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.

 

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“Discovering” Racial Issues

White people, we need to talk–white people to white people. We need to have some conversations that aren’t all about PoC educating us. We need to be educating each other.

Our education is a necessity. A lot of us don’t know. Our ignorance is not an excuse.

See, there’s a problem right now–a problem that’s been around for a long time, actually, and it’s a problem that weaves throughout us white people coming to understand racial issues. We tend to think we’ve ‘discovered’ these issues, or to act like we’ve discovered them–when really, most of these issues have been there forever. PoC have been living these issues (health care, shorter life spans, broken-up neighborhoods, food deserts, redlining, etc.) long before we came in and realized these issues were there. It’s a product of our whiteness that we didn’t see these things as issues before.

We didn’t have to see–because they didn’t affect us.

And white women–well, a lot of times, we get ‘white feminism,’ indicated often in statics such as ‘women got the right to vote in 1920.’ No, white women got the right to vote in 1920, and failure to include that word–white–shows a failure to understand that we’re not all in the same place, we’re not all affected in the same ways by the same issues. My white experience of sexism is not the same as a PoC’s experience of sexism–because that experience of sexism comes with an additional experience of racism that cannot be uncoupled from it. And we cannot forget that oftentimes–usually–almost always–probably always (because right now, I can’t think of an example when this was not the case)–PoC have been pushed aside, thrown under the bus, to make way for white people’s rights. “Oh, we’ll get to PoC later,” they say–we say–if we say it at all. We’re just so happy to get our own rights, you know.

I’m not here to blame any of us. We can’t change history. The past has happened.

I am here to say that we can–and should–own up to what we’ve done. We need to do that. And that starts with educating one another. It starts with learning. It starts with realizing that these issues haven’t been ‘discovered’ by us. PoC have been telling us about them for hundreds of years. Us just now listening doesn’t make it some big discovery.

I mean–for many of us, it is a discovery, in a sense–because we’re discovering that we weren’t taught as we should have been taught. We’re discovering a failure of history books, of public education systems, of government systems. We’re learning about white supremacy–that it actually exists, and that our ignorance of it perpetuates it. We’re learning that too often, there’s a real cover-up of racial history. Too often, history is literally whitewashed.

I live in St. Louis. Right now, a small art gallery, Yeyo, is running Letters to Hop Alley: Drawing Displacement in StL’s Chinatown. Prior to this art opening, I hadn’t even been aware of any history of a Chinatown in StL. I went, primarily to learn. What I read distressed me, angered me–but it’s not about my feelings. What I read also enlightened me. I learned that when my city built Busch Stadium, it undertook a concerted effort–via the press and the police and the white populace–to first malign and then criminalize and then drive out the residents of the existing Chinatown. As efforts were underway to demolish the Chinatown and build the stadium, no mention was made of what had stood before–only of what was replacing it. The beautiful structures, the lives, the artistry; the homes, the memories, the businesses: all gone, in the name of profit, in the name of gentrification.

Now, my city–my city, home to Ferguson and Florissant and so many other small towns and municipalities built upon the backs of the poor, upon the backs of PoC, upon their counted-upon arrests and tickets and jailings (and StL is not alone in this in our ‘great’ nation)–my city wants to build a new stadium, for millions of dollars. Supposedly, this stadium will ‘retain’ the Rams–a team that doesn’t want to stay, for a populace that doesn’t even show up to its home games. My city, which has been home and birthplace to so much of Black Lives Matter, to conversations about race and homelessness and malnutrition and public education, wants to once again take this step of spending all this money on this stadium for what seems a ridiculous purpose.

The stadium? Well, for its part, so far, it has outlawed the unfurling of any banners with slogans with which it doesn’t agree. There are to be no BLM banners there. It’s a space for white people to enjoy watching–well, watching the labors of a lot of PoC, because there are an awful lot of PoC athletes, aren’t there? And yes, there are white athletes, too, and yes, they’re generally well-paid–but what of their education? What of their lives post-sports? What of concussive head injuries? But the stadium doesn’t care, so long as white people fill its stands without making a fuss about black lives.

Also, the ‘new’ stadium is once again proposed to be built atop Native burial grounds.

And yet–none of this is a discovery, not really. PoC have known all of this. This is actual lived history. These are actual lived lives. This isn’t fresh. This isn’t new. This is ongoing. It is wearying.

Treating it as if this is something new centers whiteness, because it means PoC’s problems–their lived realities–only exist if white people are paying attention to them. We must empathize with how this is something ongoing. What happened to residents of Hop Alley–residents having to have papers, for example–is happening now (like having to have papers in AZ, or stop-and-frisk policies in NYC, or redlining). Just as Asians have always been in the Midwest, so too have the struggles of PoC been ongoing, and so too have their erasures been ongoing.

So, white people, let’s talk. Let’s sit and learn in other spaces and then come together to educate one another. It’s more than time we took that burden from PoC, and it’s far past time we stopped treating their struggles as ‘new’.

Lila Perry is a Girl. Deal With It.

CW: I’m discussing the continuing harassment of Lila Perry, a transgender girl in Missouri–my current home state. She has been using the girls’ locker room and bathrooms since school started this year, and many students (many of them female) have walked out in protest. In this post, I am addressing TERF (trans-exclusive radical feminist) comments regarding this issue. I’m putting the rest of this post below a cut so that trans people do not need to read this and be triggered. Cis people, I am a cis person talking to you. Please do read this post.

Continue reading

Black Lives Matter

And they’re more than a hashtag.

I want to write, but everything I can think to say seems trite right now.

This week marked the anniversary of Kajieme Powell’s death, about a week after Mike Brown’s. Actions and vigils were planned in remembrance of Powell’s life and sacrifice.

During this week, 9-year-old Jamyla Bolden was killed by unknown party(ies), and police killed Mansur Ball-Bey on the anniversary of Powell’s killing.

After that, the police arrive at the site en mass–more police than crowd–thumping batons on the ground, shields held before them. Lights were shined at those filming. Tear gas, pepper spray, and other chemicals were used against the people who were ‘gathered’ there–most of whom were merely residents, not even protesters. A church and many family homes were tear gassed. Police chased several people down streets and alleys to toss tear gas canisters at them, and they chemically doused the intersection of Page and Walton–where all of this took place–then allowed cars to drive into it before telling the motorists the intersection was closed off and they would need to turn around.

They did not warn the residents of the tear gassing.

They did not warn the small ‘gathering’ of people of the tear gassing.

They did not set up a road block to prevent the vehicles from entering the chemically doused intersection.

They did not warn anyone who might be in the church of the tear gassing.

Some random white people showed up, set few fires, and ran off–leaving the mostly black residents to deal with the consequences. The police reacted by setting up several officers to protect the fire truck from the people.

We do not know, as of now, who killed Jamyla Bolden. We do know the police killed Mansur Ball-Bey. We do know that the entire system that perpetuates black death at a staggering rate is guilty.

There is work to do. Work is being done, and you can join.

8/9/14 – 8/9/15

I remember where I was when I heard that Mike Brown had been shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson.

I remember where I was when they announced no indictment for former officer Wilson in killing Mike Brown.

I remember watching from afar–when I couldn’t be there in person–the teargassing of my city, of my fellow residents. I remember hearing the government representatives tell us that if we didn’t behave, of course we deserved tanks in our streets–as if anger is not an appropriate response to hundreds of years of systemic oppression. As if peaceful angry protesters are the same as people rioting over nothing. As if it didn’t take exorbitant measures to get national attention to a problem that has been killing people for hundreds of years.

A lot has happened in the last year. Much of it has been good, though it would be a mistake to claim a past-tense (as that article headline does): that the protests worked, as if they’re over and done, as if racism is solved, as if police brutality is solved.

Yes, Ferguson’s courts and municipalities are seeing an overhaul. Yes, there’s more money for police body cams, and yes Obama is embracing talk about race.

But:

A CBS/New York Times poll published at the end of July found 58% of white people thought police were no more likely to use deadly force against black people than against white people – the same figure recorded shortly after Brown’s death in Ferguson. It also found 51% of white people thought the criminal justice system either treated black people fairly or was even biased in their favour – a fall of only two percentage points since 2013.

A Pew poll published at the end of April found the proportion of white Americans reporting a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the police to treat black and white people equally had actually risen slightly since 2009, while falling among black Americans. And while the share of white Americans with very little confidence in the police applying equal treatment rose slightly as well, it jumped sharply by 12 points among black people to a level approaching half of all respondents.

This, despite that people of color keep dying in police ‘care’. Thanks to #SandySpeaks and #SayHerName, Sandra Bland may be the most recently ‘famous’ of these deaths:

The possibilities are these: Bland died from an untreated head injury after State Trooper Brian Encinia bashed her head against the pavement and police staged her suicide; Bland died from an epileptic seizure (recall that Encinia’s response to Bland telling him she had epilepsy was “Good”) and police staged her suicide; Bland was killed or died in some other way in police custody and her sucide was staged; or Bland indeed took her own life, after she informed police of previous suicide attempts and they utterly failed to prevent another while she was in their care.

There is no version of events where police are not culpable for Sandra Bland’s death.

As well, systemic racism is itself alive and well. This is evident not only in the deaths at Mother Emanuel AME, where Dylann Roof murdered 9 people of color simply for existing as people of color, but also in the number of transgender women of color (and transgender people of color in general) who are murdered and have been murdered this year. Even mixed-race families aren’t immune to police harassment and brutality, to systemic racism just as they drive from their home to visit family.

Black men –

Black Men Killed by cops
From: http://images.dailykos.com/images/118810/large/Black_Men_Killed_by_cop.JPG?1417792621

and black women –

Black women killed by cops
From: http://www.onebillionrising.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/11119135_10152922664669226_5906757496662627872_n.png

keep being killed by cops. Cops keep killing them. They’re more likely to die by police violence than white people, despite being a smaller portion of the population.

In a one-year-later interview posted on MotherJones, @Nettaaaaaaaa (Johnetta Elzie) points out that Rome wasn’t built in a day:

JE: The police are still killing people. Six people died Wednesday. But I think it is so unfair that people expect leaps and bounds to happen in just 365 days. Nothing in the Civil Rights Movement was accomplished in a day. The Civil Rights Movement spanned 10 years. So, for people to expect so much out of one year is really, really wild to me. And that question kind of shows me how far removed people are from this. Proximity matters. So, if you are an onlooker, and you’re just looking for progress and improvements and things like that, then that’s a different conversation to have with someone else who’s not so invested. But for some people, this is their life. They’ve been harmed by the police. They’ve seen their family and friends harmed by the police. And this is emotional work to be doing. So in this one year, I feel like we have accomplished much. But there is still a lot to do because police are still protected by their unions, by the institution of policing in general. And still have been killing people at higher rates than even last year, for example. July was literally the deadliest month of 2015. And that’s a problem.

It is a problem. Things are different, and in some ways better–but also in some ways worse. We’ve woken up the slumbering beast. We’ve lit the match and touched it to the kindling. We cannot now ignore, no matter how much we may want to, that racism exists and is systemic and pervasive. We cannot ignore that it kills. And we cannot ignore that we still have work to do.