Wednesday, November 15, 2017

It's Not You...It's All Of Us

We're having something of a moment of reckoning right now; people are coming forward in droves, telling the stories of their sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault.  And they are actually (sometimes) being believed!  And the accused are actually (sometimes) admitting their wrongdoing, and ever apologizing!  And even (sometimes) facing consequences!

It feels like a scary, shifting zeitgeist moment of cultural awakening and accountability.  And it also sometimes feels like it is spiraling out of control.   Someone posted somewhere on social media that in 2016, every time a celebrity's name was trending, we had to worry they were dead, but in 2017 a trending celebrity name likely implies new allegations of sexual misconduct.  And that feels pretty true.

So where will this roller coaster of accusations and accountability stop?  Hard to say, but I am reminded of the once great 'Your Fav is Problematic'.  For the uninitiated, it basically spent time pointing out how every beloved cultural icon and celebrity had done or said something shitty to some marginalized group at some time.  Everything you love, it boasted, is problematic.  I loved that, because it was true, and it's good (and challenging) to face our own biases and shortcomings.  But it is a bummer to find out how flawed everyone is.


By which I mean that if we keep searching for guilt, we will end up pointing fingers at everyone to some degree or another, because we are all complicit.  You will probably have to face the fact that your fav actor/writer/business owner did something fucked up to someone else because they could.  Because that's how power dynamics and misogyny and toxic masculinity work.  That's how rape culture works, and we are all complicit in some way because we are all part of this system.  Even those of us fighting to dismantle the cis-normative, white supremacist, hetro-normative, capitalist abelist patriarchy were at some time not completely sure of ourselves and made some mistakes.  Because that's what being young is, especially in this culture.  Any time you told your friends you really didn't want to talk about rape culture at a party, you helped keep it in place.  We all did.

I know I have made mistakes.  I've been a bad ally to other women, to other victims.  I've held on to a bunch of internalized misogyny that was harmful in was I am certain I don't fully understand.  And I have made moral compromises to save myself.  I am part of this system, and when I wasn't fighting it, it was in me, working to maintain its self like the virus that it is.

So.  Where do we go from here?  Forward, of course!!

We are all to blame in some way, which means we can stop being outraged.  We do not need to stop holding people accountable, but if there is anything the #metoo campaign taught us, it is that this was happening all the time, to everyone, everywhere.  So, to some degree we were all involved.** 

So let's hold people accountable.  Let's change the way we view power and sexuality and sexual violence.  Let's make sure that there is diversity at every level of everything, so that diverse perspectives view these problems at every level.  Let's make sure there are consequences, and let's work to hear and believe victims, and take actions against perpetrators.  Let's appreciate those who come forward with honest and forthright recognition of what they have done, and hold to the highest level of accountability those who try to pass their shit off or blame someone else.  Let's change fucking power dynamic and the fucking culture.  Let's finally get together to dismantle this shit.

**I do not mean to imply that victims are to blame for their assault/harassment etc.  I mean only to imply that as a society we are all complicit in some small way.  No victim is ever to blame for being assaulted.  If I walk down the street with a $20 bill hanging out of my pocket, the decent person will tell me, not just take it.  There is NEVER an excuse to commit harassment or assault, sexual or otherwise.  I'm just trying to articulate the larger way in which society systemically creates space for these crimes and violations to occur.

Monday, October 16, 2017


In first or second grade, I'm not sure which, a boy in my class pulls me off the jungle gym and sticks his finger in my butt through my leggings.  He looks at my face as he does it, asking if I like it.  I didn't think of my ass as sexual yet, so I was very confused.  A teacher stopped him, but I don't know if anyone ever told my parents.  To this day, I wonder what was going on in that boy's home that he was mirroring with me.

In middle school I go to the movies with two girlfriends.  And adult man its next to me, and throughout the movie starts rubbing my arm and stomach.  I am embarrassed and confused; I say and do nothing because I don't understand what is gong on, and worry I'm imagining things.  I tell no one.

In high school I go to a sleep over new years party with my friend and her boyfriend.  The girl hosting, her mother, and her boyfriend are the only other people there.  At night we all sleep in the same bedroom, and I hear the host's boyfriend pressuring her to have sex while we sleep.  She says she can't because something is wrong with her vagina.  He tells her if she doesn't, he'll have sex with me.  They debate for what feels like hours; she whispers that I'm asleep, he whispers that he'll wake me up and rape me.  I lie perfectly still as she eventually gives in, and whimpers and cries through what sounds like painful intercourse.  I feel guilty, terrified, relieved, and disgusted.  I know I should do something, but I don't know these kids well, and I'm far from home.  I finally fall asleep.

 My college roommate comes home from a party, and tells me she slept with the guy she met, but didn't want to.  Her hesitance and confusion is common as she explains that it wasn't rape, she just didn't want to have sex at first, but was okay with it during.  I realize consent is confusing when men see tricking and badgering women as viable seduction tactics, and women are trying to explore their sexuality without feeling victimized.  I realize, looking back, how many times I have had sex because I didn't want to find out what would happen if I said no.

I go visit my friend at her university, and she tells me she was raped by a guy she thought was her friend.  She tells me it happened last semester, at night after she'd gone to her room to sleep, and that she woke up to him on top of her.  She tells me her mother is in the process of trying to shame his family into getting him to leave the school, because he's still there, still taking classes and living n campus.  She tells me she is getting married in a year.  All I can think is, she's trying to protect herself.  Married women are known to be off limits from male 'friends'.

In my first full time job after college, my 50-something year old boss makes sexually inappropriate jokes in the open office.  I laugh, because I think this is the way an adult should behave.  My supervisor, who is younger and female, stops us, reminds him he is being inappropriate, and later pulls me aside.  She explains that she has to work to keep these men in check, and can't leave any room for them to question what is appropriate.  I realize how little I understand.

I am working as a manager full time and going to school part time.  My boss says racist things to me, and asks prying, personal questions, but I need the job.  One day I come to work without make up on.  My boss calls me into his office to accuse me of being hung over at work, and I try to explain.  I never come to work without make up again.

In graduate school a female friend mentions she is meeting another to study.  She explains she's worried, because he is male, and so she'll have to be careful about how she dresses, or he will come on to her.  Other women in the room echo her sentiment; that most male peers will only want to meet up if it's a pretense for a date.  I realize that being in a relationship has shielded me from this, because my male peers see me as off limits.  Because I belong to another man already.  I feel relieved and deeply troubled.

I am called into the dean of the department's office, and I am nervous.  I hope it is about a research or work, and have prepared to talk about my qualifications.  Instead I am asked about sexual harassment and assault.  "Has any faculty member offered to change your grade in exchange for sexual favors?  Are you sure?"  Eventually I convince her, and we spend the rest of the time talking about how difficult it is to be a female department head.

I am at my first academic conference, and it's going really well.  I make friends, including someone who went to my school.  We have a mutual friend, and he is successful and connected, and offers to introduce me to other people in our field, so I follow him to a party in a hotel room.  We continue the drinks we started at the conference cocktail hour, and at the end of the night he tries to make a move on me.  I remind him that he is married, and I have a boyfriend, but he is unconcerned.  I do not like this man, but he is using time honored manipulations, and I realize he is better connected than me, and my rebuff has to be subtle and complimentary.  I escape from where he has me pressed against the wall and make an excuse about being too drunk, I run back to my hotel room.  He is charming and cordial in the morning, as if nothing unusual happened.  I suppose he is right.

I am teaching at a public university and a student meets me after class to discuss why she's struggling.  She talks about her financial troubles and her physical disabilities, which are new and she is struggling with.  Then she tells me she was sexually assaulted by her roommate, and currently looking for new housing.  I talk to her, we work out a way for her to pass the class with all of her constraints.  I ask her if there is anything she needs, but she remains confident, brave.  She doesn't want help, but she needs to find a new living situation, and in L.A. affordable housing is expensive.  I later relate this to another professor, an older mentor, and she says, "Well, that's our job."  And she's right, because University faculty get training on how to handle and report sexual assault; I am a mandatory reporter.  If I want to teach economics to adults, I also have to handle the abuse and assault of my students, because that's the world we live in.

This doesn't include things that have happened with friends, times I was physically assaulted in ways that weren't sexual, all the things that happened at parties and bars, including the time a buy set his drink on the edge of my ass while I was turned toward the bar, trying to order.  All the times someone grabbed my tits or ass, or rubbed up against me or my friends, all the times guys on various dance floors wouldn't take no for an answer, or the time I was mistaken for a hooker in Barcelona and had to fight my way out.  Those are just casual harassment, and happened when I was out at bars or parties or night clubs.

I don't consider myself a victim; I think I have likely lived a less-molested-than-average life.  I often barely remember that all of these things happened to me, that all of them are inappropriate.  That these things happened to me and the people around me because of our femaleness, or because of our perceived weakness, but mostly because of the culture of toxic masculinity that has convinced generation after generation of people that consent can be bought or pressured out, or is optional.  That conquest is all that matters, and the conquerors needn't worry much about the feelings of the conquered.

When a person comes forward about sexual assault or harassment, the initial response is disbelief.  But if you look out into the world today, the number of women (and men) standing up, saying 'Me, too.', it looks like everyone has a few stories in her past, a few experiences that reminded her she was not fully autonomous, that she was capable of being controlled or violated.

For fucks sake, can we start to believe people?

Friday, October 13, 2017

To my cousin, on her next step

I have two amazing cousins.  Actually, I have *several* amazing cousins.  Really lovely people.

One of these lovely humans is now in her first year at Harvard Law School.  Seriously, how rad is that?

She is a sweet, funny, and obviously hardworking and extremely bright young woman in her twenties.  Already some douche nozzle has called her a 'girl', as in "You girls better be ready to work hard!  I don't go to school here, but it's hard!"  Already she is second guessing herself and worried about raising her hand, while those who haven't done the readings are happy to give incorrect responses with vigor.  She's got a long fight ahead of her, because law school is hard, and I'm sure Harvard is hard, but being female (and from a middle class family) in a less traditional field is really hard.

So, I want to take a minute and type out all the things I wish someone had said to me when I was starting out in grad school, terrified and certain I didn't belong.

First, you are in the right place.  You belong here, you earned your place here.  There's this thing called an admissions process that determines who belongs, and you went through it, the same as everyone else around you.  You all passed, and now you are all here.  That's it.  Starting from the first day, you are all on equal footing, in that you are all qualified to be admitted to your program.  Do your best to stop wasting mental energy overthinking it.  You belong.

Second, find some people!  It is going to be hard, and everyone will freak out at the first few (hundred) assignments.  Being with a group of other people with whom you can admit how little you understand, or ask questions of, or be the person who has the answer with is going to be invaluable.  And I promise, all of those things will happen at some point, no matter who you group up with.  But find some folks and form a study group.  Or two...or four.  I had a study group of about five folks, and one person there was in two others, and would share the information from each group with all of us.  You can do things alone, but it is so much harder, and so much more isolating.  Get groups, get help, and get confirmation that you aren't the only one struggling!

And speaking of struggling, because you will, do your best to not feel dejected every time you do struggle.  You are doing something very difficult, that only a small portion of people ever even attempt.  Give yourself the space to struggle, to be challenged, and for that to be okay.  You went through a lengthy process to literally prove you were good enough to be there, and the illustrious university's People Who Decide picked you.  You belong, and you are right where you are supposed to be.  If it was easy, everyone would do it.

Since it's not easy, make sure you ask for help.  There is always help; clinics, boot camps, T.A.s , advisors, office hours, the notes of friends, dear sweet lovely google, study groups, people who've gone before.  Ask and accept all the help you need, please.  That's self care, that's efficient, and that's economical!  You want to take advantage of everything that can help you succeed, honey, because every little bit helps and you are paying for the privilege of it all.  So ask, seek, find help when you need it!  It's not weakness, it's intelligence!

Try to trust yourself, trust your instincts.  Part of what you are doing is being trained to be a confident decision maker.  Don't let other people steal or borrow your power, just hold yourself centered and still, and try to let the crazy that may unfold flow around you, like wild ocean waters around a calm stone.  And take excellent care of yourself.  Because, girl, you got this.

And when all else fails, call home, because we have got you.  <3 br="">

Sex with Jabba the Movie Producer

In the wake of the 'revelations' about Harvey Weinstein's decades of sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape and other abuses, one troubling idea continues to surface.  Actually, several troubling ideas continue to surface, like the claim from elites that they "had no idea"  when things like this and this were happening, or that conservatives are approaching the subject like drooling puppies, thrilled their party no longer has the market on abhorrent misogynistic behavior cornered.  What is most disturbing to me are sentiments like the one posted by a friend of mine on facebook.

The sentiment is basically one of reluctant agreement that something bad has happened, followed quickly by a call for women who benefit from the system to also be dragged down.  Or that this isn't that big of a problem, because some women's careers are improved.  Or that women are complicit in the harassment by being a certain, way, not fighting harder, using their sex appeal in other ways.  To me, this reeks of, "I get that this seems bad, but I'm pretty sure there's still a way to blame women".  also known as the usual.

Part of this is the toxic idea that women 'use' their sexuality to get things; money, power, jobs, friends, guys to help them move.  This idea is the basis for the "friend-zone" trope, the idea of a 'femme fetal', the reality and idea of sugar daddy/baby relationships, prostitution, and the whispered belief about any woman who makes the mistake of being both powerful or smart and too attractive.  If you think about it, a lot of media promotes this idea of women being able to separate themselves from sex as pleasurable and use it as a tool or weapon; even in sitcoms, the attractive wife will often begrudgingly agree to sex as a reward to the dimwitted or boorish spouse (I'm thinking of multiple episodes of King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Simpsons, just off the top of my head).
I've thought about it a lot, and I think it stems from an essential way to think about women's sexuality as intrinsically different from men's.  Not long ago, women were reduced to mothers and wives.  The idea of a career, least of all a fulfilling, competitive, or challenging one, was laughable.  Women were relegated to the hoe sphere, as was their sexuality; they were supposed to be virgins until marriage, keeping their ravenous suitors at bay until god and country could sanctify their union.  Then they would submit physically to their husband for the rest of their lives, and sex was for having children and satisfying (or manipulating) your husband.  And that was the expected and perceived scope of a woman's life and sexuality, she would never have the space to consider sex for her own satisfaction, and it stands to reason that it became transactional in some situations.  If you legally bind a person to another, make them financially dependent, prevent them from working, making money, accessing credit, or having any traditionally determined power, what else are they left with?

Then women had the nerve to leave the house, pursue their own achievements, make their own money and determine their own sexual, financial, domestic futures.  We're still working on all of those things, by the way.  But it seems like a lot of men are still confused by the idea of women having the same desire- and satisfaction-based sexuality they enjoy.  It seems like many men still consider women as inherently sexless, who use their convenient vulvas and breasts to get what they want, because they certainly have no use for them.  Because why else would some men willingly, hopefully, enthusiastically believe that women are out in the world, being propositioned by aggressive men thirty years their senior at a business meeting and deciding, yeah, I'd love to let this guy ejaculate in my hair so I can work a little bit less hard.  Unless these guys are walking around, wishing they could trade degrading and disgusting sex acts for promotions, they have to believe that women just don't care about human dignity or sexual desire.  Because anyone with human dignity, sexual desire, and a sense of self preservation would find themselves in a situation like Harvey Weinstein's hotel room and realize they are the mouse in the lion's den, and have to find a way to survive with as much of themselves intact as possible.
And there is nothing sexual about that.  That is about power, and control, and dehumanization.  In that situation, the prey (not always but usually a young woman) is not a person the sexual predator wants to have a consensual relationship with, the prey is a toy, an acquisition, a masturbation tool, an object to admire and manipulate.  There is no consent in that situation.  A person calculating how likely it is they will have a job after the leave the room can enthusiastically consent to mutually satisfying sex acts, because they are trying to decide if their dignity and safety are worth more than their rent and career for the foreseeable future.

And if you haven't been there, you might not understand.  But try to be a human being capable of empathy for a minute, and imagine you are told to go to a room for work, only to find you are trapped in an unclear situation where you will absolutely risk offending someone who can make or destroy your ability to feed yourself for the next decade, someone who can physically overpower you and slander you.  Someone who is asking for one thing, but could ask for literally anything once you give in, because then you said yes.  As women, we are trained from a very young age to prepare for these times, because they are inevitable, so I get that some men don't understand.  They still see women as these mothers and wives, who have sex to get children, or get an increase in their grocery allowance, who couldn't possibly have their own ideas about what is sexually desirable and what is terrifying.

But, they should really try.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Woman Behind The Man

Am I the only one worried about Melania Trump?

I get it; she is distant, formal, and married to probably the single most polarizing figure in politics today.  And she has made cyber bullying her mission, as First Lady of the U.S.  Which is hugely ironic.  I don't have to explain why, right?
(If you don't know what I'm talking about, just google "Donald Trump twitter attack" and see what comes up...)

Melania giving her anti-bullying speech at the U N. this week
So, naturally everyone on the internet comes out laughing and angry against her.  Because the husband of one of the most blatant twitter trolls and basically rose to prominence despite picking on women, Latinos, Mexicans, Muslims, Jews, the disabled, and other groups that don't instantly spring to mind.  And because she's a pretty easy target; she doesn't seem to fight back and always seems out of place, like she never should have left her a princess that didn't really want to be rescued.

But, really, is it her we're mad at?  No.  Of course not.  She buys and wears expensive, inappropriate clothes and says tone-deaf, plagiarized things.  But none of that is really her fault when you think about it.  She did what a lot of women in difficult situations do; she used what she had to get where she wanted to go.  Growing up in Slovenia, becoming a (some would argue mediocre) model, working to get to the next level, and then dating and finally marrying Donald Trump; from the perspective of a person using their appearance to lock down a nice life for themselves, none of this is surprising.  In the scope of gold-digging, she hit the jack pot.  And I say that with no intended denigration; it is so not my place to judge her choices or compromises.  I've made my compromises, we all have, she picked the path that made the most sense to her, and given the path she was on, I'd give her kudos for being supremely successful.  Because there was no way she could have seen this whole presidential train wreck coming; no one else saw it coming!

cute couple... :/
So imagine this woman makes her plan, meets, dates, and is deciding whether to marry Donald Trump.  And she figures, he's got a certain number of years left, he'll guarantee me a certain kind of life; we'll have a child and I can generally predict what the rest of my life will look like.  Sure, Donald's ex-wife accused him of physical abuse and rape, but maybe she didn't know, or maybe se figured that was part of the deal.

Then he started down this crazy road and all of the sudden she is thrust into the political spotlight; her husband, who I think we can agree is not the most level headed or stable fella, is under new stress all the time, maybe he's becoming more irrational.  Melania's safe bet has totally changed, the ground moved beneath her feet.  And, if I were her, I might feel like there is nothing I can do about it.

Because what would you do if your somewhat domineering, controlling, bull of a husband became president.  What if he was a little abusive, but no one seemed to care when the facts came out.  What if he was more than a little abusive, but you felt like you needed the security of his money and power to give your son a good life?

Everyone who says they would leave anyway, but can provide no evidence of making such a hard decision in the mast must now exit the discussion.  Because those situations are DIFFICULT.  Hard.  It is hard to leave a marriage in the best conditions.  It is harder when there are threats of retaliation in the air, or a history of retaliatory behavior (duh), or when there's a lot of money, pride, and fame at stake.

Inauguration Day, and the RBF heard 'round the world.
So maybe, just maybe, Melania is another woman in a situation she doesn't want to be in, but feels like she can't do anything about it.  Maybe she just wants to go back to Trump tower and read magazines and watch Real Housewives, but feels like the entire world is watching her (because we are... watching and judging).  Maybe she knows her husband is an ass, but never thought she'd be forced to defend his every move on a global stage, or give speeches in your fifth or sixth language to world leaders, and doesn't see a way out of it.  Maybe, just maybe, this ridiculously tone-deaf campaign against cyber bullying is her way of saying, "I know he's terrible, but I have to sleep with him.  Someone else needs to stop him."  Maybe it's her cry for help, because look at the way this man is in public, how do you think he behaves in private?  Because all she did was marry him, we're the ones who voted him into the highest office in the land.

So every time the media and twitter and everyone laughs or gets mad at Melania Trump, I can't help but step back and wonder, what is this poor woman's trying to say?  She doesn't seem stupid to me, she seems savvy, if not a little out of touch.  She seems, to me, like someone balancing on the edge of a knife.  So I'll laugh at her husband's missteps, but I'm going to leave her out of it, because unlike most of that family, I don't think she wants any part of this whole fractured spotlight.  I think she just wants to go home.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Let's Get This Over With

I have never accidentally said the 'N' word.  Ever.  I have accidentally said pretty much every swear word you can think of, and a few inventive ones I think I may have come up with.  I've said the 'C' word to my infant son hundreds of times.  Like, ten times this week alone.  But I've never accidentally said the 'N' word because one doesn't accidentally in the heat of passion say a word they don't already say all the time, in the heat of passion or alone with their white friends, in private.
Because we all know that's what's going on here.

It's simple, to me.  Black people have generally agreed, and most other folks have agreed with them, that there is one word they have chosen to be off limits.  It brings up too much f the bloody, painful, cruel past and they would really like it if it would never again pass over white lips.  I, as a person generally dedicated to not being a dick to strangers, especially a whole population of them, am happy to comply.  Because it's not that big of a deal to me, but it is to them.

Imagine this; you have a neighbor who has had a really shitty year; his cat died, and his grandma died, and maybe he lost his job and his spouse left him.  Just really shitty stuff.  And you're talking to him, and he says, "You know what?  Every time you say the word 'foyer' it really upsets me; that was my cat's name, and I named my cat after my grandmother, and now they're both dead.  So it just sucks to hear the word 'foyer'.  Could you just not say it anymore?"
Wouldn't you say, "Yeah, dude, of course!  It's a pretty old word anyway, I usually say entry.  Consider it struck from my vocabulary!"
Because that's what a decent person does.

Now, trade the rough year of one neighbor for generations of oppression, brutality, literal slavery, torture, economic repression, and general discrimination for an entire group of humans.  A population of Americans.  And they're asking, in addition to, ya know, equal and fair treatment, us not using that one word.
What kind of ass hat says no?  Probably a person who thinks that their enjoyment or use of that one word is more important than the aforementioned generations of literal and figurative slavery, oppression, general mistreatment and abuse.  That kind of ass hat.

So just don't say it.  It's not that hard.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

My Best Friend's Wedding, and other generic titles

I have a friend.  He's a great person.  You know how there are people you meet and you think, oh, yeah, they are adequate.  Normal-sauce.  Really nice, or fun, but not in an exceptional way.
My friend Joey isn't like that.  He stands out.  And honestly, when I first met him I thought he was kinda childish, and dumb.  But then we actually talked.  So, you know, books and their covers, etc.

But seriously.  my friend Joey is one of those unique, wholly honest people.  He lives with this sort of overt vulnerability that can sometimes be mistaken for run-of-the-mill tactlessness, but in reality, it is a deep and very honest actual concern for everyone around him.  What the fuck does that even mean, right?

He's the kind of person who will ask you pretty much anything regardless of the circumstances, which we don't do in polite American society, because it makes folks uncomfortable.  But now ask yourself, when was the last time a person asked you a deep, semi-awkward question, but also actually cared about the response?  Now you see where I am going.  Joey is actually invested in the wellbeing of others, to the extent that he will ask the awkward questions in service of his effort to let people tell their truths, and actually be honest about what's going on in their lives.

Which, pretty much, is how we became friends on a research trip to South Dakota.  My divorce was finalizing, I was dating, and I was delving into a new research subject that I hoped would *be* my career, which was all I believed in now that love seemed to be bullshit.  The timing of the trip meant I was missing the funeral of my beloved grandmother, one of the many sacrifices made in service of 'the career I would have".  I'd also somehow positioned myself between the two principle researchers, as a sort of go-between/priest/hairdresser for both of them.  No one seemed to notice that I felt I was dying inside, while diving into other people's worlds to try to fix some damn thing while everything I knew seemed to be finishing crumbling.  Except, of course, Joey.  He asked rude and intrusive questions, which I answered.  We discussed music, and I told him what was actually going on in my life, because he seemed to actually care.  Because he did actually care.  So that's how we met.

We continued to work together, and he continued to pry into my personal life, which meant for once I had someone to talk things through with (besides my therapist.  Yay mental health care!!  It's why I'm still alive!).  And I got to know what was going on with him.  And in a short time he became a person I trusted deeply, whose opinion I valued deeply, someone I loved and was truly my friend.  Plus we managed to get a lot of work done, and kinda brought the best out of each other.  Joey talked me off many metaphorical ledges, and through so many life choices.  He's the first person I told when I found out I was pregnant.  He was my person.

So, him dating scared the shit out of me.  Because seriously, people are kinda crummy toward people they date these days.  There's the whole nonexclusive thing, and all the dating apps that present this idea that maybe the next person will be better, if you keep swiping, because there are infinite people...and are they really even people anymore?
But...I digress.  And this makes me sounds old.  And I kinda think Aziz Ansari already covered most of this.
The point is, I saw my friend Joey as a pretty special individual.  He goes out of his way to make strangers on the street happy.  He sees through people's weakly constructed facades, and actually cared what was beneath those facades.  He is a person of deep faith and love, but also a man of philosophy, prone to asking the tough questions.  So, his faith means something, but is open to being debated well.  Joey is dedicated to his passions, and is honest and aware of his own short comings.  What I'm trying to say is, he's not going to do the whole 'pretend to be super likable' song and dance that we all use to make ourselves likable on dating apps or social media.  And he would actually question a person's ideas and ideology, but with actual interest, and wanting to enter into a discussion.  Which is to say that I worried that dating apps would never help Joey find someone who would understand him, because who's that honest and complex right away??

But then he met Antoinette, and he was happy.  So I was happy!  And I was optimistic.  Until I finally met her, and started to really get to know her, and learn about her.  Then I was thrilled.

In Antoinette, Joey has truly met his match, in every way.  She is kind and loving, which of course I want for my dear friend.  She knows and understands the dark feelings and times that can plague people who think too much, or worry too much.  So many of us have these feelings of inadequacy, depression, anxiety, but most of us (me) don't like to talk openly about it.  Here was Antoinette, as honest as Joey was about struggling to be her best self.  Here is Antoinette, who is creative, passionate, and thoughtful about her faith.  Someone who can meet Joey, word for word and idea for idea, who doesn't shy away from taboos simply because they are, but questions and makes her own choices.  The more I get to know Antoinette, the more I am certain that Joey had found a true partner for life in her.  And I don't worry about my friend anymore.  Because he is going to marry and build a life with her, and I get to be here, on the sidelines, cheering them on.  We all do.  And for that, we are all blessed, because there is nothing greater in life than watching good people have good lives.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Reflections On My Time As An Incubator

When I told my coworkers I was pregnant, a charming Ukrainian colleague of mine approached me in the break room and asked, "Do you have this word in English, incubator?".  I laughed because, obviously, we do have this word, and because I knew exactly where she was going.  Being pregnant with a wholly wanted and loved fetus was at times a wholly dehumanizing process, and more often than not I felt like an incubator that existed only to sate the appetite of the unseen squid-parasite sucking all of my nutrients and energy from me.  And I had a pretty chill pregnancy.

Seriously.  I wanted to be pregnant, and I have wanted a baby all of my life.  Yes, I have always valued my independence and envisioned a life without children that would have been happy enough, but since I was a little girl, begging to babysit and care for children I have wanted to raise kids of my own, so getting pregnant was a joyfully, tear-eliciting event.  And I had an easy pregnancy; I suffered from no morning sickness, none of the hypertension or gestational diabetes that plague so many modern women.  I managed to sleep pretty well, had an incredibly patient and supportive partner, friend group, and family around me the whole time, and had access to regular prenatal care.  I didn't have to give up any life saving or life affirming medications, and aside from occasional pregnancy headaches and carpel tunnel, had no problems while pregnant.  I didn't even have a problem giving up my cherished all day caffeine consumption or nightly half-bottle of wine habit.

But it still sucked.  The whole time I was marveling at how my body was capable of this massive change, this insane undertaking of creating a human from to bags of cells, I was also watching the body I'd known for almost 35 years become unrecognizable.  I used to challenge people to try to name one part of my body that hadn't been affected by pregnancy.  Lose joints and tendons, displaced organs, bleeding gums, stronger hair and nails (that later fall out and become brittle, respectively, not matter how many post-natal vitamins I take...), swollen feet and sore hands.  Even my skin changed color and my sweat smelled different.  Nothing stayed the same, and five months later, my body still feels foreign.  My hips are still not fully secured, my breasts are still too big for tops without an 'X' in front of the L, and as I fight to regain lost muscle mass I watch my linea nigra slowly refuse to fade. 

Which is fine, because I wanted a baby, and my child is a nonstop tornado of magic and insanity that I cried for when I was afraid it wouldn't happen. 

But imagine if I didn't want a baby, or didn't want a baby yet.  Or didn't have support in place, or a partner with whom I shared mutual love and respect.  Imagine if I had to go through more than twelve months (most doctors concede that it takes between 6 and 18 months to recover from pregnancy and delivery) of physical changes that would make Jeff Goldbloom think The Fly was a boring ass documentary.  Who else would say that was an acceptable price to pay for sex and/or failed birth control.  The fact that no (biological) man ever has to worry about this reality, yet many speak openly, vocally, legislatively, about womens' responsibility, is horrifying to me. 

Let me put it more simply.  Imagine every time you had sex you had a one in ten chance of having to give up alcohol, caffeine, deli meats, and raw meat and fish, and gain 30 - 50 pounds for nine months.  And then lost the ability to poop or control your bladder for a few weeks, and then could go back to normal until the next time.  That would suck, right?  And that's just a fraction of the reality a woman without full fertility/birth control options faces.  These choices should be personal, private, and freely available to women capable of sex, pregnancy, or being assaulted.  No matter what.  Because the individual sovereignty of a woman should not be nullified by a cluster of cells, or a fetus, or even a baby. 

If a baby was dying, and only my liver would save it, would the law force me to donate a lobe of my liver?  I could be reasonably expected to survive the surgery, and could go on to recover and lead a normal life, but we would never compel people to give up their biological sovereignty in that way.  Even without a nine-month lead up to the surgery that required me to adopt a special diet, miss work for regular appointments, and intense physical trauma of surgery and recovery.  Until mandatory non-lethal donations are legislated, we can't talk about eliminated birth control or abortion without recognizing the inherent bias against people with vaginas and uteruses. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

On Pregnancy, From the Rearview Mirror

Just over a year ago, I managed to get a couple of eggs fertilized by my main squeeze, which means I am now mommy to a joyful little 15-week old boy.  It also means that I have spent the last 12 months being taken apart piece by piece and rebuilt into new iterations of myself that I did not entirely recognize.  Pregnant me was about four different people, and mom me is someone I have never met.  Physically and psychologically everything has changed.  Seriously, challenge me on that.  Try to name something (other than my name) that has not changed in the process of the last year.  I have it on good authority that my skin changed the way it smelled at least three times during pregnancy.

On thing that has changed in a delightfully unexpected way is my newfound confidence in my old feminist ideals.  I've finally experienced a few things I'd only even talked about before, and finally have some authority to discuss them.  So, in no particular order, here's some shit I learned or have become certain of in the last 12 months:

1. No one should ever have to be pregnant against their will.  Ever.  I had a relatively easy pregnancy, in that my symptoms were limited to swollen breasts, sore breasts, mood swings, exhaustion, anxiety, gas, constipation, drooling, heart burn, carpel tunnel syndrome, swollen feet, swollen ankles, fluid retention, sore joints, reduced vision, indigestion, insomnia, varicose veins, diarrhea, back pain, forgetfulness, and an insatiable hunger.  I also developed a sweet tooth, but I think that is because I had to give up alcohol, caffeine, raw food, partially cooked food, lunch meat, sushi, seafood in large or exotic quantities, and most OTC medications.  So cookies started to seem like my only option.  Other pregnant women experience nausea, vomiting, acne, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, stretch marks, changes in blood sugar, bloody gums, development of boils or allergies, and much much more. Basically try googling any symptom or condition with the word pregnancy, and you'll find the same response, "occurs in some number of pregnancies; could be normal or serious, check with your doctor.".  That in and of itself should tell you that a person shouldn't have to go through it if they don't want to.  But think about all the sacrifices a pregnant woman makes for her beloved child.  No imagine that the woman does not want to be pregnant; how might that affect her decision to have a cup of coffee (which affect neurological development) when she suddenly needs twice as much sleep to function at the same level in the first trimester.  Or her decision to forego anti-depressants, allergy medicine, or pain killers (all of which are tied to birth defects).
This is to say nothing of the loss of autonomy you feel as a tiny force inside of you steals your vitamins and nutrients (necessitating those expensive prenatal vitamins), demands your energy and alters everything in your body from your hair and skin to the location of your organs and arrangement of your joints.  To me, it is an argument first about autonomy, second about how and why we value children and life, and third an appeal to what our actual priorities are.

The first argument is difficult, because there's no great comparision to be made; pregnancy is not really like any other aspect of life.  The best I've heard so far is of a life-saving donation, like a kidney or liver transplant.  Do we obligate everyone who is a donor to donate their blood or a lobe of their liver?  Sure, there are risks, but a life can be saved, right?  In these cases, with two adults, the donor's autonomy wins out over the recipient's life.  Why is this not true in cases of small, non-viable fetuses?
The second argument and the third are intertwined; they have to do with how we treat  these babies before and after they are born, and how we indicate the value of babies through public policy.  If we value these lives before they are born, then why to we appear to cease caring as soon as the baby leaves it's mother?  Why do we have a failing foster care system, children aging out of mediocre and damaging state care without ever knowing the love of a family, and children languishing in care that fails to meet their basic needs, is abusive, or both.  If these lives are all truly special and valuable, then why aren't babies born to mothers not ready to raise them not treated as valued by our society?
Finally, in terms of our national priorities, we cannot rationally continue to claim that children are precious, that life is precious, if all of our policies are to the contrary.  If nascent life is precious, why isn't adult life also precious?  Why to we imprison adults with drug addiction, or leave people of all ages with mental health issues to their own devices?  Why do we kill other people, and accept that police killing innocent people is acceptable, if all life is truly precious? 
And why don't these precious lives then have access to health care and education?  If we want mothers and people to believe that every child is wanted, why do we not provide free or even subsidized maternal health care?  Why do we not provide excellent health services to those who conceive?  Why do we not make sure that every child, or even most children, have access to quality child care, quality education, quality health care and mental health services until adulthood?  If these children are wanted, why do we not support their parents when the wanted child comes, through paid family leave?  And why do we not provide people of childbearing age with quality sex education and pregnancy prevention, so that they can make the best possible choices for themselves?

I have never heard a satisfying answer to these questions.  Instead, the most recent health care bill proposed by the president and congress sought to make maternity care optional, allowing insurance agencies to choose whether or not to provide healthcare to pregnant women.  More than any law attempting to force women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, the lack of healthcare options for pregnant women indicates what our true priorities are.  Pregnancy is physically and psychologically brutal, to say nothing of motherhood, parenthood, and the 18+ year commitment entailed therein.  If you want to spout nonsense about each life is precious, act like it is true for more than the first handful of months prior to birth.  And act like life is actually valuable and worthy of care.  And then we can have a serious debate about the autonomy of women with uteruses versus the autonomy of fetuses.  And then that debate will no longer be about, on some level, condemning women who get pregnant to live forever with the result of one instance of sexual intercourse.