Nowhere: The Places We Are Safe

When I am in public spaces and I have to use the washroom…

I do. I am privileged in that.

I line up behind other people who chose to use the washroom with the skirt person on it and hem and haw, waiting for a stall to be open. When I’m at queer-friendly places, I use whatever bathroom suits my fancy.

When I was a teen, I attended a dance party at Buddies In Bad Times. It was the first time I had used a public, open, gender non-specific bathroom. It was – for me in that moment – a safer space (I don’t use safe space because, as you will see, no space is truly safe.) It was Pride week and there was an air of celebration. This was before Pride had entered the common cultural lexicon. Our celebration was enhanced by our mutual need to be seen, to be safe and to belong. We giggled and danced, waiting our turn. People of all genders, slightly to very tipsy, waited to empty our bladders and get back to the party.

So yeah, I’m queer. I’m bisexual (although I reject the idea of a binary, I’m old enough that this was the only word we had, and I’m attached to it.) I’m cis-appearing, though I don’t feel overly attached to female, as a gender. I’m probably closer to agender or, as a friend once put it, post-gender. I’m a feminist, because I’d have to be deeply detached from my own experience and that of the humans around me not to be. I’ve also been homeless. Because of this, I know what it feels like to need to use a washroom and to be refused. For all of these reasons, I have been following the so-called bathroom debate with keen interest.

First, let me clarify: There should be no debate. It is not on me, you or anyone else to tell someone they cannot pee. Our bodies require it. It is not a choice.

While there is a lengthy blog to be written about the many, many reasons people should be allowed to pee wherever they feel most comfortable, this is not that entry. I am here to talk about one specific outcry that is being used to quash the rights of trans and gender-varied people when it comes to washroom usage: the idea that women and children will not be safe if trans women are allowed in women’s washrooms. The fear they are preying on? Sexual assault. One of the most common crimes with one of the lowest conviction rates. It was my good friend Keiren who suggested we consider how ubiquitous sexual assault is, in contrast to how specific this concern around washrooms is.

Here’s the deal – people of all genders are assaulted in every possible space, because we, as a society, haven’t dealt with the root causes of sexual assault or created an adequate system of redress for when it happens. Washrooms, shared or otherwise, are no more or less safe than any other space we find ourselves in. Keiren suggested we consider a hashtag similar to #whatiwaswearing to discuss our experiences. Because in the end, this bullshit around gendered washrooms is using victims of sexual assault to oppress trans and gender-varied people and that is NOT okay. Sexual assault cannot be stopped by oppressing our trans family, because sexual assault isn’t about a space, it’s about a culture.

So here it is – #WhereIWas

#WhereIWas
In my own bedroom, waiting to be tucked in. It went on for years.

#WhereIWas
In Communications class in high school, while the boys made a game out of touching me from all sides. The teacher laughed.

#WhereIWas
Doing a shared project with a class partner at their place. I escaped by going out on the balcony and shouting for a neighbour.

#WhereIWas
In the stock room of the McDonalds I worked in. A co-worker started mimicking masturbating with a large, soft-plastic container of mustard. He asked me if I liked it, backing me into a corner. I complained. He was promoted. He looked up my address and made sure I knew that he knew where I lived.

#WhereIWas
On the dance floor with my best friend. We had a deal to come between each other when things got dangerous.

#WhereIWas
Getting a ride home from a church youth group with a youth leader.

#WhereIWas
Walking home after a late shift. I was followed and harassed more than once. One time, I was rescued by a compassionate cabbie.

#WhereIWas
In my room. A person stole my sister’s phone book and called all the women in it. He asked me to rub the phone on my legs.

#WhereIWas
In a movie theatre on a first date. When I called him on it, he abandoned me at the mall with no way to get home. Later, he stalked me.

#WhereIWas
In my home, watching TV with a friend.

#WhereIWas
In my cubicle at work, and on work related car trips. He was three times my age and liked to make jokes about being my “daddy.” He constantly commented on my body.

Admittedly, I was a very vulnerable human. I was homeless and in unstable housing as a teenager and I came from an abusive living situation. These factors were certainly considered by some of my assailants. The disrespect the system had for me meant I would not be taken seriously, should I report. I’m aware that I may have more than the average number of experiences. Still, it is of note that the places where assault occurred were varied. No one factor unites them. They were in public and in private, indoors and out, with trusted friends and family and with strangers. To imply that keeping my trans sisters from using the washroom is an effort to keep me safe is laughable. I know that my safety is not the true motivation behind this proposed prejudicial ban. Trans woman are far, far, far more likely to be victims than assailants. They are, like I was, part of a demographic that is not respected by those in authority. Their assaults, like mine, are not taken seriously.

You want to protect me? Teach consent. Involve social workers and victim support services in sexual assault cases. Improve the systems in place to convict and rehabilitate sexual offenders.

Where were we when it happened? Everywhere. What’s a safe space? Nowhere. Don’t use me and people like me to move forward a hateful agenda. Not surprisingly, I have a distaste for being used without my consent.

Please feel free to use the #WhereIWas hashtag to continue this discussion. Segregating bathrooms will not keep us safer. Celebrating consent will.

The Gift of Gravitas

I frequent geeky circles. I appreciate comics and films set in space and stories in which young heroes defy the odds. Because of this, I follow geeky news. I am also a human with a mental illness. Or two. Or three. Because of this, I follow news of madness.

These worlds stumbled over each other when a young actor, Jake Lloyd, was diagnosed with the ever shifting condition of schizophrenia. Predictably, some of the commentary around this has been low-brow, ableist and cruel. This is the internet, the wild west of communications. However the overwhelming commentary has been sympathetic – even empathetic. I’ve seen people voice regret for the way he was treated. I’ve seen well wishes. I’ve seen writing that blames his parents, his early work experiences and, yes, the geeky public. Overall, the discourse has tended toward a respectful gravitas, appropriate to finding out a fellow human is suffering.

I’ve found a similar response to recent reports of Ronald Savage‘s abuse at the hands of one of HipHop’s more respected creators, Afrika Bambaataa. Here we see some cruder content, usually homophobic in nature. Still, very few sources reporting on it, or even users commenting on it, call into question the veracity of Savage’s statements. No comments are made on his looks, few on his honesty and still fewer defending his alleged abuser.

While I am grateful that  both of these men are being believed, I wish we could extend the same courtesy to women in the public eye who experience mental illness or abuse.

I think of Britney Spears, whose symptoms are still the punchline of jokes decades after her mental illness emerged. I think of Anne Heche and Mariah Carey, whose stories were told by smirking entertainment reporters complete with hilarious “cuckoo” sound effects. What strikes me most is that neither the women nor their illnesses are granted the same gravitas and respect as Lloyd is receiving in the public discourse.

The same is true of the women who spoke out about their victimization by comedian Bill Cosby. Artists like Damon Wayans took to the air to call them “un-rape-able“. In the recent Ghomeshi case, women who couldn’t recall emails they’d sent ten years prior were called liars, rather than what they are – human beings who, just like me, cannot recall every word penned in the last decade. Heck, I’ve forgotten swaths of what I’ve written on this blog. That said, I remember with clarity the smell of the detergent of the man who assaulted me. Memory is funny that way.

Gendered words make up much of the commentary in both cases, reminding us that lying, being crazy or being a gold-digger are innately tied to being a woman, being seen as a woman or identifying as a woman.

When we say we want equality, what some of us are saying is we want that same weight of gravitas applied to our more serious experiences – illness and assault among them – that we see offered to our male-identified cohorts. We want the language used to describe our experiences to match the experiences themselves, especially while wading through all of the complications that come with surviving them. We, of course, expect this same courtesy to be offered to male survivors, along with a curbing of the gendered narrative that tells men to buck up and be strong through these experiences.

All of this requires a dismantling of the idea that our gender should determine how our victimization is perceived, how our assailants are treated and how and if we are able to move on in our lives afterward. We should all be offered respect, care and gentility when the world rolls over us. We should all be offered the gift of gravitas.

 

Smile

I usually don’t post two poems, one after another. I try to write something of substance in between. But I am tired after the verdict today and so I am sharing a poem I wrote about our smiles, by way of proxy for our whole bodies. It speaks to how we are trained to behave in specific ways, then punished for those same actions. This poem owes a debt to the song Smile, by Charlie Chaplin. The way he treated women is not lost on me, and also informs this poem. this poem is meant to be read aloud. I was planning to save it for a slam. Instead I am sharing it here. It was tonally designed to be performed, so please forgive it’s visual clunkiness.


Smile

xb7tg8nmcdx57zxprll0.jpgSmile though your heart is aching

“Hey
Hey you
With the hair
What you got
Under there?
Come on
Baby girl
You like when I stare

Smile for me
The kind of sort
Who likes ’em round
And likes ’em short
But only if they
Smile nice
You know I’m not
Gonna ask you twice”

Smile even though it’s breaking

Breaking
This autonomy
Lost to men
Who don’t know me

“No”
I’m blunt

“Fuck you, you cunt”
He moves in close
Like nose to nose

My smile is not a gift I give
My toll to live
Unscathed
It says
I’m ready to erase
Replace
You paint the canvas of my face

“Smile”

When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by

Smile
Little girl
Smile when he stands
Smile when it lands
Smile at his hands
Smile for your man

If you smile through your pain and sorrow

“Ma’am?”
She shows a picture
Shows a fiction
Shows a fixture
When somebody shouted cheese
When you did the thing we all do
And you smiled
Just to please

“If he hurt you like you say
How’d you smile the next day?
Is this a game you like to play?”

Smile and maybe tomorrow

So you leave
The camera clicks
You duck your head
You count to six
You call it up
The memory
Muscles trained since puberty

You flash a smile
On your lips
It doesn’t reach your eyes

“Smile”
Someone cries

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile, if you just –


 

To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.

Child Abuse, Kink and the Consent Conundrum

Trigger Warning, though the title sums it up nicely. 

I post about my life. My life has included some heinous childhood abuse. I sort through that internally on a near constant basis (nightmares make sure it’s not a day job.) I also live a decent post-abuse life, including love, security, friendship and creativity.

Over the holidays, I was frustrated because my mobility was seriously challenged by my spinal issues – a challenge that may owe its origins, in part, to physical punishments very early in life (think crib-aged.) I deal with pain like most other humans. I complain. I take medication. I stretch and rest and scream when my back seizes.

Under that, though, are the emotions triggered by an adult pain caused by childhood damage. In a moment of anger and, perhaps, the need to hear my frustration echoed back, I posted a tweet. It was a few words, as the medium demands, that grumbled about my desire to send folks who think spanking children doesn’t do damage an x-ray of my spine.

Clearly, I know this is ridiculous. It wouldn’t change most minds. It wouldn’t make my back hurt less. It wouldn’t undo the physical and psychological ramifications of having been struck as an infant. Still, it was a thought. I had it. I posted it.

Seconds later, it was re-tweeted.

By a kink site.

It wasn’t retweeted (I looked first) in a way that implied that spanking, as a kink, was only meant for adults. I love love and sex and all the ways in which we make each other feel good. They are the antithesis of the pain I grew up with. The more ways we find to make each other feel good, the happier I am. This site, however, posted my tweet in a way that was clearly salacious. My pain was hot. I was stunned, then chagrined that I had expected anything more from the wwworld.

It was seconds before I pulled it down. I deleted the tweet and blocked the site. Still, the next day, I noticed this drastic change in my stats from WordPress:

yeahno

Clearly these few seconds had drawn a crowd looking for something from my site that I had never intended.

When I write, I write for myself and for the folks like me who have seen the harsh side of humanity (in one of the nicer parts of the world, admittedly) and are still standing. I have always known that there was more than a chance that people who are turned on by my abuse would use my site for that reason. Still, fear of being used again is not a reason to stay silent. It’s not a reason to fail to add my voice to the growing scores of victims saying, “Yes, me too.”

As it was happening, I was frustrated, obviously. The idea of consent in an online world is complicated. If I talk about my life, is it my place to say how it is then used?

So in an effort to clear things up, no, I’m not cool with people using my life to feed their fantasies. I do not consent to it. If you decide you want to find pleasure in my suffering, know that you do it without my enthusiastic consent.

As a writer, I play with fantasy. I’ve even contemplated writing some of my kinks down because sex is supposed to be fun and it’s supposed to reflect what is most enjoyable about being human on this messy planet. Online, like anywhere else, look for enthusiastic consent. Lots and lots of people are ready to give it. Enjoy it where you find it.

Just know that that’s not here. I do not consent. I am not okay with this.

The Juxtaposition of Tears

TW: Assault, rape and other icky things.

Crying has a long human history. One of the oldest recorded stories of tears is the Goddess Anat crying at the loss of her brother Ba’al. It is said she drank the tears like wine. When I was a child, I related to the story of the woman who cried at Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair. I had atypical internalized guilt for someone so young. Tears were penance for my sins.

Today in my Facebook feed, this video popped up more than once (warnings if you don’t want to watch a video related to some pretty brutal assaults):


In this video, convicted rapist and former police officer Daniel Holtzclaw weeps as he learns that he has been found guilty of half of the charges laid against him. He faces, potentially, 200+ years in prison.

I watch the video and I see something achingly familiar.

As a victim of sexual violence that went on for years, I see what happens as the body copes with the idea that its autonomy is not sacrosanct. I see the agony of learning that your plans for the form you were given will not be honoured.

I see the slow dismantling of hope as each verdict is read, much like the way hope erodes each night when that door opens again. I know what it is to cry in a way that threatens to turn you inside out.

I am inside out and backward, all the raw bits out so long that they’ve scarred over. I don’t cry much now, even when I want to cry, when I need to cry. I am self-contained like a strange human eco-system that poisons itself, but tries not to let it spread.

I understand his tears, just as I know he will never understand mine.

Know Your Classes – A Social Justice Guide

I’ve noticed that Social Justice Warriors get a lot of bad press. Since society, justice and even warriors are all generally viewed as positive, I wondered why they’re taking so much flack. In doing some perfunctory research, I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem partly lies in the misclassification of Social Justice characters. In order to assist, I’ve created this handy guide. I hope you find it useful.

Social Justice Bard
The Bard class is most commonly associated with poets or storytellers, but likely includes any characters who use art as their predominant medium of social justice. If you’re calling out a SJW blogger you despise, you may well be misclassifying them! Odds are good they are actually a Social Justice Bard.

Bards of note: Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieMargaret Atwood and Pussy Riot.

Social Justice Cleric
Does your SJW believe in magic or a higher power? Are they wearing robes? Looks like you’ve met up with a Social Justice Cleric. SJCs are not as rare a breed as you might think. While some find justice at odds with their belief systems, these folks show that you can have faith and do good at the same time.

Clerics of note: Irshad Manji, Rabba Sara Hurwitz and Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes C.M.

Social Justice Druid
Are they vegan? Do they understand the ecological impact of low-cost clothing production? Have they lived in a tree for two years? You may call them warriors, but those, my friend, are Social Justice Druids. Druids are the folks trying to save our eco-system faster than we can destroy it. No small task. Their armour may be hemp, but their weapons are science…and probably more hemp.

Druids of note: Dame Jane Morris Goodall, DBE, Professor Raman Sukumar and Joanna Kerr

Social Justice Paladin
These good folks just can’t brook the BS. It’s not that they can’t tell a lie, it’s that they see through the layers to the heart of the matter. They are rarely distracted by gaslighting, bingo card rhetoric or concern trolls. They hold up a (non-gas) light so that we can see what’s ahead.

Paladins of note: Roxane Gay, Lindy West and Wab Kinew

Social Justice Rogue
These are the SJWs you don’t see coming. They are awesomely problematic, fantastically eccentric and often, just plain weird. Have you found yourself nodding in agreement, whilst having no idea what the heck just happened? You’ve been brain-pounced by a Social Justice Rogue.

Rogues of note: Russell Brand, Banksy and Amanda Palmer

This is just a starter guide. Other classes worth exploring include Social Justice Monks, Social Justice Fighters and Social Justice Barbarians. Remember, you don’t have to like or agree with a SJ character for them to contribute something important to a campaign!

Now go forth with your new knowledge and, when mocking people for having ideas, make sure you use the right classification.

It was not a debate, I wanted to say…

…it was a lamentation.

When I talked about the fact that women needed to be corpses (sometimes [too many times]) to be believed, I know it bordered on hyperbole. I know it was far too big a statement to make in a place as built around going around and around as the Internet. I am well aware of the shortcomings of my statement. Still, it was not a salient point made well, it was a moment of mourning.

I apologize if you saw it as something else.