts, the vast majority of us live in the real world.

By 30, you realize you have to pay the bills and if music/writing/painting/photography/performance art/acting/dancing/blogging/youtube/urban gardening/political and social activism isn’t going to cover the rent then maybe we want to get a job beyond whatever low paying crap we were doing trying to make all that work for us. Trying to become the next youtube phenom while being a cashier at a deli is awesome at 22, not so much at 32. Roommates, while a staple of life for all but the most wealthy in NYC is something that you’re pretty much done dealing with by 30 if you live in a place where a one bedroom rents for less than $1,000. Some of us even want to think about getting married, having kids if we don’t already, maybe even owning something one day. The fact that I’m 32 and don’t have a 401K haunts me on a weekly basis. Yet, even if we want to sell out, you begin to find out really quickly that there isn’t anyone buying anymore.

Articles written by freelance journalists juggling paying gigs and scrimping to make ends meet tell us we have to treat internships like entry-level jobs, be willing to do just about anything for pretty much nothing, and be professional all while hoping beyond hope that we might actually get paid very little to do something resembling a career one day. Those of us that have jobs seem to be chronically underemployed – I work a part time job in my field that expects me to treat it like a full time job. When I first started I planned to get another part time job to pick up the slack but you know what? I’m 32. I’m tired at the end of the day, I want something resembling quality of life. I’d like to spend time with my dog and go to zumba. I spent my 20s working 3 jobs and going to school, and I didn’t complain about it much. I had a one bedroom apartment that wasn’t exactly a basement apartment, it had some windows but you walked down seven steps from ground level to get to it. I worked during the week as a part-time secretary, evenings and Saturdays I did telemarketing for a mortgage brokerage firm cold calling people asking them to refinance their mortgage (this was before the real estate bubble burst!) and I still picked up a shift here and there at Jc Penney. This was while carrying a full time class schedule in college. I’ve paid my dues, do I really need to pay them again?

I have ten years of customer service experience – five in call centers and 3 in retail; type 75 words per minute on a bad day; have a bachelor’s degree in social work; have worked in the non-profit sector for five years; have extensive experience in social networking, content writing, event planning, and even design a print and email newsletter for my current position, but I can’t get a callback for a job at an accessories boutique chain. I crafted a lovely cover-letter for a part time receptionist position at a spa explaining why someone as ridiculously overqualified as I was applying, but I didn’t get any response at all. Over the last year I have spent countless hours sending out resumes, writing personalized job-specific cover letters, working my network, all trying to get a position where I’m not “under employed” and all for naught at this point.

Are the members of Gen Y going to have to scramble for the rest of our careers? Do we just need to accept that we are going to have to work multiple jobs to pay the bills? Should we forget about the possibility of retirement? Is being financially comfortable a thing of the past, reserved only for those who are either in their 40s+ now or just ridiculously lucky and talented? Scrambling in your 30s isn’t like it was in your 20s. I’m tired now, I need a solid 8 hours of sleep, I’m in bed by 10pm most nights! If I want to work out I’m up by 6:30 at the absolute latest and let’s face it once you’re in your 30s you need those workouts if you want to maintain your few extra pounds let alone lose any weight! My body aches if I sleep wrong; my feet hurt if I stand for hours on end. I can get a hangover from 3 drinks. I see gray hairs between coloring. I no longer consider a career in alt-porn an option. My mortgage is $200 less than my rent was but somehow I have less money. Oh and yeah I am still freaking single… aaaaaaargh!

Let’s not even talk about the 200+ emails I get every week about how all the animals are dying; fracking; the keystone XL pipeline; how nestle is stealing our ground water and thinks no water should be free; solar power could save us but no one cares; the GOP trying to close all the abortion clinics in america with TRAP laws; obama loves us, obama hates us; ENDA, DOMA, and Prop 8; obamacare, medicaid, medicaid expansion [all while I have had no healthcare or insurance at all since 2008]; how to love my career, how to advance my career, how to get a promotion, how to earn more as a woman, the wage gap, what women do wrong in the job market, what women do wrong when talking to their boss; why I need six months salary saved, what I should be contributing to my 401K; the non-profit I WORK for asking me for donations; how there are 10 million homeless animals and why can’t I adopt them all because they will mostly be killed because some SOB didn’t want to pay to have his dog fixed; GMOs, Monstanto; signing a petition so some bank won’t foreclose on a veteran or a single mom; signing a petition so that someone can get an operation; and my undergrad student loans want all my money now and for some reason ignore my paperwork saying that I’m going to graduate school in the fall.

Oh yeah, graduate school, what now seems like the holy grail that in two years will probably seem as hopeless and fruitless as my undergraduate education was. I am fucking tired y’all.

I think, what’s difficult about trying to navigate career at this time, in this economy, in your 30s is that it feels much more hopeless than it did 10, 20, 30 years ago. We pay more in taxes than corporations that make billions, we probably always have but now we know about it. More and more I keep hearing people say that they just want a job. We have worked hard, we have gotten educations, we have paid our dues, worked crap jobs, cared when we should not have, compromised our boundaries, been treated like crap by bad bosses and entitled customers/clients and taken it; wasn’t this supposed to be the point where we began to find enrichment in our jobs? My dream job five years ago was helping people, giving back to the world, making a difference in people’s lives in some small way. My dream job today is one that is full time, offers benefits, and doesn’t make me feel like I’m in some way prostituting myself.

I’d say that this is discouragement and depression talking, but I hear the same sentiments from my peers. Maybe we are all discouraged and depressed.

work

femme isn’t a four-letter word

for a while now this has been churning in my head. i think what really set it in motion more than anything was a post secret postcard that i saw on sociological images:
girly

there were times in my life that i could’ve written that post card. it’s really difficult being who you are if who you are is a feminine feminist lesbian. i love high heeled shoes, they’re sort of a fetish. it’s not because society tells me i have to, it’s just who i am. i’ve always loved fashion, since i was very young. it doesn’t mean that i wear high heels all the time, or makeup every day, but i like to for special occasions. it makes me feel good, and i do it for no one but myself. i have had partners in the past who like shoes or how girly i am, and that was a bonus for me but i never did it for them anymore than i did it for society. i am who i am, and who i am happens to be a well-rounded person who is more on the feminine side of gender identity/presentation.

i suppose it’s never been a big issue for me because i have never seen it as a societal mandate to be stereotypically feminine. many of my style icons as a kid were drag queens, i grew up idolizing ru paul. i liked the playfulness of drag, i have always loved extremes. i also loved androgyny and drag kings, but for me that side of the spectrum just never felt natural or like who i am. my mother was never very femme, and she didn’t like me and my sister to use makeup and rarely used it herself. she hated wearing skirts and didn’t seem to understand why my sister and i turned out as “girly” as we did. the first time i wanted to shave my legs, my mom discouraged me saying i had plenty of time for that later on if i wanted to. it’s not that she wanted to keep me a little girl, it’s that she hated doing things like being required to shave, wear skirts and pantyhose, and she couldn’t understand anyone choosing to do so.

in my adult life, it has often been the same. i had straight female friends who couldn’t tell the difference between the 3 or 4 pair of shoes i owned that were just slightly different. i don’t just pass, i’m fairly certain that no one has gaydar that picks me up based on appearance alone. it makes dating difficult and it also puts me in a category that i’m not comfortable in: “defenseless female”. you see, when you look at me in a pair of high heeled shoes and a dress, the only thing that tells you about me is what i like to wear, how i choose to present. it doesn’t tell you anything else about me – any assumption you make based on my appearance as femme is just that, an assumption.

because the non-feminist non-queer world has gotten an education over the last few decades. women can do whatever we want to do, whatever we set our mind to. we can have a career and a family both if we want. we can wear high-heeled shoes and change the oil in our cars. society has changed their minds because feminism has forced them to, and that’s great if you’re dating society at large. i’m dating lesbians and lesbians seem to believe that my wearing a dress means that i can’t take care of myself, i can’t hammer a nail, and i want to date super-butch women. none of these assumptions are true and if you assume them based on how i look, i feel like there’s a lot more wrong with you than there is with me.

expecting a person to be a certain way because of their gender or sex is wrong. however, expecting someone to do the opposite of what society deems appropriate for their sex or gender, just because it is mainstream, is just as wrong. i have gone through phases where i felt like i needed to “butch myself up” because i’m a feminist and a lesbian. it never felt right and i wasn’t truly happy because it felt like a costume, an act. i tried to grow my leg and arm-pit hair out in high school because i wanted to be like ani difranco. my hair doesn’t really grow much and after 3 months my arm pits looks like i had just forgotten to shave for a day or two. what’s important about that is that i was doing it because i wanted to be like ani difranco, not like myself. if i am more comfortable shaving, there’s nothing wrong with shaving. it doesn’t make me less of a feminist, it doesn’t mean i’m conforming to society because i keep shaving even though i haven’t been in a relationship in 6 months. no one would notice if i didn’t! i do it because that’s what is comfortable for me.

that should be all that matters.

Love your body

every time NOW’s love your body day comes around (oct 20th), i think about writing something. i have before, but nothing here on this – rarely updated – blog. this past oct 20th i again thought about writing but did not. tonight at a friend’s house i watched ellen’s interview with portia about her new book unbearable lightness and i thought, well perhaps it is time.

over the years i have explored the concept of “loving your body” and what that means. the conclusion that i have come to is that loving your body means accepting yourself as you are; being willing to change what is realistic to change in a healthy way; but most importantly it is about health: treating yourself, your body with respect. it is not anti-fat acceptance, nor is it saying that any shape or body type is better than another, but that we treat ourselves like something that it is important. i had a hard time with the concept when i felt like i had to accept myself exactly as i was in order to be a “good feminist”. well back then i smoked, i rarely exercised, i drank alcohol heavily, and i ate badly – i was overweight because i wasn’t loving my body at all. the easy answer would be that i needed to accept myself as i was, but i got to be the way that i was precisely because i did not and have never loved my body.

i’m pretty sure that when people look at me they do not see “recovering anorexic”. i am not gaunt, i’m still about 30 pounds heavier than my ideal weight according to medical professionals/bmi even though i have lost approximately 30 pounds so far this year. i don’t have that “anorexic look” that many former anorexics in recovery have, and frankly as i look at myself sometimes i think “you are an anorexic’s worst nightmare.” that’s pretty harsh but it’s true. i’ve never had a problem with extremes, it’s the middle-ground that i have trouble with. i never got as bad as i could’ve. in fact i never dropped very far into an underweight bmi, but it’s the thinking, the rituals that are the real problem of overcoming an eating disorder, at least they were for me.

me about 11 years ago
i don’t have a lot of photos from when i was at my lightest, but this is one before i went out one night. that skirt is a juniors size 3/4, i know because i still have it even though i have never been able to fit into it again. this was 1999-ish, i was around age 19.

watching portia tonight, talking to ellen about her book and her experiences was a difficult a teeny bit triggering. this comes on the week where i thought to myself “salad dressing has a lot of calories. no wonder i used to just eat lettuce with salt on it. that was smart.” of course i am now at the point where i mentally recoil and go, “oh no, that was not smart at all.” still, the line between healthy weight loss and slipping back into problem thinking is a fine one, and something that has terrified me for years. i don’t know if it is unique place to be, but i’ve never heard anyone talk about it. since i stopped restricting on a regular basis, i was never really a “normal” eater, but then what is normal for a woman in america today? i remember the photo of portia that they showed, of her at 85 pounds. my sister and i subscribed to quite a few magazines as teens: seventeen, cosmo, jane, glamor, details, spin, rolling stone, and that’s not even counting those we bought of the newsstand.

when i restricted on a regular basis, i ate a lot of chocolate covered espresso beans and went to starbucks a lot. it started off rather subtle; i’d purged for a summer in high school but never binged, eventually i stopped because i hated how out of control it made me feel. restricting was different though, restricting was all about control, strength. i went back to college, and i was terrified. i had only been to a community college for one semester, and it was in my small hometown. the community college in dayton, ohio was at the time 20 buildings and a parking garage larger than my old school. i started taking a creative writing poetry class and the professor wasn’t friendly in the least. i was afraid to talk to the other students that i deemed “cool”, i was just running on fear. the professor was so critical i started having trouble keeping food down, and thus restriction was born.

–2013 note: i never finished this post and kept it as a draft. i thought i’d publish it unfinished, because i really like the first few paragraphs about loving your body.

Burnout

this is a post i have been thinking about writing for maybe six months, but i’ve been too exhausted. lol, too burnt out to write about burnout.

in truth, i didn’t think i’d be the first to succumb to it. a friend of mine seemed poised to run herself into the ground, but then, she’s nearly a decade younger than me. burnout is something that no one seems to ever talk about, certainly not in the activism community, and yet we put ourselves and our passion into the work we do so it stands to reason that being an activist would have a higher level of burnout than say, a 9-5 desk job you can leave at the office. it’s more like being a social worker; it’s your job to hear stuff that is hard to deal with. being a feminist activist or lgbtq activist in the age of web 2.0 is pretty much a 24/7 job. we tweet, we blog, there’s always something we need to be reading to have the information (for example, killing time today i texted a friend to say i was going to target, and she replied “no! target is the devil now! they donated $150K to a right winger, it was on twitter.”) miss a tweet, you might inadvertently spend money at a place owned by homophobes that hate and exploit women; or who fund 20% of the Crisis Pregnancy Centers in your area.

another “great” example of this, we recently found out that the owner of mcalister’s deli contributes exclusively to right wing anti-choice politicians. starkville NOW used to meet at mcalister’s deli. on the one hand, it’s fun that a feminist group was using an anti-choice deli to meet in; not so fun when you realize that all of those feminists spent money in that establishment. being a feminist or an lgbtq american that cares about where our money goes is like the cultural equivalent of being a vegan: every single thing we do, we have to scrutinize. we have to know who owns the places we shop and eat, and where they donate politically. here in the south, it’s damn near impossible to frequent a place that is in line with progressive ideals. i like to shop local and eat local, i’m a big advocate about supporting locally owned businesses and local artists and farmers. here’s the biggest example i can give you of the disconnect in jackson, mississippi: rainbow whole foods, a local co-op with the only vegetarian restaurant in the city, refused to support the National Organization for Women.

i didn’t broadcast this too loudly at the time, but i’ve since stopped caring who i piss off. afterall, if someone has a problem with you being lgbtq or a feminist, it probably doesn’t matter if you piss them off by telling the truth. i’ve never been too good at remaining silent. Jackson Area NOW, the group of which i am currently president, decided back in february to have a book sale as a fundraiser. we asked for donations, and were overwhelmed by people who gave us books, cds, and dvds to sell. so many people were interested in donating that we weren’t physically able to pick up all the donations. it was really amazing. 🙂 when it came time to have the book sale somewhere, the best idea was rainbow whole foods. the jackson free press had just had the first ever vagina monologues performance there the following year, and it seemed like a win-win: we would bring in feminists who might not shop at rainbow already, and we would reach some like-minded individuals that were shopping at rainbow on a saturday afternoon. after a few slight problems (the person in charge had just left on maternity leave) my second in command, tom head, got in touch with the right person. i expected something, but i never expected a “no.”

the final word we received was this: rainbow would let us use their building to have our fundraising book sale, but we were not allowed to have NOW rounds, or information about our organization. i can even understand asking us to please not hang up any “keep abortion legal” rounds, but they didn’t want to identify ourselves as NOW in any way. they were afraid that it might alienate customers and board members. who is on the board of a natural grocery co-op but not progressive? i wondered. apparently, some are. when i received this news, i was in a business with a friend. i exited onto the sidewalk and began pacing back and forth. i seriously wanted to take off my shoe and throw it. “what are we supposed to tell people who ask what we are fundraising for?” i shrieked into the phone, at poor tom who was only the messenger. “are we not supposed to say we are NOW? and if we say we are NOW and people ask ‘who is NOW? what does NOW do?’ are we supposed to LIE?” there may be people out there who have no problem tricking people into donating, but myself and my chapter leaders are not those people. i do not want one cent of money from someone who is anti-choice and doesn’t want their money going to a pro-choice organization. that is just me. that is my moral compass, that’s how i was raised. i believe in honesty, and integrity. i fight for what i believe in, i support causes i believe in, and i do not want to trick anyone so that my organization has a little more money. if you believe in a cause, you give money to that cause. if it’s against everything i stand for, well it’s none of my business because that’s your money and your conscience. in the end we declined to have our sale at rainbow, because no one was comfortable pretending our organization is anything it’s not. we are unapologetically pro-choice, we are pro-woman, we are pro-equality. a lot of stuff can be said, both good and bad about the National Organization for Women, but one thing that will not be said for my organization, locally, or state-wide, is that we are liars. in the end we had our sale at the Unitarian Universalist church, and in fact we screened PBS’s “The Last Abortion Clinic” documentary which tells the truth about abortion access in the state of Mississippi at the meeting just before the sale.

it’s not just this one incident that caused me personally to get burnt out as an activist. i can tell you exactly when i gave up. i know the date, i know the time. i know the person that spoke the words that killed a part of me that had always been strong; and i know the lies that were told. it probably wouldn’t have been the straw that broke my back if everything that came before hadn’t come before, and if everything that came after hadn’t come after. i fought to keep my head above water. i bargained, i went through all the stages of grief. maybe we shouldn’t put faith in anyone but ourselves. not an organization, not a movement, not a political ideology, not even in those in the trenches with us, just ourselves. we only know our own motivation, in the end. it’s not that i stopped caring, i will never stop caring. i will never stop believing in the ability of a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens to change the world (margaret mead.) it’s that little by little, lie by lie, drama by drama, every ounce of fight in me was drained out like activism was a vampire sucking out what used to define me. i was never a “do-er” i was a talker, a thinker, i’ve blogged for fifteen years on what i believe in. i felt like i was an “armchair activist,” i wasn’t doing enough, and finally i stopped talking, stopped blogging and DID. i’m not really sure if any of those things had any tangible effect on anything that matters, except for one.

the greatest moment of my activist life was the abstinence summit at the MS colosseum. it wasn’t even a NOW action, it was NOW working with the MS Reproductive Justice Coalition through the ACLU. we attended that event, and my dear friend izzy and i left to make more postcards rather than document religious themes in the content. that’s what the lawsuit the ACLU filed against the state of MS was about, religious themes, prayer, in a state funded event. izzy and i went back to the aclu office and we printed out more postcards that had URLs for websites where kids could get truth about sex education, because we have no comprehensive sex education in the state of mississippi, it’s just abstinence only at this point. the postcards told kids where they could go to get real information about sex, about STIs, about what they need to know if they become sexually active; and we taped a condom to each one of them. i was overwhelmed by the event itself, an event funded by the state that churches bused kids into… that before it began played a song by soulja boy, a song i had never heard before called “supersoak”. the chorus included the line “Super soak dat ho(ahh), super soak dat ho (ahh), super soak dat ho(ahh)” which i later learned means for a man to cum on a woman (ho). it seemed every kid in that huge auditorium knew the lyrics, they were all singing along. “super soak dat ho” before the first inspirational speaker came onstage to tell young women to “guard their gift (virginity)”. don’t have sex before marriage, but super soak dat ho.

when the event ended, i was keyed-up with adrenaline. we were about to pass out information on sex education and condoms to the kids that were being bombarded with those mixed messages. we went to izzy’s car and we got the postcards. at that point, it started to rain, torrentially. we started to hand kids the postcards, “do you want to know about REAL sex education?” we said, thrusting the postcards with condoms taped to them at the kids. everyone who wasn’t with the youth pastor of their church took them. it was just a matter of seconds before i was surrounded by a mass of mostly african american kids. “can i have two? i want one for my friend!” kids said. they were laughing a little, because condoms are funny and frightening, but they wanted those postcards. they were all around me, i started to panic a little because i was getting mobbed, but i just kept handing them to the grabbing hands all around me, “go to the websites” i said, “tell your friends.” we managed to dodge security for a pretty long time. in the end, we were brazen, going up to kids with adults right beside them, “here’s REAL sex education.” giving the postcards to all the grabbing hands. then security told us we had to leave. “this is private property.” they said, “You can’t be here. you will be arrested if you don’t leave.” all the postcards that weren’t completely soaked had been passed out by then. we joined the rest of the activists out on the sidewalk, where they held signs that said things like “REAL sex education saves lives.” every school bus, every church bus, had to exit looking at those signs.

every protest i have been a part of, every sign i have made, nothing felt as tangible as the hands of those eager high school kids, wanting those condoms and i hope some wanting that information. we are a poor state, here in mississippi. they bussed kids in from the delta, from the poorest of the poor, a place where all the white people who claim to give a shit about fetuses don’t care about babies once they are born. a place where all those “welfare queens working the system” live, i defy you to rage about your tax dollars helping the poor if you understand the culture here. i dare you to be anti-abortion when a woman who has been told that condoms don’t work preventing pregnancy gets pregnant in a region where the only abortion clinic in the state is two hours away and has a 24 hour waiting period, requiring her to not only have a car but have the means to stay 24 hours in a city where she doesn’t live. it’s a disconnect. you can be anti-abortion, but don’t you dare be anti-“welfare”. you can want the “killing of babies” to stop, but don’t you dare not give a shit how those babies eat once they’re out of the womb. a twitter troll told me the other day that i “get pleasure from dead babies”. you know what? if you think they’re babies not fetuses, why is it that you don’t give a fuck how they’re getting food once they’re born? it’s because your tax dollars will not fund abortion aka “baby killing” but they do fund the means to feed those children, but you don’t want to. “everyone should work for what they have.” you say, but you don’t know what it means to be in poverty. you don’t know how a mother can’t get a job at mcdonalds if she’s living in a homeless shelter because that shelter requires she be there by 6pm and she has to ride the bus because she doesn’t have a car and no place is going to give a new-hire an 8-5 shift!

get out of your privileged, white existence. either be willing to have your tax dollars feed toddlers, or stop screaming at the pregnant women that their “baby” “loves them” and “wants to be born.” that to me is the lowest of the low. i am pro-choice, without apology, but i also know that those “babies” you want to save need to eat after they get born, and i’m willing to pay for it with my tax dollars unlike 99.9% of anti-choicers. NOM (the National Organization for Marriage, and anti-lgbtq organization) called an adopted baby of a gay couple “not their baby because they were white and it was black” recently. it stands to reason if you don’t want fetuses to “die” that you want them to be adopted, but apparently white people adopting black babies means the child “isn’t really theirs” especially if they are gay? apparently no one can win. not women who don’t want to carry a child, not couples that adopt a baby that isn’t of their race, not gay couples who care enough to feed a child that you don’t want your tax dollars to pay to feed.

is it any wonder we get burnt out? i’ve gone off on a tangent here, this wasn’t where i intended this blog to go, but i feel i’ve made some really valid points. i dont know what to do with my burnout. clearly i am still passionate about what i believe in. i’ve just stopped believing that we can make a difference. one day out of countless other days, i felt i made a tangible impact on anyone. one day out of years isn’t enough. i don’t know what to do, i don’t know what to say. i know that when i stopped talking and started trying to make a tangible difference is when i stopped believing in just about everything i used to believe in. maybe that means i’m weak, but i know i’m saying shit that i have not heard anyone else say. i am tired. i’m burnt out. i’ve stopped believing in the organizations i represent. i think that almost everything we do is wrong. i feel that what i used to care about is only a vehicle of stroking people’s egos. i think we spend more time, money, and energy fighting for a title than we do making a tangible difference in anyone’s life. still, i hang on. i guess i could resign from everything, i wouldn’t be the first. i could say “fuck this shit” and just concentrate on myself, my career and my education, aside from my activist work. apparently, a part of me still cares. that part of me is doing nothing, to the point of causing me anxiety on several levels. i still care, but i don’t have the energy to do anything about it.

how do we deal with burnout? i wish someone was talking because i have made it abundantly clear, prior to this blog, that i am burnt out and i have no idea what to do about it.