TW/CN: Abuse/IPV/manipulation

I’m letting the title stand as my trigger warning here because I’m going to be writing about some things that have happened over the past month and years. I was in an abusive relationship. It didn’t get physically abusive, but toward the end I was afraid that it might. I need to write about it. It might come out disjointed. I’ll probably talk about my remaining partners’ experiences and feelings as I know them, too. Mostly, I just want anyone who reads this to know and have really fair warning that I’m going to be talking about this experience–for my own health and sanity if nothing else. And I’m a little afraid that said partner will actually come read this and say things or .. I don’t know. I have fears I don’t want to give expression to, I guess.

Anyway.

Continue reading

Anger and Stories

13876479_1136562116383062_338437694455964220_n

This image lives on my desktop. It’s not my background, but it lives as an icon, a thumbnail reminder to myself.

And yet, I rarely obey it.

I’m afraid. I am afraid.

I am afraid of my anger. I’m afraid of all the anger inside me that will come pouring out when I open up about all the ugly, unbeautiful parts of my life. I’ve opened up about some of them, but there are more.

I am afraid of others’ reactions–not necessarily those of strangers, though there’s a certain fear of not being believed. I’m more afraid of those I love–what would they say?

And I know, I know: if they wanted me to say nice things about them, they should have treated me better.

But what about forgiveness?

But forgiveness shouldn’t be compulsory, either. And some things cannot be forgiven at all, and some things cannot be forgiven without being worked through. And some things just aren’t forgiveable things, even if I am angry about them, or hurt about/by them. It’s complicated.

I want to be compassionate. I want to be loving. I want to be a good person.

I know that good, loving, compassionate people also get angry.

And yet, there’s so much messaging that says the opposite–that love and anger don’t go together, that compassion and anger don’t mix, that being a good person and being an angry person aren’t the same thing.

I don’t want to be an angry person. I am an angry person. I hate being so angry all the time. I am so sad that I am so angry. I am so angry that I am so sad. And I am so so tired.

I wish I could just let go of the anger. I tried. I tried to just…put it aside. I tried. But that ended up just building walls inside me, walls I didn’t even realize I was erecting until almost too late, until I almost took my life because I cut myself off so far from everyone and everything around me.

I have to deal with all of these things, but dealing with them means being angry, and I really, really don’t want to be angry.

Gun Violence and Missouri

Dear Legislators,

SB 656 has very real and terrifying connotations for me.

I am a white, cisgender, married woman in her thirties. I’m educated; I’m Christian. I love my family very much–and that’s where the first issue comes in.

My wife is very precious to me. She is my rock, my partner, my strength. Since I met her, I have not be able to imagine my life without her.

She’s also transgender.

Normally, that wouldn’t be any of your business, but right now it is: trans women are at risk of violence always (http://lawstreetmedia.com/issues/law-and-politics/transgender-murder-crisis-many-murders-2015/), and you are working to make them more vulnerable with this law.

My wife and I have to fear any time she goes out alone that she may never come back because someone decides they don’t like the fact that her gender is different than the one assigned to her at birth–a thing that is entirely out of her control. You make this threat ever more present, ever more real. That’s not how this should work. You should be on the side of liberty and safety for all citizens, not just the cisgender, white, and male.

Moving on from discussion of my wife: I am a person who deals with depression and anxiety and suicidal ideation. I can tell you that when I come out of the fog of suicidal thoughts, I’m happy to be alive–but when I’m in them, the grip of the conviction to die is strong. It is a mental health challenge.

You have made that challenge much harder to bear, much worse, by making it easier to get guns into the hands of people like me who would harm ourselves, who would–under that terrible fog–end our own lives. And you have not done anything to improve mental health care services, nor access to them.

Moving on from my mental health: my city, St. Louis, has been rocked by racial tensions. We are the home of Ferguson, which exploded open the conversation about race and police brutality. We are one of the cities that has put racial education on the tip of so many Americans’ tongues.

I know the history runs deep here. I do not believe this will solve it. Instead, it will make things worse. We should not have the distinction of being the first state since Trayvon Martin was murdered to pass Stand Your Ground legislation.

We already have so many stories of our black citizens–male, female, trans and cis, child and adult–being killed by gun violence. And this is not about intraracial violence (most violence is intraracial, because proximity matters for crime, and most of us live in proximity to our own racial groups, which is a thing to tackle on a different day). This is about how we set up groups of people to be killed, and then we kill them–either by pulling the trigger ourselves, or by signing the legislation that allows for that to happen so very easily. Please, let’s work to end gun violence by putting restrictions in place, instead of making it easier for people to kill one another.

Race is such a big issue, so huge, and race and violence–I could go on about how we make those things linked for a long time. But there’s are a couple more things I want to cover before I close: violence against LGBTQIA persons and intimate partner violence.

I am a bisexual woman. I have so many queer friends and loved ones in Missouri–including, of course, my wife. The violence at Pulse in Florida occurred just three short months ago. While that scale of violence has not happened here, you make it easier for something like that to happen. My queer loved ones and I are not safe in Missouri. We experience threats and harassment and outright violence all the time. The victory of so-called ‘gay marriage’ did not fix LGBTQIA rights for all time. We are still at risk for violence, and this legislation makes that violence even more likely, even more of a threat, even more present and real and deadly.

As for intimate partner violence: ‘castle doctrine’ and ‘Stand Your Ground’ did not save Marissa Alexander when she faced intimate partner violence/domestic violence. It did not save Bresha Meadows. I don’t think it would save very many of the most vulnerable in our homes–those of us who live with people who harm us and have so little recourse to get out.

You make it so much easier for intimate partner/domestic violence to occur, and so much more difficult for those who experience such violence to actually get free.

Compare the fact that George Zimmerman–who chased down Trayvon Martin, so how could it have been ‘defense’?–got away with ‘Stand Your Ground’ as his defense, but Marissa Alexander, who fired mere warning shots–shots that hit no one, shots that were intended to frighten and were meant to free her and her children from harm–was not shielded at all by either ‘castle doctrine’ or ‘Stand Your Ground’ despite the fact that she did face imminent danger. Consider that Bresha Meadows and her family had been facing imminent danger for so long, and yet she sits in a juvenile detention facility because she saw no other way to freedom for herself and her family–while George Zimmerman roams free.

These laws do not free us. They are not the path to liberty. They do not bring justice.

Please, legislators, understand that we all want to live and love and laugh. We all want to go out in the sunshine and the cool night air and be happy and free of fear. We all want to be able to break free of the harms that plague us. These things–Stand Your Ground and concealed carry without a permit–will not accomplish that for any but the cisgender, heterosexual, mentally healthy, white men among us.

Expectation

Expectation weighs me down, freezes me, stops me in my tracks.

I am terrified of people expecting things of me.

I am terrified I will let them down. I am terrified I will disappoint them. I’m terrified I won’t do it ‘right,’ whatever ‘it’ is.

I’m smart. I know I’m smart. But I am afraid to try for any further schooling, because I am afraid of what that means. If I do that…then I have expectations to do things with that education. And that expectation is legitimate–because there’s expense and logistics and time and energy involved in all of that, and it’s not all mine. It’s mostly not mine except for the time and energy. But I am so afraid that I will…say it wrong, write it wrong, get it wrong.

I want so badly to make the people who got me to where I am, to where I would be, happy and proud.

That gets in the way of what I want, sometimes, because I don’t know if that always meshes. I don’t know if it always matches up.

Like, what I have to say isn’t always the same as what the people who gave me the money have to say. Or what I have to say ends up not being liberatory after all, and I fucked it up. Or what I have to say opens up some darkness, some painfulness, some scary things that people in my life don’t really want me talking about.

And that last–I keep trying to remember that I’ve lived it, I’ve earned the right to tell my story, but it’s hard.

And what if I start to do some things, and I’m feeling okay, and I do a few things, and then I wind up back in bed again? I don’t want to be inconsistent. I don’t want to be flaky. I worked in volunteer management, and while I loved every volunteer who showed up, I definitely would call my more reliable volunteers more frequently, because I knew I could count on them. I don’t want to be unreliable. I don’t want to be someone’s pain in the ass, someone’s ‘have to replace at last minute,’ because frequently my body and/or brain betray me day of, and I don’t know it’s coming until then.

And that’s just for volunteering–that’s not even getting into paid work, or academic life, or art. Even here, I’ve been so inconsistent. And I’m glad this space is here, and it’s mine, and I can do whatever I want with it–but I know I set some expectations for myself at the beginning, and I haven’t really met them, not with any consistency.

And all of that is tied to ability–mental and physical health, and I know that. And I know that all of this ‘expectation’ talk is tied to this idea that I have to somehow be ‘productive’ to be valuable, which is baloney. I know that. Intellectually, I know that.

But also, this fear of expectation–I think it’s tied to how I was abused as a child. I was ‘expected’to get straight A’s, and if I didn’t–punishment. I was ‘expected’ to volunteer, do church activities, be a straight arrow, etc. And if I didn’t–punishment. Even if my parents thought I didn’t, punishment. It didn’t matter if I actually followed the rules, because I was punished anyway. I was always punished for not meeting expectations, and rarely rewarded for meeting them or exceeding them.

My grandparents monetarily rewarded me, so there’s that–I would get something like 50 cents for an A and 25 cents for a B, and since I always got all A’s, that was nice. It all went into my college savings fund. So there’s that. But that came out of my grandparents, and not my parents.

I lived two separate realities, even though for me they were the same lived reality.

And I got punished for my grandparents loving me, too. I was mocked and torn down and humiliated for how my grandparents loved me. So that reward system became a punishment, too. That wasn’t my grandparents’ fault. That was my parents’ fault.

I think this system of tearing me down and so rarely praising me around expectations has made me scared to do, scared to try.

I’ve been thinking about art, and I’ve had some inclinations to try art classes again, to brush up on art skills. I did decently in art in 7th and 8th grade and for a little while after, and then I let my skills get rusty. I let them go in favor of the things that got the accolades I needed to get me out of the scary, awful, terrible place with some immediacy. Granted, that means I did theology and languages–which maybe wasn’t terribly practical, but it’s what I did. Anyway.

When I did art, no one thought I could do it. No one thought I had any talent, and I did it all on my own, all by myself. That was all me. And no one ever set any expectations on me about it. Kind of the opposite, really–Mom kept trashing my art. That was a little devaluing, but she never had any expectations that I’d be the next Great Artist or anything.

So I think that’s why I’ve been thinking about it. It’s a thing that no one else has ever given my any expectations around.

Of course, I have my own expectations now–things about race and gender and sexuality ability that go into all of this. But yeah.

Expectation scares me so bad.

The Shoulds

I keep thinking about things I ‘should’ do.

I ‘should’ eat better, I ‘should’ clean more, I ‘should’ exercise more/at all, I ‘should’ read more academic things, I ‘should’ be prepping for academic things, I ‘should’ write, I ‘should’ volunteer, I ‘should’ be in the streets, I ‘should’ do what my colleagues do, I ‘should’ call home, I ‘should’ go outside, I ‘should’ do this, that, the other.

And…yes. I mean, I ‘should’ do at least some of those things, for health. For safety.

But all I think about is what I should do and what my loved ones need and want. And when I fail to do those things or live up to my shoulds, I deprive myself–of things like sunlight and friendship and pleasure.

I decide I don’t deserve to go to that free pleasure event, because I haven’t done enough in my community–regardless of my energy level, regardless of my physical ability, regardless of anything that’s been happening in my personal life.

I decide I don’t deserve sunshine because I haven’t been able to get out of bed for days and weeks at a time.

I decide I don’t deserve a massage to help my aching body feel better because I haven’t lived up to the societal standards of feminine hygiene like shaving–even though shaving makes me ache so badly. And I decide I can’t get a wax even though I actually like the feeling of my legs being hairless because I just don’t deserve it. I haven’t done enough. I’m too much bad, not enough good.

I talk to myself like that all the time.

But I would totally tell my wife to do whatever she needs and wants to feel good about herself. I would say the same to my male partners.

What is it I want? And why is it so hard to figure that out *and* act on it? Why do I feel like I’m not good enough to do what I want?

My therapist tells me I only need to do what I want in this life. I keep looking at her like I don’t believe her. I think, to me, part of my personal definition of being a good person is doing good works. And if I’m not doing good works, I’m not being a good person. So then it makes it hard for me to feel like I ‘get’ to do things that are purely pleasurable for me.

But if I never let myself feel pleasure, how do I get out of misery?

Also, it’s hard to consistently do the good things I want to do, and I hate being inconsistent. It’s hard for me, I mean. Not knowing when my body will shut down on me makes it difficult.

Other people manage, and I tell myself that. I just…I’m not supposed to compare, and I haven’t figured out how I’m supposed to manage.

It’s particularly difficult when I’ve spent a lifetime being told–first by actual, physical people who were supposed to take care of me (my parents) that all my physical and mental ails were trivial/not real (from illness to broken limbs, not a thing was believed until hours/days had passed and I finally got them to take me to a doctor). Now, it’s hard for me to believe that about myself. I keep telling myself it’s not that bad, that I don’t have it as bad as other people, that I need to just pull myself up and get on with it, that I’m horrible for not just getting on with life, that all of this is just me being hysterical and manipulative and melodramatic (and hey, those are words from my past). It’s hard for me to take care of my body.

One of my partners is a sweet caretaker, but he’s the sort that wants to do for me. And he’s been so so helpful, but he’s not great at telling me to make an appointment. Not yet. I think he’ll get there. But I have to learn to do it on my own, because it really shouldn’t be on him, or on anyone else. I just…never learned how to do it, never learned how to value my body.

And that gives me this really really bad case of the shoulds all the time. I ‘should’ do all these things, but a lot of the time I can’t, because I actually physically can’t. Or I mentally can’t. And I need to be easier on myself about that.

Adventures in Sleep and Grief

About a year ago, I finally had a much-needed sleep study done. It was an at-home sleep study, to the surprise of everyone involved (myself, my doctor, my partners, my therapist). Maybe my insurance provider wasn’t surprised? Anyway, shortly after the test, my doctor’s office had to cancel my results appointment because they had a computer training class that day. I said I would reschedule.

And then I didn’t.

Some of that was depression. Some of that was brain fog and fatigue. Some of it was life and being bad at adulting. Some of it was exhaustion.

Finally, around March–my grandma had been doing okay-ish. I knew she was up and down, health-wise. I’d been up and down, too, depression-wise. I’d been through some suicidal ideation, broken through due to getting angry at my parents, and come back to it. I kept kind of…waiting on The Call that something was Going Worse with my grandma. But it hadn’t come, and so in March, I decided to finally make that doctor’s appointment again.

I went, and I found out that I have sleep apnea (to probably no one’s surprise who has ever heard me snore). My oxygen saturation level was dropping to 66% at night (hence my constant brain fogginess) and I was stopping breathing up to 15 times per hour. That’s…no wonder I stopped having my super-vivid dreams, and no wonder I have felt so tired all the time, and no wonder a lot of things, right?

So my doctor said I needed to go for another sleep evaluation, to get fitted for a cpap, in-clinic. So we scheduled that.

And then my grandma fell and cracked her head open on her bathroom floor.

My dad was there, thankfully. He got her to the hospital, but he had to clean all that up alone. I don’t know how he did it. I don’t know if I would’ve had the strength.

Grandma’s health deteriorated pretty rapidly from there. It felt slow. But…that was March, and by the beginning of July, she was gone.

In between, I had my evaluation. That went okay. It was weird, to have the paste in my hair and to try to sleep in the clinic. I don’t sleep well in strange settings at the best of times. Being nervous about people watching me sleep, and having things attached to me…plus the fact that I somehow dislocated and relocated my shoulder while settling in for the night and so was in a lot of pain (only me!) meant I felt like I didn’t sleep much.

The lady who worked with me–a nurse? attendant? clinician?–seemed to think I’d feel so much better! when I woke up, that I’d feel an immediate difference. I don’t think I slept as much as she thought I did. I *did* feel some difference through the day, but I was still exhausted at night.

I was told I’d have my cpap within a couple of days.

A month later, I still didn’t have it, and I was having to yell at my doctor’s office that I didn’t have it. They’d wanted to schedule me for a ‘review of how I’m doing’ on it, and, well, it’s hard to do that without actually being on it.

I didn’t actually get it until about a month ago now, in August.

I missed some time with Grandma because of that, because for a little bit they kept calling me each week to say “It’s on its way” or “We don’t have the information from your doctor,” and my doctor kept insisting they had sent the information.

Then I missed some time with Grandma because we found out my wife has a very small, benign brain tumor on her pituitary gland.

The last time I saw Grandma, she clutched my hand…she knew, and I knew, and we both knew that we both knew it was the last time.

It’s been two months, and I miss her so much.

And I can actually feel that. And sit in it. And think about it. And remember things. Because this cpap…being able to breathe at night means my brain functions during the day.

I wish I’d been able to do that while she was still here.

Though for the first few weeks, this thing was a terror. I’d been told it would aid my depression, my anxiety, make things so much better. Instead, I got vivid nightmares from which I couldn’t wake myself; during the day, my brain busied itself remembering and reliving all the worst parts of my life. I felt haunted.

That has somewhat eased now, although I still have occasional nightmares and very very vivid dreams. I started playing my way through all the Escape The Room games I could find on my phone to occupy my brain with something other than Bad Thoughts.

I hid in bed for…it feels like a long time. It’s been a couple of weeks, I guess. I’m not in it now, but it has felt like a long time.

My brain is working now. That’s something. My sleep schedule is…weird. I think I need to start recording it again. I keep falling asleep anywhere from 7p-11p (if I can keep myself awake that long–it’s seriously a challenge) and waking around 1a-5a. Sometimes I wake a little later, but not usually. I get tired pretty easily through the day, and sometimes have a 2-hour nap. One hour doesn’t seem to suffice.

I have discovered that I really cannot go without the cpap. Sleeping, even for 10 minutes, without it leaves me feeling like I’ve been choked and like my head is full of cotton. Is that how I felt all the time a month ago? It’s so hard not to doze off somewhere sometimes–I want to be able to drift into a pleasant nap on the couch like I used to do occasionally–but I know that if I do, I’ll wake in that strangled state.

It’s nice to be able to think. I’m still tired, though. Something else is definitely ‘wrong’ with my body, something other than the sleep apnea. My brain is sharper, and I’m waking naturally and sleeping naturally, so I think that is ‘fixed’ as it can be for now. So…I need to figure out what the rest is.

Anyway, I can sleep. I can breathe while doing it. I can grieve. I am struggling still with depression and anxiety, so the cpap hasn’t fixed that, but maybe it’s helping? I actually pulled myself out of bed for a walk today. And I have been fixing some of my own food. Maybe I will regain some of my independence. Maybe I can find my way to a new healthy.

 

TW/CN: Rape, Sexual Assault, Cis White Men Getting Away With It

There have been three or four high-profile cases in the news lately of young, cishet, white men getting away with raping women. Some of the victims have been vocal, speaking against the judge and system and man and family. Some have been ‘compassionate’ (I’ll get to that), talking about how a ‘mistake’ shouldn’t define a person’s life. Some haven’t really been able to defend themselves or speak for themselves. Some have been quiet.

I was quiet. For a long, long time, I was quiet. I still am, in most ways. Most of the people who knew me then don’t know. Most of the people who knew us then–me and him–still don’t know. And I don’t use his name when I do talk about it. I use veiled references. I hint. I don’t give exact dates, I don’t give details. I know that people on my friends list are also on his friends list, and they don’t know, and I don’t want to go through he-said/she-said drama and bullshit. He’s a my-age cishet white male. I never turned him in. There’s no evidence. And at the time, I don’t even know if there would’ve been bruising or tearing. I know a hymen is no indicator of anything (they’re so varied naturally), but mine had torn at a young age to a bouncy horse incident. Whether it grew back..? I don’t know. Anyway.

We were dating. Boyfriend and girlfriend. In love, or so we said. I thought so. I found out later that he mostly wanted sex with virgins. He grew tired of me when I was no longer virginal enough for his tastes. Of course…that was his fault. And of course, virginity is a ridiculous societal construct meant to hold women down…but that was the point, right?

Anyway.

I didn’t speak, for years. I didn’t even call it rape, for years. I lied to myself. I lied to everyone, because who would believe me? I knew my parents wouldn’t. They always assumed I was having sex, doing drugs, drinking underage, smoking, partying. What a laugh. I got straight A’s, never did find out where to buy drugs or alcohol. I still awkwardly call it alcohol. I still have only had champagne at weddings and wine at the Table, and a little mead at my own wedding. Two swallows, enough to know the fire of it and that I wanted no more. I never even snuck out. I was too terrified to try.

And, because of my Purity Promise, I thought I had to marry him. I thought that the first person to stick their penis in me–with or without my consent–claimed me.

Even if I felt my soul die the instant it happened.

Even if I liked women, too.

I lied. To myself, to my parents, to my grandparents, to my friends, to him. And when he kept using my body, over and over, and telling me I was too stiff, too unemotional, too uninterested, I tried to force my body to respond.

Because that’s how it had to be, right?

Years later, when I finally began to hesitantly call it rape, I realized he probably didn’t. And, at the time, I thought, “Okay, there are two sides to this story. To me, this was rape. To him, it was sex.”

But that’s not how this works.

It has taken me almost half my life since then to realize that.

Rape is rape is rape is rape.

And I say that even though I know consensual non-consent is a Thing. Because that is different. See how ‘consensual’ is included there? Trust is a Thing there. Conversation, knowledge, consent. It can still go too far, it is a dangerous Thing, but consent is built in.

Anyway.

We had talked. He knew I wanted to wait for marriage. He decided–apparently–that he didn’t. And just like that, suddenly, I had no choice. I was trapped, and there was no escape.

I put it off, thinking about it, dealing with it emotionally, for years. I couldn’t make a scene, you see. Every tiny emotion I showed was so -dramatic- in my family.

And so I live with the knowledge that every time I show emotion about this, or about any rape, I might be seen as ‘dramatic.’ I hear it in that Emily Gilmore voice, “Everything’s so *dramatic* with you, Lorelai.” I am keenly aware of how my family takes this any time I talk about it.

I have told my mom and my dad now. It was…it was traumatic and relieving, telling them. Terrifying. I had panic attacks and nightmares, but they both accepted me and my story. I don’t know that they would have all those years ago, but they did now. Half a lifetime later. I’m glad.

But I’m also still aware of how my mom is still with my step-dad, and how my step-dad said, multiple times, that women were to wear skirts so men could have “easier access” to them.

I wore pants. Not even shorts. Jeans, always.

I finally bought a pair of shorts I like this year. For the first time in…I think since I was a little girl, I wore a dress without pantyhose and shorts underneath, too.

I am very aware that whenever a rapist gets away with it–and they are always cishet white men, almost invariably young–that all of this is going on in the back of my mind. My stomach is tightening. This all comes to the forefront, washing over me.

I want to tell my story, but how can I? How can I, when I lied for so long? How can I, when I know that my family is watching? How can I, when I know that so many people are mutual friends even now? How can I, when I am battered with the idea that women are supposed to be compassionate, even to their perpetrators? How can I, when talking about it in the company of mutual friends–like on my Facebook feed–feels like I am somehow hurting him?

 

These are some of the things that keep me up at night, that make me think I am a terrible person. Reason #3383 Why I Am A Terrible Person, on repeat as a litany through my mind: I lied. I lied in a big way, and I lied to myself, and I can’t trust myself, and so how could anyone else trust me? I lied to cope, to deal with my circumstances, but it hardly seems to matter when honesty is such a big part of my foundation.

And that’s part of why I want to tell, too: confessionally. I want to cleanse myself of the lie, to let it go. But who deserves such a burden? And how many times must I unburden myself? How long before I will be able to get out of bed with ease, and for more than a day or two at a time?

 

Will this ever get easier, seeing these stories? Will we ever learn to treat victims/survivors of rape better? Will we ever stop telling victims/survivors that they must be ‘compassionate’ to their perpetrators? Will we ever start treating cishet white male perpetrators of rape the same way we treat cishet black male perpetrators of rape? Will the day ever come that we teach consent to everyone, candidly, from birth on up?

 

I don’t know, but now, I am exhausted.

 

When I Hear “Not All Men” (TW: Rape, Rape culture, catcalling)

When I hear “not all men,” I want to tell you how my step-father sexualized myself, my sister, and our female friends at young ages. To my knowledge, he never touched any of us inappropriately, but he made lewd enough remarks to make our friends refrain from coming back to our house. They were uncomfortable. Throughout my life, my friends–from puberty onward–have consistently said, “Your step-dad is creepy.”

I want to tell you how he would forbid me from going on a double-date with my friends to a pizza shop, because in his mind we might have sex in the booths because it was Valentine’s Day. We were 15, and it was a school night. And it was a pizza shop.

I want to tell you how he would constantly leer at my female friends, either complimenting them in a sexual manner or negging them. I want to tell you how he did the same to my mom.

I want to tell you how many times he insisted I was having sex, being ‘bad,’ how many times he slut-shamed me for…nothing. For having a boyfriend, for not having a boyfriend, for going on dates, for doing homework, for hanging out in my room alone.

I want to tell you how he did this to my sister, too, but that isn’t my story to tell.

I want to tell you, getting away from my step-dad, how the first guy I thought I loved raped me. And I want to tell you how I thought that because he did that, I had to marry him, because men had taught me that my purity was that important–that the first person to put their penis in me was the one to claim me, no matter how it happened, no matter my will in the matter. I want to tell you how I’m so scared to tell you that this guy raped me, because I’m afraid he’ll find out even now, so many years later, that I’m telling people and he’ll tell you ‘his version’ of events, and you’ll believe him over me.

I want to tell you that I had talked with this guy I thought I loved about sex. I’d told him I wanted to wait. I’d told him I didn’t want to have sex until marriage. I’d taken my vow seriously, even though my parents both thought I hadn’t. And this guy still raped me.

I want to tell you how this guy continued to use my body for months after that, complaining that I was “too stiff” and “not virginal enough” for his tastes, even when I tried to leave him. He would just say, “Right, I’ll pick you up at 7 tomorrow.” And then he would show up, and I would go with him, because I didn’t think I had anyone to back me up.

I want to tell you how when I finally got away from this guy, because college started, he came to visit me once. And he pushed himself on me. And when I pushed him away, he said, “Isn’t this what you want?” and tried again, and I felt dead inside.

I want to tell you how he invited me out to a bar in my hometown once, to ‘make amends.’ And I thought, “Okay, this is a public place.” But he insisted on driving. And when I wanted to go home, he insisted on making a stop at a friend’s house. He had me come in with him. And they tried to spike a drink they gave me. They tried to get me to drink it. They tried to get me alone in a room with a strange man. I got out, and to this day I don’t know if I was some kind of delivery? some kind of payment? just a random potential victim? And I don’t know if they later lured someone else in.

I want to tell you how this guy isn’t the only one. I want to tell you about the guy who saw me in my car, trying to pick up someone at the train station, and thought it was appropriate to catcall me, loud enough to be heard from the entrance of the station all the way to the back of the parking lot, over and over. I was too frightened to stop my car, so I just kept circling as I waited. I didn’t know what would happen if I stopped.

I want to tell you about the man who randomly began serenading me in a McDonald’s. I didn’t know him. I was with a partner. I was just trying to order food. Suddenly, he’s in my space, singing to me, this random stranger with dramatic gestures. I tried to be polite and hoped my partner would step around me. I didn’t want to cause violence.

I want to tell you about the partner who violated my consent because he wasn’t thinking about me, he was thinking about what he wanted. I’d expressed a need for space, for time to myself. He thought that was an appropriate time to stroke off in front of me. When I asked if I got a choice, he paused, and when I acquiesced to a certain form of play, he took it further. When I tried to pull back, he didn’t let me.

I want to tell you about the classmate who thought it was appropriate to comment on women’s clothing choices–because he thought some of us wore ‘too tight’ of clothing. I happened to be wearing skinny jeans that day. I wondered if he was talking about me.

I want to tell you about the gay male classmate who elected to tell an entire classroom of students that he was the only queer student in the room–as I stood right there in the room with him.

I want to tell you how my dad constantly interrupts me, belittles me…and how it took me telling him that I was suicidal to get him to stop.

I want to tell you how one of my male partners defaults to fat-shaming me when he feels defensive about something.

I want to tell you how one of my male partners slut-shamed me for enjoying sex.

I want to tell you how in one day, I had three men slut-shame me–two for enjoying sex and one for not being sexual enough.

I want to tell you how I have received death threats from men for writing Letters to the Editor about President’s Day.

I want to tell you how a man tried to shut me up by presuming I was married to a man: he said he would ‘tell on me to my husband’ and that I needed to ‘go make my husband a sandwich.’ This, because he didn’t like some comments I made online.

I want to tell you how a man asked for my credentials, and when I provided them, he then sneered that I hadn’t done enough work to get them.

I want to tell you all the times that more of these things have occurred, but I can’t remember all of them. They’ve stacked up over time into a huge, exhausting wall of “actually, yes, all men.” Because this is the responsibility of all men. My existence shouldn’t cause all of that.

Wrestling With Anger

I haven’t written in a little over a month because I’ve been dealing with anger, with being angry.

It’s a scary place for me.

So I’ve been running away, hiding. Mentally abusing myself for feeling anger. Verbally abusing myself, when there’s no one around to hear it. It’s a thing I can’t stop. I’ll think of all the things I should be doing, and all those shoulds that I’m not doing (no matter the reasons), and then “I hate myself” will pop out of my mouth, or “I’m not a good person” or “I’m a terrible person.”

Being alone has been hard.

Being with people has been hard.

I keep assuming that all the people I care about who aren’t around me every day, who don’t see my physical and mental struggles every day, must hate me. I keep assuming they think I’m terrible and a fake.

I keep wanting to take time away from what little activism I do, because my first response to it is anger.


 

I do some of my best writing in anger.

It’s a white-hot flash, an energy buzzing over me. I hum with it, almost sing in the clarity as words flow from brain to keyboard.

Whether I write or not, though–whether I publish or not–once the flow stops, something else happens.

If I write, usually I feel good. Usually, I write well, and I write something that I think furthers the cause, or helps my audience understand better.

But then there’s a crash.

If I don’t write…if I just press it down, ignore it, try to move on…I’m sad. I usually wind up more depressed.

The solution seems to be to write–but I don’t want to be angry all the time. I have these flashes of things to write about all the time, and I’d love to write more. I just don’t want to be angry all the time.


 

I have a complicated history with anger.

Anger–rage, really–prefaced many of my step-dad’s worst abusive bouts.

Anger had center stage at my grandparents’ dinner table when my dad was home, as he and my grandpa shouted at each other, red-faced over politics and mashed potatoes.

Anger fueled the retorts that protected me from more physical abuse, but also shamed my family.

Anger has made me feel both impotent and powerful, both clouded and clear.

I can’t trust it.

Anger scares me.


 

Anger is an appropriate response to social injustice, particularly when one experiences that injustice.

Often, we as a society treat anger as something totally unacceptable, particularly in women and people of color. I’m a white woman. I ‘win’ on the white front, but not the woman front. It’s never been acceptable for me to be angry, even when it was appropriate.


 

In my depression, I am deeply angry at myself for disappointing everyone (myself included). Sometimes I’m angry at my family for how they treated me growing up, but mostly I turn that rage inward.

I don’t want to always be angry. Reading social justice things has become dicier for me lately, because I feel the flash of anger, and that flash too quickly reminds me of my self-anger and how I’m not doing enough.

I don’t want to respond to things out of anger always. I want to respond out of empathy and gentleness and compassion. Those are the things I admire. I’ve spent so long trying to do that, but the walls I’ve put in place are crumbling down, and now I don’t know how to rebuild them. I don’t know if I can. I don’t want to be my dad or my step-dad, always yelling, frowning, red-faced, wild-eyed.


 

I hope I can find peace with this soon, because I don’t know what to do with all of this anger.

Are All White People Racist?

This is something that’s been knocking around in my head for a little while. I’ve had my answer to the question for what feels like a long time. Now, I’m in the midst of an online protest–#FBBlackOut–so it seems a good time to talk about it.

First, what is #FBBlackOut, and why am I participating? 

In simplest terms, this black-created, black-led protest seeks to hit Zuckerberg in the pocketbook by encouraging protesters to deactivate our accounts from 10/16/15 at 10:16am EST through 10/19/15 at 10:19am EST. Deactivation means Zuckerberg receives no ad revenue from said accounts.

It started because people of color feel unsafe on Facebook. From groups like the not-so-cleverly-named ‘Nate Higgers’ proliferating (and rarely being taken down because they supposedly “don’t go against Community Standards”)

FB group 'Nate Higgers' failing to be removed by FB

(though for the first time I have ever seen, Facebook reversed decision on this one group–possibly at the pressure of several hundred users reporting the group at the same time?);

'Nate Higgers' group removed!

to such ridiculousness as showing the graphic and violent deaths of people of color over and over on auto-play on Facebook, but having the death of one white person immediately removed from the stream (because white death is more distressing?);

white death is more distressing than black death, according to Facebook

to people of color being banned/removed from Facebook for up to 30 days for saying “fuck white people” (a sentiment I, as a white person, can well understand, coming from people oppressed by my race);

PoC banned for saying 'fuck white people' on FB

and more. There’s rampant blackface, racial slurs, use of nooses and antisemitism and all sorts of derogatory, racist language and imagery on Facebook. Usually, reporting it results in an image like the first–a result of ‘Sorry, we can’t/won’t help you, because we don’t consider this to be hate.’ And though so many users–like myself–have ‘reviewed’ the process by telling Facebook that yes, this is indeed hate, it has seemed to have little impact.

Thus, #FBBlackOut:

#FBBlackOut Zuckerberg

I am participating in solidarity, because I am tired of seeing my siblings of color treated so terribly and made to feel unsafe on social media.


But this isn’t only about social media. White people don’t do these kinds of things only on Facebook, or Twitter, or Fetlife, or whatever other social network. And while sometimes it is that egregious–like, say, driving a vehicle marked with Confederate flags through a black party–it’s usually not.

And I think all of us white people are complicit–even those of us who are actively working against racism. I know that makes it sound hopeless, but I don’t think it is.

The thing is, racism is systemic. It’s part and parcel of our current system of power. All our power structures rely on racism (and sexism/misogyny, and cisnormativity, and heteronormativity, and etc.–but this is about racism, and so I’m focused here for now) to function. If we took out racism, very quickly things would crumble and change. That’s pretty scary for those who are currently in charge. And it’s pretty beneficial to anyone with white skin, regardless of whether we’re working to change the system.

For example, I do anti-racism work. But if I go into a bank with a friend of color with the same or better qualifications, I stand a better chance of getting a home loan than that friend. It doesn’t matter that I do anti-racist work. My father, who is white and who leaves pretty angry racist comments on my Facebook wall with alarming regularity (despite believing himself non-racist), would stand the same (or possibly slightly better, due to being male) chance as me of obtaining that loan, and still better than my friend of color.

Also, when I walk down a street, no one clutches their purse in fear. How do they know I’m not the best pick-pocket around? They don’t; but conveniently, I’m not black. I also don’t get followed around stores by over-worried salespeople/management–they don’t think I’m there to steal, they assume I’m there to shop. Usually, if I need help, I can’t find anyone to help me. They’re either ignoring me or too busy harassing following the black customers.

People who look like me are pretty easy to find in entertainment, too–skin-color-wise, at least (I’m not going to get into the size thing now). Mostly, white people aren’t stereotyped into roles. Also, white people tend to be treated as ‘generic’ for pretty much any nationality in these roles, while people of color are rarely cast in anything but stereotyped roles. Entertainment may seem fluffy–but it both shapes how we view the world and is shaped by how we view the world.

In terms of protest, the very fact that we have to keep reiterating how peaceful the protests in the wake of the deaths of Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Sam DuBose, Tamir Rice, Amber Monroe, Jasmine Collins, the Charleston 9….. takes a breath The fact that we have to keep reiterating how peaceful the protests have been in the wake of all of the deaths that inspire the #sayhisname and #sayhername and #saytheirnames chants and actions is itself a form of racism. It says that we expect black people to be angry, and that that anger is unjustified even when it is so justified there are no words to explain how justified that anger is. And then…when white people actually do riot over pumpkins and games–well, we call those things ‘just another day,’ or ‘kids being kids,’ or ‘fun and games.’

I live in a predominantly white neighborhood. I’ve never had to fear the police marching through my streets in-step, knocking batons on the ground, spraying teargas and other chemicals long into the night without warning–without giving me and my loved ones (and any of the children and elderly in the area) time to clear out. But I have watched that happen in more than one neighborhood of color in St. Louis–most especially when the police shot and killed Mansur Ball-Bey.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/st-louis-shooting_55d5f900e4b055a6dab32fcc
St. Louis police at Page & Walton following their killing of Mansur Ball-Bey

I could keep giving more examples of how racism exists. I could keep pointing that out, but that doesn’t really answer the question.

What does?

Simply, in every example I (or anyone) could give, white people have power, and people of color do not, in the current system.

And even when we white people do anti-racism work, we’re still beneficiaries of a system that prizes white people over people of color.

And even when we opt to walk away from racism–well, that’s a privilege, isn’t it, to be able to put down that burden? People of color don’t get that option. Racism is always there, always present in their lives, and they can’t walk away from it. Us choosing to walk away? That’s us being complicit in the system of racism by exercising our privilege not to think about it or deal with it.

The good news is: we can keep fighting the system. Every one of us who joins the fight means one more set of hands/arms/brains/heart in the struggle to right this massive wrong. And that means we’re that much closer to overturning this systemic ill.

It’s long. It’s hard. It’s continuous. And it is importantSo many people’s lives hang on us recognizing our complicity in racism and choosing to take up the work anyway of anti-racism.

I truly believe:

None of us are free until all of us are free.