Let’s Talk About Postoperative Depression

[TW: Depression, Pain]

The final weeks leading up to my surgery date in May and June were filled with anxiety. Crippling anxiety that made me want to shut down and retreat from the world at the exact time when I needed to go out and kick some ass in order to get my passport and last remaining funds in the short amount of time I had. Obviously, you already know I managed to scrape everything together at the last minute thanks to donations, support, and especially help and hand-holding from Dirty Nerdy. While I waited to board my plane to Thailand with my money secured, my passport in hand, my medical papers squared away, and all the other extremely exhausting hurdles cleared, I sat in my terminal watching planes land and take off and cried. Uncontrollably. Probably for at least half an hour.

I had just finished about an hour long conversation with my paternal grandma, who I haven’t had the best contact with. And it’s probably the most “normal” conversation I’ve had with her for at least a decade. I wished her a happy birthday, I told her I would keep her and everyone else updated during my trip so they would know I was safe, I talked about the Chinese dancers that were putting on a show at the airport, and plenty of other mundane pleasantries. Neither of us said anything about it, but I’m fairly certain we both thought about my dad, whose funeral I attended only a few weeks ago.

I thought about how amazing it was to crowdsource my vagina, and all the awesome people who donated to make this trip happen. Many of whom I had never known or met. I thought about my fiance, my sister, and Dirty Nerdy, without whom I would have just shut down. I thought a lot about relationships. I thought a lot about how, in less than a few days, my body would finally be whole for the first time in my life. I thought about how this goal has been something I’ve wanted for as long as I’ve known it’s possible, and how bewildering it was to finally accomplish. I wondered about what my life’s next chapter would be like now that this one was finally coming to a close. I thought of all this and more while listening to “Let it Go” on my headphones, and I wept.

As for my month in Thailand, well you can find all about that on These Three Episodes of Shethinkers. But one detail that bears mentioning is how homesick I felt. At least, I assumed that’s what it was. The first week in my hotel after surgery was the hardest. I was in pain, got dizzy from the short trip between my bed and the bathroom, could only eat crackers and Sprite without having severe stomach problems, and I was alone. I clung to my Harry Potter fandom to keep me going, as I have in other difficult times of my life. The audiobooks reminded me of so many memories with my mom and sister, and searching for fan theories and other little details to consider reminded me of Dirty Nerdy. I called my fiance and Dirty Nerdy almost every day until I ran out of minutes. I slept all day and stayed up all night so I could stay on social media with all my friends.

My few moments of human interaction were the once-a-day ten-minute visits from the nurses, and my physically exhausting trips around the corner for food. I’m still extremely thankful for my favorite nurse, Noi, who held my hand, gave me messages, and rubbed my back and legs. I think she understood that skin-to-skin contact was something patients needed, especially in a strange place and a strange situation. Between Noi and my fellow vagina sister/neighbor, who I met my last week in Thailand, I was able to weather the storm of loneliness. As I packed my bags and prepared for the long, long (and painful) trip home, I thought my mood would finally be back to what I was used to.

But even though I was home with my loved ones, in my own country, with my native food, in my own house, with my fur babies and everything else I had missed I still felt…off. I still cried a lot, but couldn’t figure out why. Nothing really held my interest. Even during my happier moments, like snuggling with my puppy, or cooking tacos for the first time in like six weeks, or seeing everyone I had missed, my emotions felt muted. Subdued. I just chalked this up to being off hormones for so long (close to two months by this point) and just the general “well your life has changed a lot at a quick pace, give it time” that people mentioned when I would express concerns.

Now, without getting into details, my personal life as well as many of my friends’ personal lives, has kind of been thrown up in the air. Finances have been extremely tight because we still have to pay off the loans for this surgery. I fluctuate between dull, chronic pain that’s easy to ignore if I’m distracted, and very high levels of pain that make me want to scream (though thankfully these are becoming less common). And to top it all off, I still have a hard time accomplishing even fairly simple tasks like going to the grocery store, riding in a car for a couple hours, or going for a hair cut without becoming exhausted, irritable, and in pain. Even writing this, which we can all agree doesn’t require much physically, is probably going to exhaust me mentally for the rest of the day. I know I’m not a fun person to be around right now, but I don’t really have anything to do about it other than just shut down and keep my interactions to a minimum. I’ve been seeing my therapist again for the first time in years, and she informed me of postoperative depression. And I don’t mean “post-SRS depression because I regret having SRS” (I don’t), I mean all surgeries/operations have a risk of depression.

Some theorize it’s the anesthesia causing a chemical reaction in the brain. Some theorize it’s the sudden limited ability during recovery. Some theorize it’s the confrontation with death and mortality. The point is, whenever I saw the statistics for “post-SRS regret” that TERFs and other haters like to throw around, I just shrugged them off as being bad statisticians and faulty premises. But now I see that they’re just dishonest representations of depression all people have a chance of experiencing after any surgery. And that pisses me the fuck off. Which is great, because anger is one of the most clear emotions I can feel right now while I’m trying to sort my life out and get a handle on my mental and physical health again.

I mention all of this not so I can gain sympathy, but because I’m sure fans of Shethinkers and people in my life have noticed that there’s something “off” about me lately. And I want you to know that I’m getting professional help as well as loving care for this, but it might take me longer than I hoped to get back to the “real me” again. But again, I and others in my life are doing everything to make that happen. I also mention it because I want others to be aware that this is a “risk” of surgery that I was never made aware of. Probably because it’s always seen as a unique-to-SRS issue rather than a “hey, all people who have surgery have this risk” issue. I think this needs to be part of the conversation about transitioning. It should be part of post-operative care. It’s something to prepare for if and when you ever go under the knife for whatever reason. Take care of yourself, and allow the people in your life to take care of you too.

I’m going to do my best to follow my own advice.

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How to Organize!

So you want to join in this awesome movement, but don’t know what to do? Cool! All organizers start somewhere. You don’t have to be big, or loud, or extra powerful to be part of what we’re doing. Every little bit matters. So if you are so mad you’re ready to “can even” just pick an action and get on it!

 

Going out in a group:

 

1.) Find everyone you know who would be interested in the cause. A good way to do this is social media, but you can also network with your local Planned Parenthood, local chapters of the Democratic Party, other local activist groups to get people on-board. Organizing is pretty much just networking. Talk to people, let them know what you’re up to, and there will always be people willing to support the cause.

 

2.) Pick a good date, and before that date, scope out the nearest adjacent public sidewalk to your location. Different municipalities will have different protest permit laws, but generally, as long as your sidewalk is facing a street, and so long as you aren’t blocking or impeding foot traffic, you will be well within your constitutional rights. More information on what does/doesn’t fly as far as ordinances go can be found at the ACLU website. Check with your local city hall for additional information.

ACLU website: https://www.aclu.org/free-speech/know-your-rights-demonstrations-and-protests

 

3.) Get out there and be strong. You may see counter-protesters. You may see rain. You may get tired. That’s okay. Just know that you’ve done your part by taking a stand against an injustice for a couple of hours.

 

Things you may not want to forget:

Sunscreen

Water

Literature

Comfy Shoes

Signs

Trashbags/Ponchos (if over 30% chance of rain)

Snacks

Any necessary permits

Chants/Songs

 

Individual Activities:

 

But what if I am really, really, really the only one?  Well, that’s cool too. There are ways you can express your displeasure all on your own–even if they may not seem as powerful as they might in a group. Here are some ideas to get you started.

1.) Mail it in:

Write your local/state/federal government representatives and let them know what you stand for. They can’t necessarily overturn this ruling, but they can create and maintain local policies that support your reproductive rights. Bitch magazine has some awesome ideas on how to make a vintage postcard to let your representatives and senators know you won’t let them take you back to 1959.

http://bitchmagazine.org/post/eight-new-lobbying-hobbies-that-fight-against-hobby-lobby

 

2.) Shop and Drop:

If you really can’t find anyone in your vicinity who wants to stage a protest, or are blocked from doing so, you can always enter your local Hobby Lobby and pick out several things you would buy if the Green family weren’t out to take your rights. Walk it up to a register. Flash enough cash to show you’d buy the stuff, and say “This is what I would have bought today if you weren’t after my/my uterus having friend’s reproductive rights.” Then walk off.

 

3.) Shop everywhere else:

Buy an awesome craft haul! Take a picture of it and your receipt, and tweet that at Hobby Lobby.

 

And it doesn’t end there. There are so many things you can do. Just scope out the resource links below to get more ideas on how to make your protest an effective one.

 

Resources:

 

How to Protest

 

http://www.wikihow.com/Protest

 

40 Best Protest Signs

 

http://www.buzzfeed.com/angelameiquan/the-40-best-protest-signs-of-2012-70fn

 

How to Organize a Protest – Occupy Together

 

http://www.occupytogether.org/blog/2012/06/15/how-to-organize-a-protest/

 

How to Publicize an Event

 

http://www.ehow.com/how_135427_publicize-event.html

 

How to make a Press Kit

 

http://advertising.about.com/od/publicrelationsresources/a/presskitstools.htm

Reproductive Justice Fight!

 

Are you so mad at the recent SCOTUS rulings that you literally can’t even?
Are you filled with rage and don’t know what to do with it?
Well start to Can Even!
Join us, as we Lobby Hobby against Hobby Lobby!

JULY!

protestallthethings

Through out the month of July, we are organizing local protests across the United States outside Hobby Lobby Stores.
We will pass out pamphlets explaining why we’re there. These pamphlets will also have a listing of other crafting stores
in the area, as well as information about activities in August.

AUGUST!

buyallthethings

In August we are planning “shop-ins”. We will go to Joanne’s, Michael’s and other crafting stores and buy crafting supplies
for the September activities. We will have new pamphlets made for August to hand out to customers and employees explaining
our August activities and upcoming September activities, and also inviting them to join us in D.C. in October!

SEPTEMBER!

craftallthethings

September is the month we get our craft on!
Glue, knit and decoupage your rage into a package/letter to send to your congressperson and Supreme Court justices!
Let them know we’ll be in D.C. in October, we’re pissed and WE VOTE!

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 11th

fightinguterus
This is the day all of our work comes to a head. We will rally together in D.C. outside the Supreme Court and our voices
will be heard! Speakers and events for the day are in the works right now. Drive, ride, walk, or bike to D.C. and have the
chance to have your voice heard!

If you want to be involved or volunteer, join the facebook event at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1447137122206524/?ref_notif_type=event_mall_comment&source=1

Plan local protests for July and post them to the page. Then plan local shop-ins and post those as well. Get together with
friends for crafting in September. Share ideas and stories and give support. Invite friends to the event!

We need your voice! We want your voice!

Spread the word, use: #JoinTheDissent #ChallengeScotus #BeTheBuffer #LobbyHobby

5 Lessons Learned From Mom

In honor of Mother’s Day, I want to talk about how awesome my mom is. No, seriously, my mom is one of the coolest people I’ve ever had in my life and I’m lucky enough to have known her for 28 years (if we’re counting gestation). Of course she’s not perfect and, like all of us, she has her flaws. But she’s a huge part of what makes me the hardworking feminist you’ve (hopefully) grown to love, so it’s only fair to give her credit where it’s due. So to prove to you Shethinkers that my mom is the bomb, I thought I would share some of the things she’s taught me. Because everyone deserves someone as cool as my mama!


 

“Everyone is doing the best they can with the tools they have.”

In short, people are good but the things they do can be bad.

ToolBox

Not everyone’s tool box at birth comes with the same tools, and if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail. I believe the vast majority of people have the best of intentions, but limited knowledge, resources, and opportunities can lead us into poor decisions. I believe most “evil” people are doing what they believe to be the right thing, and pretending otherwise only makes us blind to our own rationales for bad choices. False moral superiority just isn’t my style.

“Oh, that makes sense.”

2nd best response to a loved one coming out as trans.

Absolute best goes to Grandma, my mom’s mom, “I don’t give a shit if you’re purple, why haven’t you called?”

PflagMom

My mother grew up in a Brooklyn apartment below a cross-dressing sex-worker named Bernie. So I grew up believing New York was a magical place where queer folks could be free and nobody would bat an eye at them, and my visit to NYC did not disappoint me. But even though NYC is still my dream city, my mom helped me realize a life lived freely isn’t exclusive to a 10xxx zip code. All the work I do for the LGBT community is so that some day, every kid will get the same kind of acceptance as I got from my family.

“Write like Hemingway. Say more with less.”

If you ask me to critique your writing, I will destroy “that”s, “very”s, and over-used phrases with a vengeance.

HemingwayMeme

Hemingway is my mom’s favorite writer, not mine, but  you’ve got to admire the man for not wasting your time. The longer my writing is, the more ruthless I am toward my own bullshit. As a college student, I’ve adopted this same philosophy to all of my school work. I work smart, not hard, and I try to be as efficient with my very limited time as possible. If someone in my group is trying to make things more complicated than they need to be, I will call them out and put a stop to that nonsense. Because the art of editing taught me another important lesson: You’re first idea will probably suck.

“There are two kinds of people in this world: People who masturbate and people who lie.”

If I ever write a book about sex, this is going to be the title.

If I ever write a book about sex, this is going to be the title.

My mom was a sex-positive feminist long before it was cool. She gave me my first box of condoms, my first vibrator, and did not try to police my relationships as a teenager except for the occasional reminder to be safe and smart about my decisions. And hey, what do you know, I didn’t become sexually active until later in life, just like all the research on comprehensive sex-education shows! In my interactions with the LGBT youth I mentor, I take my mom’s same approach to answering any and all sexual questions: If they’re already asking, that means they’re already interested, might as well make sure they’re informed.

“I will unleash my Yankee Bitch if I have to.”

Trust me, you do not want to see the Yankee Bitch.

BitchesGetStuffDone

This is a skill passed down from woman to woman in our family, only to be used in emergencies when some douche  just won’t fucking listen to you, usually because you’re a woman. I don’t think I’ve needed to unleash the Yankee Bitch in quite some time, but I always have it in my back pocket, ready to go at a moment’s notice. In our family, “bitch” was simply a woman who got shit done and didn’t particularly care how what you thought about her, so long as you got in line. And sometimes, only a bitch can get shit done.


 

There’s so much more awesome shit my mom taught me than this, but come on, I can’t give away all the family secrets. What would I write about next Mother’s Day? And while we’re on the subject, I’d also like to give my soon-to-be mother-in-law a shout out too. I’ve only known her for four years and our relationship started out rocky, but she raised the man I love and we surprisingly have a lot more in common than either of us might have realized. Also, my former step-mom and I helped each other survive some weird shit, and that kind of experience can’t be forgotten. Bonus thanks to my grandmothers, aunts, and other awesome women who helped raise me.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mamas, mamas-to-be, mamas of fur babies, and women who guide and teach the next generation. What moms do changes lives, and so long as they’re trying their best, I believe it can change lives for the better.


 

Don’t forget to tune in for the Secular Shethinkers “Single Moms” episode, broadcasting May 11th at 9pm Central!

The Next Chapter

     There is a psychological concept called Narrative Identity that deeply appeals to me as a writer. The basic idea being we shape our identity through the way we organize our life story. In other words, how we characterize our past, present, and future is just as important as the actual events themselves. This is not really a new concept, just a new way of conceptualizing how cognition affects us. It fits rather nicely with other forms of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but as I already mentioned I find it attractive because I tend to think of my life in terms of chapters.
     I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I should write an autobiography. And while I consider myself a “never say never” kind of gal, the trans woman tell-all autobiography just feels a bit played out for me. But like all good stories, my life has been filled with complicated heroes and villains, tragedy and comedy, magic and treachery, surprise plot twists, and moments of courage from myself and others. There’s the “Christianity as a Closet” chapter, the “Bullied and Raped” chapter, the “Denial is a Helluva Thing” chapter, the “Comic Books and Kindness” chapter, the “Coming Out and College” chapter, and so on. I am lucky enough that every new chapter of my life has been better than the one before it, but that doesn’t stop the closing of each chapter from bringing some melancholy. The excitement winds down to its inevitable conclusion, leaving our hero anxious for her next adventure. And this particular moment of my life is the closing of yet another chapter.
     I’ve had some radical changes in the last year and there are still more yet to come. Office politics have pushed me out of the youth center I dedicated my last four years to, but I have a very promising position lined up with another organization that could potentially give me the ability to help even more LGBT youth than I previously was. I’ll be graduating with my Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology in just a few more months, only to continue forward with graduate school and internships. My romantic relationship is evolving as Chris and I prepare ourselves for the next step of marriage and (hopefully) family which is soon to come. My physical transition is coming to it’s final destination in just three short months, which is both exhilarating and terrifying all at once. In just about every aspect of my life, I am “between” what once was and what is soon to come.
     While there are times where I am extremely frustrated or anxious about this current state of affairs, it helps for me to look back on past transitional periods in my life. Change is inevitable and, truthfully,what keeps life fulfilling and interesting. This latest chapter has been filled with characters and lessons that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I’m grateful that some will continue with me on my journey. So I cope with waiting for the next chapter to begin in the same way that I cope with waiting for the second season of Orange is the New Black to come out, or how I waited for the next Harry Potter book to be published. I look back on the things that I loved about the past installments and eagerly speculate about what might happen next.
     Here’s looking forward to the next chapter of life. Whether your’s is a best seller, trashy paperback, or steeped in academia, I hope you’re next chapter is better than the one before it.

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Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

ComeOut1Today is the 25th annual National Coming Out Day, a day for every queer person to come out to somebody they care about (assuming they can safely do so).  As I’ve been out of my closet for at least half a decade now, the list of people I care about who don’t know I’m queer as a three dollar bill is fairly short, if not non-existent.  I guide and mentor queer youth for a living, and I’m training to be a counselor specifically for the queer community.  I’m out and loud and proud, baby!

I’m sure that plenty of you are the same in your lives.  Not just out of the closet but you burned the closet on your way out to make sure no one could force you back in.  So what do people like us do on National Coming Out Day?  Assuming we’re already out to the people we care about, I think the next step is to come out to the people who represent us.  I’m talking about our elected officials.  They need to be reminded that they represent all of their constituents, and many of those constituents are queer.  So I’ve included my letter to my elected officials below.  Feel free to copy, paste, and modify it as you see fit.  Below the letter you’ll find the means to finding out who represents you in congress so you can tell them you’re out, proud, and voting.

Dear [Elected Official],

My name is Dorian Mooneyham and I am a resident of [your district, city, state, etc.].  I am writing to your office today to wish you a Happy National Coming Out Day.  As you may know, this is a national holiday in which members of the LGBT community “come out” to people who are important in their lives.  As an elected official who represents me in political matters, you are one of those people important to my way of living.  So I would like to come out  to you now.

I’m Dorian Mooneyham, and I am a bisexual and transgender woman.

What does this mean to you, my elected official?

It means I expect my representative to be supportive of equality, something I expect for all demographics, not just LGBT.  I consider equality one of the lowest possible standards for humanity.  It’s a founding principle of our country, best summed up by the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  Originally “all men” only applied to white, male, land-owners but we have thankfully expanded that to included men and women of all classes, all races, all creeds, and all religious affiliations.  No doubt each of the times we expanded that definition, there were those who cried that we were granting “special rights”, but the American people have always seen through that smoke screen eventually and wound up on the right side of history.  I’m asking you today to remember that many of your constituents do not have the same rights as others.

I myself am getting married to my fiancé in two years.  But because of my transgender status and the ambiguous nature of marriage equality in our country today, he and I are not even sure if it will be legally binding, despite the fact that we are a opposite sex couple.  Until sex discrimination is eliminated from marriage, we will be forced to take expensive, redundant, legal steps to make sure that we are each other’s medical proxy.  That we are the recipients of insurance and other financial matters if one of us should die.  That both of us will be considered legal guardians when we adopt children.

I also work with LGBT teenagers for a living as part of a large non-profit organization.  And I’m concerned about whether the bullying many of them face on a daily basis will be taken seriously in the legal sphere.  Whether transgender students will be able to use the bathroom that is safest for them.  Whether they will be able to secure a job or housing or education as they get older.  Whether they’ll be protected from harmful and ineffective “conversion therapy” that their parents might attempt to force them into.  Whether they will grow up in a country that accepts them as the productive, proud, outspoken, and passionate citizens they are destined to be, or if they will continue to live in this country as second class citizens.

LGBT citizens are productive and active members of American society.  We deserve the same respect and rights as all straight and cisgender citizens.  We are not asking to be treated any differently than anyone else, we only ask to be treated fairly.  Regardless of what your personal views of LGBT identities may be, the overriding theme of American history has been equality for all.  I only ask you to continue with that theme.

Sincerely,

Dorian Mooneyham

Click here to find out who your elected officials are.  Personally mine are Ted Cruz (Boo) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (Yay!).  Whoever you come out to today, I hope you have a wonderful and productive Coming Out Day.  Just in case you need some inspiration, I’ll let Harvey Milk take over from here:

 

Rape Culture Vs. Consent Culture

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on Facebook and other social media sites that purport to teach women how to protect themselves from sexual assault. I tend to re-post them and then explain why the “advice” is either not needed or doesn’t work or both.

For instance this rape prevention check list from the Mississippi State Department of Health. I could write another whole article just on this list alone (in fact I might).

Seeing these frequent lists that span the range from “completely useless” to “I already do/know this” to “how the hell am I supposed to lead a normal life if I have to do all these things to not get raped?!” inspired me to create my own “check list” for rape prevention aimed at the perpetrators instead of would-be victims.

Alas! Somebody already did that.

So instead, I’d like to talk about the culture surrounding rape–the culture that allows serial rapists to operate seemingly undetected and the culture that blames victims for their assault. Many feminists have dubbed this “Rape Culture.” I know, I know, nobody wants to hear or talk about the ways in which our culture might encourage and legitimize rapists. This article is not about whether or not you believe we live in a “Rape Culture.” You can read more about that here if you’re so inclined. For the purposes of this article, I will be referring to the present culture surrounding and informing our attitudes toward consent, sex, rape and rape prevention as “rape culture.”

So, if the rape prevention check lists that are commonly spread around are inadequate for actually preventing rape or addressing the causes of it, then how are we supposed to prevent rape? How are we supposed to address it without assuming that rapists will simply stop raping or putting all the onus of prevention on potential victims?

I propose that we change the culture. Let’s move from a “Rape Culture” to a “Consent Culture.”

In a Consent Culture sexual predators will stand out because they will be the ones violating small every day boundaries:

I had a group of friends in high school who all hugged each other. I was usually ok with this, but there was one guy who joined our group that sort of creeped me out. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why, but I still felt uncomfortable with the idea of hugging him. One night I was doling out the usual “good bye hugs” to my friend group, and I skipped him. I didn’t make a big deal of it. This wasn’t some sort of overt ceremony. Nobody noticed this hug-lapse. He called me later to berate me for not hugging him, and I explained that the fact that he’s yelling at me now for not wanting to hug him makes me even more uncomfortable around him. He asked if I would grant him a hug next time, and I gave him an unequivocal no. The next time we all hung out, he was leaving first. He made an obvious move to hug me in front of our group of friends. I had to make an obvious move to avoid it. He went off on me about how I was embarrassing him in front of our shared group of friends.

Rape Culture, How my friends reacted:

They all ganged up on me. They got angry with me for asserting my autonomy. They said I was mean for not wanting to hug him. They didn’t listen when I explained that he had already talked to me privately, that he already knew I was uncomfortable hugging him and he tried to do it anyway. They didn’t care. I was still the one who was wrong. I was forced to apologize to him. And he continued trying to hug me.

Consent Culture, How my friends reacted:

They all ganged up on him. They got angry with him for not respecting my autonomy. They said he was acting entitled and mean for yelling at me simply because I refused a hug. They listened to me when I explained that he had already talked to me privately, and they understood that he knew I was uncomfortable hugging him. They cared. He was forced to apologize to me. Even though I don’t think he learned his lesson, he did not continue trying to hug me.

I don’t know if this teenager ever went on to sexually assault somebody, but I can say I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. He demonstrated to me that he could not, or would not, respect explicit boundaries. He demonstrated that he would try to punish me for asserting or attempting to maintain boundaries. That’s enough for me to not trust him in the future. How peers react is key though. In the Rape Culture scenario, the friends put all the blame on the one attempting to assert and maintain boundaries. They made it clear to the victim and to the perpetrator that certain physical touching is owed in some cases. They made it clear that they would tolerate at least some violation of boundaries. In the Consent Culture scenario, they made it clear that they would back the victim. They essentially told the perpetrator that boundary violations would not be tolerated. So, even if the perpetrator did not change his mind about it, he is still forced to respect boundaries in order to be socially accepted. I’m not saying that everybody who violates small boundaries is a rapist or sexual predator. I am saying that if we stop tolerating the violation of small boundaries, then it sends a clear message that consent is not a grey or muddied area, and that violating larger boundaries will also not be tolerated. Sexual predators test the waters. This is how they operate. They start by violating small boundaries and testing reactions. Depending on the reaction (either from the victim or from peers), they will continue upping their violations. As of right now, ~95% of people are not rapists, however, the vast majority of people violate small boundaries without thinking about it. This gives predators a place to hide. In a consent culture, the vast majority of people would not violate small boundaries, thus exposing the predators early on.

In a Consent Culture, a woman’s “no” would be enough. She would not have to back up that “no” by showing she’s already possessed by a man, and she wouldn’t have to apologize or give excuses for saying “no.” 

A few years back I was the proud owner of a gym membership. I usually liked to go when I got off work, sometime between 9 and 10 pm. Sometimes I went with the (now ex) boyfriend, and sometimes I went alone. There aren’t very many people at the gym at that time of the night, so I got to know the faces of the regulars, but I hardly ever talked to anybody. One night I happened to be working out by myself. As I walked in and surveyed the gym before beginning I saw a man there who I vaguely recognized. Our eyes met for a split second. He smiled. I nodded. I had seen him before, but we had never spoken, and I wasn’t about to change the dynamics of our relationship that night. Apparently, he had other plans though. An hour and a half later I was wiping down the elliptical and the man was on his way out. He waved and said “Bye” as he passed me. I was a little bewildered by this, but I was polite and waved back. He left about a 30 seconds to a minute before I did, so I was very surprised to find him standing on the middle landing of the steps on my way down to the locker rooms. He had been waiting for me.

“Hey sweetie, you been working hard?”
“Yep,” and I tried to walk past him. He followed me.
“I see you here sometimes. Maybe we can be work out buddies?”
“No thanks, I prefer to be alone.”
“Ah, come on. We should work out together. We could even get a bite to eat after we change and figure out our schedules.”
“I don’t really want to do that. I just want to go home after this.”
“What? Are you married?”
“No. I have a boyfriend though.”
“So, you’re not married. So it’s ok. We can get something to eat, and we can work out together.”
“No, it’s not ok. I don’t want to do that.”
“Ok, ok” (he said this in a patronizing “no need to freak out on me” kind of way) “Hey are you going for a swim tonight?”
This part was especially creepy. I normally did swim and get in the hot tube for a few minutes after my work out. It was my “cool down.” As soon as he asked me though I made up my mind not to go to the pool that night.
“No. I’m too tired tonight. I’m just gonna change and then go home.” I avoided using the word “shower.” I didn’t want him to get any idea that I wanted him to picture me naked.
“Ok, see ya later then.”

When I got to the locker room, I changed my mind about the pool. The pool was my reward for working hard. It’s what kept me going when my muscles screamed for me to stop. I didn’t want some creepy dude restricting my access to my favorite part of the pool. Before I changed though, I looked out at the pool to see if he was there. He wasn’t, and there were more people out than usual. I did my normal leisurely laps and then got in the hot tub. I happened to sit between a man and a woman, but still far enough away from both that we all knew nobody wanted to touch or talk to each other. Then the creepy guy showed up. The hostility flowing from him was palpable, but he tried to keep his tone light.

“I thought you said you weren’t swimming tonight.”
“I changed my mind.” As I said this, I inched myself closer to the guy on my left. This got his attention so he was able to hear what creepy guy was saying.
“But you said you weren’t swimming. I waited for you out in the lobby, and you didn’t come out. So then I checked over here and saw you. By the time I changed into my suit, you were already in the hot tub.”
“I didn’t ask you to wait in the lobby. I told you I wanted to go home.” It was clear he was upset that I had “lied” to him. I actually hadn’t lied to him. When I told him I wasn’t going to swim, I had every intention of not swimming that night. I just changed my mind.

Rape Culture, how peers/staff reacted:

The man in the hot tube clearly heard the conversation, but did not involved himself. He ignored my subtle movement toward him as a silent cry for help. In fact, he left the hot tub before the creepy guy walked away. Others in the hot tub also ignored the situation. Nobody suggested I get help from the staff, and nobody offered to be a witness should I choose to report the guy’s behavior to any staff. I got out of the hot tub, and left the pool area still dripping wet. I was obviously upset and on the verge of tears. I was afraid to go to the locker room alone or walk out to my car alone. Before I had a chance to explain to the staff at the front desk what happened, they berated me for leaving the pool area and quoted rules at me about how one is supposed to leave the pool. They did not listen attentively as I explained the situation to them. They looked at me condescendingly the whole time. When I finished, they just smirked and said that guys are like that sometimes. I told them I was fearful of going to the locker room alone, but they did not offer to send any female staff into the locker room with me (there were female staff present). Instead they only offered to have a male staff member stand outside the locker room door while I got dressed, and they said they would watch me walk to my car from the front desk. I decided never to go to the gym alone again at that time of night, even though it was my favorite time to go and I had to restructure my homework/study schedule in order to go at different times when my (ex) boyfriend couldn’t go. This resulted in my not being able to work out for as long as I wanted to and so I just stopped going as much.

Consent Culture, how peers/staff reacted:

The man in the hot tub clearly heard the conversation, and noticed my subtle movement toward him. He turned around and stared the guy down after he heard me say “I wanted to go home.” He then pretended to be a friend of mine, introducing himself to the man and making it clear that we are at the gym together “often.” This man and the woman next to me both talked to me after the creepy guy left. They offered to come with me to talk to the staff. One of them even knew his name. Having their support calmed me down enough that I was calm enough to dry myself off before leaving the pool area. We walked to the desk together. The staff listened to my story intently. They looked concerned for me. At the end they apologized for my experience. They said this wasn’t the first complaint they had received about this particular man and promised to speak to the manager about to proceed next, since the man had clearly violated the gym’s established harassment policies. I don’t know if they banned him, but I never saw him again. One of the female staff, and the woman from the hot tub offered to go to the locker room with me. When I finished changing, the man at the front desk and the woman from the hot tub walked me out to my car. I felt safe knowing the staff and fellow gym members had my back.

There is a stark contrast in the effects between these two scenarios. In one, the harasser is allowed to continue his behavior because of the silence of his peers, and the staff create a situation where harassment is not addressed and women feel unsafe to go to the gym at certain times. In Rape Culture, the behavior of the harasser was minimized and ignored, and my reaction was belittled and sneered at. When the concerns of victims are ignored, they do not feel safe. In Rape Culture, the gym did not have, or did not follow, any kind of harassment policy. They had no way of knowing how many women had been harassed by this man. Not only that, but women who are not supported by their peers, or do not think they will receive support, are less likely to report harassment and assault.

In Consent Culture, the harasser was shamed for his behavior and possibly punished (membership revoked/probation). I was supported and consoled. When I got out of the hot tub with my supporters, I was calm enough to remember the rules of entering and leaving the pool, so I dried myself off. The staff acknowledged the problem and were able to inform me that 1) they have a harassment policy and 2) they use their harassment policy (since they knew he had been reported before). They also did everything they could to make me feel safer at their establishment. Also, if we lived in a true Consent Culture, I would not need to qualify my “no’s” with apologies, excuses or appeals to a boyfriend. I’m not saying this would have stopped him from confronting me in the stair well. However, if we lived in a Consent Culture, he probably would have expected to be shamed and punished for his behavior if he followed me, by waiting in the lobby or going to the pool (there were people in the lobby as well, so if I hadn’t gone swimming, there still would have been witnesses for the second confrontation). If we lived in a Consent Culture, I probably would have felt justified enough to go to the staff before he confronted me a second time, and I would have been taken seriously. I wouldn’t need to show that he egregiously violated my boundaries in order to be taken seriously; I would have only needed to show that he violated my boundaries once (because in a Consent Culture, normal people just don’t do that). This goes back to the first point: in Consent Culture, small boundaries matter.

Now I’ve said something on small boundaries and harassment, I want to move on to assaults.

In Consent Culture, sexual assault by young boys or teenagers would not be minimized.

My breasts did not go into full development mode until I was a freshman in high school. Throughout seventh and eighth grade I was sexually assaulted by fellow students. Male students found it hilarious to come up to me in the hallway and grasp my chest to check and see if I had grown more. Sometimes they would grope my shoulder blades and then loudly exclaim “Oops wrong side!” before proceeding to my chest. This happened to me for almost two years before I got fed up with it and went to a teacher near the end of eighth grade.

Rape Culture, administration’s reaction:

The teacher told me not to worry about the unwanted touching. She said that boys will do that and eventually they will grow out of it and realize it’s wrong. When she saw I was still upset, she suggested I go to the school counselor and said it was fine if I missed her class (the bell was about to ring). So I went to the office with a note to see the counselor. While I was waiting to see the counselor, the vice principal walked past me. I was the only female student in the office. Even though he appeared to have been busy and heading to his office, he immediately wheeled around and performed an impromptu “dress code check”. All the students were made to stand up while he scrupulously checked all of our clothes. When he got to me, he ordered me to raise up my arms and turn around several times. I did as I was told. Then he said I wasn’t raising my arms high enough; he made me raise them higher than I would ever be expected to raise them outside of gym class (in which I wear different clothes anyway).

I was clearly upset and felt uncomfortable and exposed, he took this to mean that I was nervous I was about to get caught, not that I didn’t want to expose myself like this in front of a bunch of boys (some of whom were friends with the ones who were assaulting me). When I did as he asked, he made me turn around several more times. He spotted less than a half-inch of skin and announced that my shirt was out of dress code. I had to wear a ridiculously large school shirt the rest of the day. After this humiliating show for the boys in the office (they were all snickering at me), I was allowed in to see the counselor. By this time I was even more upset. I couldn’t talk without crying. The counselor listened to what I had to say. She defended the vice principal’s actions as “just enforcing the rules” and repeated the line that my teacher said about the boys. I asked her if it was against the rules for them to be grabbing me in the hallway, and she said it probably was but I shouldn’t make a big deal about it. I was angry. They had just made a big deal about a half-inch of skin showing while my arms were stretched inhumanly higher than they ever are while doing school-related activities, so by god they were going to make a big deal about my being groped.

I demanded to speak with the vice principal. When I told him what was happening, he said the same thing: boys will be boys and I shouldn’t expect them to not grope me. But, he said, groping is against the rules, so if I have a witness next time, then he will try to do something. Nobody called my parents to inform them that I was assaulted. I did not report it to my parents either. I was already ashamed and embarrassed. I had already lived through the ordeal now three times having to re-tell it to three different authority figures. None of them took me seriously, so why good would it do to tell my parents?

Word got out that I had told a teacher (a TA was in the classroom when I tried to *quietly* speak with her and apparently she told one of her kids, who goes to the same school, about what happened). Soon even more boys were groping at me, but they made sure not to do it when teachers were around. None of the other girls would help. They didn’t want the boys to start targeting them. The teachers never said a word about it in class. There were no school assemblies held to address sexual assault. The school effectively ignored the problem and left it to me to deal with it. One day I got fed up, the first boy that touched me was slapped hard across the face. The boys stopped after that. None of the boys ever got in trouble. I did, however, receive demerits for the dress code violation.

Consent Culture, administration’s reaction:

After I told my teacher, she was very concerned. She could tell I was really upset, so she told her TA to take over for a few minutes so she could escort me to the counselor’s office. I didn’t have to wait in the office lobby to give my note to the secretary. Instead my teacher took me straight to the chairs outside the counselor’s office and we waited together. I heard the vice principal do the impromptu dress code check, but none of the boys were made to spin around or expose themselves.

My teacher stayed long enough to explain to the counselor why I was there, but she had to get back to class. The counselor talked to me about the assaults and harassment. She helped console me. She told me it was not my fault, and that boys should be able to learn how to respect boundaries. She said she would speak with the principal and vice principal about it. She didn’t want me to have to relive the experience by telling it over and over again. They also called my mom and explained to her that I had been assaulted. They said they would investigate and find out who it was, and they said they would be launching a new awareness program about sexual assault and abuse.

Over the course of the next few weeks, teachers gave speeches about respecting boundaries. There were multiple assemblies held. Posters went up in the hallways admonishing students that “No Means No” and unwanted touching is assault and is punishable by law. At one of the assemblies, the assaults were mentioned. Apparently, the boys were doing it to so many girls that nobody knew who had originally come forward. The other girls being assaulted felt empowered to come forward as well. Once about 10 girls had come forward, all with the same complaints about the same group of boys, the boys were one by one sent to in-school-suspension. I did not know that they were doing this to other girls. I had thought I was alone. Now I knew I wasn’t. The assaults did not escalate. In fact, many of the boys came to me and apologized. There were a few, the ones who would probably later grow up to be full-fledged sexual predators, who seemed to want to flaunt the new attention assault was getting and tried to do it even more. But now they were being watched–and not just by teachers. If they wanted to assault somebody, they couldn’t do it in front of their buddies, who no longer thought it was cool or funny. They couldn’t do it in front of any other girls, who were no longer fearful of being targeted. Not only that, but they were deterred from doing it again, even when the girl was alone, because they knew the administration would take his victim seriously if she reported it. The predators had nowhere to hide, and most of the assaults stopped.

We can’t expect kids or teenagers to automatically understand consent or understand what assault and abuse look like. I don’t expect to be able to teach grown adults who already commit rape that rape is bad, or to respect boundaries and always get consent. But I do expect to be able to decrease the amount of young people who turn into grown adults who rape by teaching about consent and boundaries from an early age. There are many ways to do this, even with toddlers, without having to explicitly talk about sex and/or rape. One example is to stop tickling a child when they tell you to stop, or not to force your child to kiss or hug relatives when they don’t want to. Right now a small portion of the population (about 4-6%) commit the vast majority of rapes. This means that most rapists are serial rapists. They do it again and again and again and they don’t get caught. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: serial rapists are able to do this because they are able to hide their incremental boundary violations within the norms of currently acceptable behavior. There were some boys in the Consent Culture reaction who had assaulted girls in the past, but not realized how harmful it was. They thought the girls were “in” on the joke too. Once they saw that this behavior was victimizing the girls and also not tolerated by the authority, they quickly changed their tune, and in some cases even apologized. Some of them might still go on to become adult sexual predators, but they will no longer be able to hide behind their assaults as if they are jokes. In a society where sexual assault is taken seriously, and not minimized, sexual predators can be rooted out faster. They can be punished before their behavior escalates to more violent assaults and/or rapes.

In Consent Culture, women can go to parties, and live life, and know that her friends and peers will be looking out for her best interest, and not the interest of predators.

(In the former examples, I split up the reactions into “Rape Culture” and “Consent Culture” but did not inform exactly which reactions actually happened in my life. My friends’ actions to protect me during this incident deserve to be highlighted and will be recounted as accurately as possible. Their actions are representative of Consent Culture, whereas the tertiary reactions I got from people who heard about the incident later are representative of Rape Culture.)

I turned 18 toward the end of my senior year in high school. Through extra-curricular activities, I had some older friends. One of them, Tommy, was turning 21 the day after I turned 18. He decided to throw a big party at his apartment. At this point in my life I was pretty naive. I only ever drank when I was with my siblings, and I had never been drunk before. I was going to go to my first real college party. Another school friend, Jenny, was going with me, I knew most of the people who were invited, and my friend offered the couch for me to sleep on so I wouldn’t have to drive anywhere later. This felt like the best possible scenario for me to drink around other people and feel safe.

The night started out pretty good. I had some sort of sweet mixed drink. I talked a lot, after a few drinks I got a little bit flirty. But it was our birthday party. I wanted to let loose a little bit. I wasn’t interested in hooking up with anybody. I just wanted to get drunk for the first time and enjoy myself. I even openly flirted with a girl for the first time in public. Yeah, I was a wild one. I don’t remember much of the night, but I do remember one particular guy having a great interest in me. No matter what group of people I was talking to, he would suddenly show up. At one point I remember talking to him out on the balcony, and I remember he offered me a drink from his flask “just to taste it.” Some part of my mind must have been not completely soaked in alcohol yet, and I declined. My high school friend told me a few days later that I had told her the guy was creepy and made me feel uncomfortable, but I don’t remember saying this to her. Eventually somebody convinced me to do shots, and that was my event horizon of drunkenness.

What follows has been pieced together from the bits I remember and what I was told from other people:

Jenny, Tommy and Tommy’s friend Jake decided I needed to go to bed. I wasn’t feeling very good, so Jenny accompanied me to the bathroom and we hung out in there for about 10 minutes. She says I never threw up though. When I started to try to fall asleep on the bathroom floor, she made me get up and Tommy and Jake helped her get me into Tommy’s room. Tommy left to go deal with drunken party madness, so Jake and Jenny stayed to get me in bed. Jenny was going to make Jake leave so I could change into shorts (instead of my jeans), but apparently I insisted that he stay because he was gay. Jake left anyway (because he’s a decent person). After helping me change, Jenny said she was going to get me some water. I think I fell asleep at this point, because next thing I know Creepy Guy was sitting on the bed next to me. He was in mid-sentence, apparently attempting to have a conversation with me while I was passed-out. I remember him reaching over me. I honestly can’t remember if he was touching me in any way. Everything was wobbly and shaky and I really just wanted him to leave. I’m pretty sure I told him to leave (but again, my memory is shaky). In any case, I was barely conscious. Creepy Guy stood up suddenly when Jake walked in. There was some shouting. Creepy guy left, and Jake stayed. Then Jenny came in with the water. They told me the next day that Jake had seen Creepy Guy walk into the room after Jenny left and that Jenny and Tommy had warned him about Creepy Guy. When he didn’t come back out he got a bad feeling about it and decided to walk in. Jenny stayed and talked to me until the party died down and I fell asleep. The next time I woke up was because Tommy had come into the bedroom. Remember, this was Tommy’s bedroom. I was a barely conscious drunk girl sleeping in his bed, and I’m fairly certain I had even told him earlier in the night that I had a crush on him. Also, I had recently turned 18, so there’s that. Here was a situation where, in my inebriated state, I probably would have said yes to Tommy if he wanted to sleep with me. He didn’t wake me up to try to have sex with me though. He woke me up to ask for one of the pillows that I was sleeping on. Then he got a sleeping bag from his closet and made a palette on the floor. We talked for a little bit, and then we both fell asleep.

Consent Culture, friends’ primary actions at party:

This is how peers can prevent rape. Creepy Guy was a sexual predator. Creepy Guy had probably done this before, if the statistics behind rape and sexual assault have taught us anything. My friends, and one acquaintance, were able to stop him because they recognized his predatory behaviors and they listened to me. Tommy and Jenny recognized that he was paying a lot of attention to me and that I needed to go to bed. Tommy enlisted the help of his friend Jake to get me to go to sleep because he knew I felt comfortable around him. Jenny barely left my side in order to keep me safe because she was alerted to the danger of Creepy Guy. Tommy and Jake did not brush away her concerns. They listened when she told them how Creepy Guy was acting. She listened to me, and they listened to her. Imagine a whole world of Jenny’s, Tommy’s and Jake’s. Imagine a whole world that takes victims (or potential victims) seriously and works to protect them. Imagine how hard it would be for serial rapists to operate when people are paying attention to whether or not he’s following a girl around, offering to get her more and more drinks, trying to get her to drink unknown substances. Imagine what it would be like if every girl knew that if she simply told a friend while they were out partying “Hey, that guy is creeping me out” that she would be taken seriously instead of hounded for “over reacting” or accused of making “false accusations.” That is Consent Culture.

Rape Culture, tertiary reactions:

A few days after the party, I was talking to a bunch of people who were there and some who were not. Somebody mentioned that I was really drunk and told everybody about how I flirted with him a lot. I laughed and thanked him for not trying to take advantage of me and then started to recount what happened with the Creepy Guy. I told them that Creepy Guy kept coming on to me the whole time and following me around the party and that he came into the bedroom later when I was alone and he was only stopped because Jake walked in. The group of friends all laughed at me. They said I shouldn’t have gotten so drunk. They said I shouldn’t have flirted so much. They said I must’ve been “all over him” since I flirted with other people as well. Even when Jenny spoke up and pointed out that I tried to get away from him the whole night and that I had specifically told her that night how creepy he was, they still said I brought it on myself because I gave him the “wrong idea” by openly flirting with a lot of people. Then they told me I shouldn’t even talk about it because they know Creepy Guy and they know he would never try to rape anybody. I must be lying or remembering wrong. My face flushed. I wanted to cry right then, but I didn’t. I just sat down, hunched over and stopped talking. The subject was quickly changed to something else. I learned my lesson: don’t drink at parties (even though there were plenty of guys getting drunk and plenty of other women there getting drunk), don’t flirt (even though there were other girls flirting, the guys are flirting with you and if you don’t flirt back then you’re labeled a “prude, stuck-up bitch”), don’t talk about your experience later because you could ruin his reputation (even though talking about it hurt my reputation more than it hurt his).

According to Rape Culture, if I flirt with one person, that automatically means I want flirting/sexual attention from everybody (not just the person I’m flirting with). This is a gross misapplication of the concept of consent. Just because I consent to do a thing with Person A, does not mean I’m consenting to do the same thing with Person B. Just because I consent to do a thing with Person A at This Time, does not mean I’m consenting to do the same thing with Person A at Another Time. Consent can be given and revoked. The people who reacted in this way tried to make it seem like Creepy Guy was just confused. They tried to convince me that I had somehow led him on, and even though I never told him yes, he thought I “wanted it.” However, they didn’t know that I already had the counter-example brewing in the back of my mind. Tommy. Tommy knew I liked him. I had specifically flirted with Tommy that night, and he had flirted back. I was sleeping in Tommy’s bed. Tommy knew I probably would have said yes to him if he wanted to have sex (although, the “yes” was still stemming from my lowered inhibitions, since at the time I was still suffering from sexual repression, it took a while for me to be able to consent to sexual acts without the use of alcohol, but that deserves a whole post on its own). But Tommy didn’t ask. Tommy didn’t even try. He saw a girl sleeping in his bed, and decided to sleep on the floor. See, because even if Tommy was confused about whether or not I wanted it, even if he thought I definitely did want it, he was decent enough to wait until I was of sound mind to truly consent. He was decent enough to wait until he knew for sure that my “yes” wasn’t based on being intoxicated and not knowing what I was doing. Creepy Guy was not decent. He was not a “nice guy” who was simply confused about what I wanted. This is what Rape Culture tries to teach you: that consent is some grey ambiguous concept that anybody can make a mistake about and accidentally become a rapist, but that’s not how it actually works. Nice guys don’t accidentally rape people. Rapists pretend to be nice guys, plan out their assaults for when the “rape script” fits into the areas that society has deemed “grey,” and rape with impunity because they know the victim will be silenced and shamed if xe speaks up.

Consent Culture teaches that consent should be easily recognizable and if it’s not, then you should stop what you’re doing. Consent Culture does not have “rape scripts” that must be followed in order for victims to be believed.  Consent Culture does not teach that boys and men are somehow naturally rapists (they’re not) or teach girls to avoid rape as if it’s a natural disaster that just happens (it’s not). Consent Culture does not allow victims to be silenced and shamed when they speak up.

For further reading (some of these are linked in the post):

Rape Discussions: When to intervene in a situation
Meet the Predators
Predator Redux
Mythcommunication
The “Why I Need to Call Some Men Creepy” Linkdump
Legal Consent, Morning-After Regret, and “Accidental” Rape
Bodily Autonomy and Sexual Abuse
The Day I Taught How Not to Rape
Rape Culture 101
I’ll Stop Citing My Boyfriend When My Consent Starts Mattering
We are the 95%

27 Years

One of my kids (and birthday buddy) surprised me yesterday with a cake. And it was just as delicious as it looks.

One of my gaybies (and birthday buddy) surprised me yesterday with a cake. And it was just as delicious as it looks.

For the longest time in my life, birthdays were really difficult.  When I was still in the closet, I carried a huge weight of guilt on my shoulders about the lies and dishonesty I felt was necessary to hide the fact that I was female.  To have people express their love and good wishes on me at that time made me realize just how isolated I was.  That’s why, five years ago today, I came out on my 22nd birthday.  It was terrifying and embarrassing and humbling, but ultimately one of the most pivotal moments in my life.  In the following years I moved from being ashamed of who I was to being loud, proud, and unapologetic.  In those five short years I started working with LGBTQ youth, went back to school, made countless friends and connections, met the man I’m going to marry, entered into the public speaking circuit, and I’m now the editor for this wonderful website that I hope you enjoy.  I no longer dread birthdays.  Instead I view them as a day give thanks for the life I’ve lived and the people I share it with.

While the congratulatory Facebook posts pile onto my wall, I think of all the people I’ve met in those five short years.  All the queer kids I’ve worked with, all the godless heathens I’ve met, all the friends I’ve made, and all the minds I’ve changed just by being honest about who I am and how all of those people have made me into a better, happier person.  It’s awe-inspiring to think of what a difference a small amount of time and people can make.

For some reason, 30 seems much closer now that I’m 27.  I can see small signs of my age that are probably invisible to everyone else.  I have some faint smile lines around my eyes and mouth, my joints (especially my hips and knees) complain a lot more than they used to, I see the occasional gray hair, and many of the pop culture references made by my kids escape me.  But I would never lie about my age and I’m not ashamed about whatever signs people may or may not notice.  The lines, stretch marks, sun spots, and everything else are just badges for survival in the face of life.  I look at aging like leveling up at a game.  The older you get, the more you’ve accomplished.

As an atheist I don’t believe in an afterlife, and that means I have a very finite amount of time on this world to experience as much as life has to offer and make as much of a difference as I can.  On the one hand, I’m an insignificant speck of carbon whirling around on a rock that’s orbiting a star on the arm of a galaxy that’s still infinitesimal in the scale of the entire universe itself.  But I’m also a fiancee, a sister, a daughter, a friend, and role model who adores my fiance, sister, mother, friends, and kids.  It may not mean much in the universal scale, but it doesn’t need to.  My life is my own to share with who I wish, and the love and joy I’ve experienced is what makes all the difference in the journey.

Epic Troll Kitty

I’ve been writing about a lot of things that piss me off, and I think it’s time I write about something that I love that also pisses me off about half the time: my epic troll kitty.

Here he is dreaming about my demise:

Starbuck

Starbuck

Make no mistake, his outward calm demeanor here is merely a mask for his murderous intentions.

Just look at the murder in his eyes here. This is him when we first found him, and that’s my old rat Mindy. Did she really die peacefully of old age in her cage? Or was it all part of Starbuck’s plan?

Starbuck meets the ratties for the first time.

Starbuck meets the ratties for the first time.

He usually spends his days prowling around outside the bedroom and the bathroom. If we let him in the bedroom, he terrorizes the rats and tries to poop in the corner behind the bed. If we let him in the bathroom he seeks to lower my morale by destroying all the toilet paper.

Whatever you do, don’t break eye contact.

Whatever you do, don’t break eye contact.

When he’s not prowling around those doors and attacking whatever feet happen to be nearby, he’s running and jumping wildly around the living room and kitchen. He climbs the blinds, tries to destroy computer wires and seeks to be king of the mountain by jumping to the top of the book case and knocking down anything that was stacked up there.

Petting is always done on his terms.

Petting is always done on his terms.

When it gets to be too much, and he needs to calm down, I take all the toilet paper (and the trash can) out of the bathroom and put him in there with his favorite toys. I let him out after about 30 minutes. Or I put on a shirt and open the blinds so he can stare menacingly outside. I resent the fact that he makes me put on a shirt in my own home, but it calms him down.

Distractions save lives.

Distractions save lives.

Now, this may all sound like just normal kitten stuff.

“That’s what all kittens do!” You might be saying. But this is no ordinary kitten. Oh no. He seeks out and destroys my fiance’s chapstick. On purpose. As a test I put the chapstick on the counter, underneath a pile of wires, actual cat toys and broken AAA batteries. Within 30 seconds he sniffed out the chapstick and left all the other stuff. My fiance bought a packet of about 15 chapsticks, so we started storing them in the 3-drawer storage bin next to the couch. The drawers are transparent, but when closed they are flush with the outside of the bin. Starbuck witnessed us put all his beloved chapstick in the drawer and spent 10 minutes frantically pawing at them from the outside. This must mean one thing: troll kitty wants my fiance to suffer from severely chapped lips.

Bite marks after a kitten attack.

Bite marks after a kitten attack.

He only sleeps on top of it. That bastard.

He only sleeps on top of it. That bastard.

We also bought him a little house to sleep in. It has a comfortable spot inside that he can hide in, and it has a fluffy top that he can sit on top of. It also has a scratching post and little balls with bells inside that dangle off the edge for him to play with. We thought he could have fun playing with the bells, and that he would scratch on the post now instead of the couch. Well, the scratching post sort of worked, now he scratches on that AND on the couch. But, he ripped off one of the balls with the bell and destroyed it, and he ignores the other one. He also spends his time doing everything he can to destroy the little house. When he’s done with it, it looks like it was hit by a tiny indoor tornado (or perhaps Sharknado??).  He treats the house we got him with either hatred or contempt. We fought back by taping the corners of the house together, so it won’t fall to pieces when he attacks it. He responded by trying to chew off all the tape.

Extent of destruction after being kitty-proofed.

Extent of destruction after being kitty-proofed.

He’s also a relentless prowler. I can tell he’s in the mood to hunt: his tail goes straight out and then whips back and forth violently, his eyes widen and the pupils dilate, and he watches every move I make. The moment I turn my back WHAM! cat in my face. He will walk up slowly, bite my hand, arm or leg and then run away the moment I turn around. He also attacks my legs as I walk around the apartment. I try to keep a stash of bottle caps and chapstick lids so that I can walk across the living room safely. If I think he’s going to attack me the moment I turn my back, I just throw a bottle cap across the room and he goes chasing after it.

He even bites in his sleep.

He even bites in his sleep.

He’ll pretend to be sleepy, and cuddle up in my lap. Then when my guard is down, he bites my hands, arms, legs, and face. I’ve learned to recognize the signs. His tail will get all twitchy. If I’m lucky he’ll start by trying to eat his own tail. It looks cute at first, because his eyes are squinty from still being sleepy. But it soon turns murderous when he grabs my hand with his paws and scoops it toward his mouth. He always immediately starts kicking with his back legs. Usually I can get out of this by grabbing the scruff of his neck with my other hand.

I’m just lucky he can’t get his back legs in on this one.

I’m just lucky he can’t get his back legs in on this one.

None of this really matters though, because I still love the little guy–trolling and all.

Do NOT scratch his belly!

Do NOT scratch his belly!

P.S.  I caught him trying to eat a tampon once, and another time he threw up a used condom.

A Letter to My Future Son

Dear Leonard,

Because you were born with male sex organs, Dad and I have used male pronouns since we adopted you with the full understanding that you may very well articulate a different gender identity when you are able.  That being said, since there is a 97 to 99% chance that you do, in fact, identify as a boy I would like to talk with you about masculinity.

No doubt you will get a lot of mixed messages about what it means to “be a man”.  While Dad and I have done our best to raise you in a gender neutral household where we split the housework and financial burdens as equals and are not afraid to speak our minds or show our emotions, you have probably noticed this is not “normal”.  While you might enjoy playing house with your sister or helping Dad vacuum or helping me bake cookies, most of the other boys you’ve seen on TV are probably playing “war” or shooting guns or wrestling and rough-housing, you probably like playing those games too.  While your father and I are pacifists, we understand that all of those things can be a lot of fun.  We’ll probably even play video games with you when you’re older where the primary focus is to shoot things.  We all play games like that because they’re fun, but it’s important to know that being manly has nothing to do with hurting people.

Being a man is complicated.  There’s no wrong or right way to be a man or a woman or a girl or a boy or anything else.  But a lot of people like to tell you there’s only one way to do something.  Sometimes a teacher might tell you that a story means one thing, while you think it means something else.  Being a man is a lot like that.  Some people think being a “real man” means that you don’t tell people how you’re feeling, that you act tough and don’t cry even when you want to, but Dad isn’t afraid to tell me about his day or ask for help if he’s in trouble or even to cry if he’s having a rough time, and he’s a man.  Some people think being a “real man” is about being angry or violent or rough, but that’s not what Martin Luther King Jr. or Harvey Milk or Bayard Rustin believed.  They changed the world by standing against violence with love and peace, and they were all men.  There’s no such thing as being a “real man”, son.  Men come in all different shapes and colors and have different ideas and attitudes and none of them are any more or less “real” than the next one.

However you decide to act as a grown man will be up to you, but Dad and I sincerely hope that you remember the lessons we’ve tried to teach you.  That each person is a human being that deserves respect and love no matter who they might be.  That equality and rights should be extended to everybody and not just a select few.  That most people are doing what they think is good, even if that doesn’t match with your idea of good.  That families come in all different shapes and sizes, but what really matters is they love each other.  That communication and non-violence can accomplish much more than war and violence.  That emotions are normal to have and it’s okay to express them in healthy ways.  That diversity and new ideas are what make the world interesting.  That questioning ideas and authority is a good way to make sure you really believe what you say you do.  That sex is a mutually consenting and enjoyable experience regardless of the number of partners or their genders and you should never feel ashamed about it.  And, most importantly with this letter, the ways people “do” gender are all equally valid and that includes they way you decide to do your gender.  It shows a lot more strength and courage to stand up for what you believe in, especially if it’s unpopular, than to just follow the crowd.  No matter what you decide to do with your life or who you decide to love, as long as you keep these principles in your heart you will always be a “real man” to me.

Love,
Mom