Due Process

I un-followed a Canadian author who helped shape my identity as a human and as a creator. I un-followed her because of a letter she signed. To be clear (because no small statement is ever clear) I did not un-follow her forever. My feed is an ebb and flow of the things I enjoy, the things that give me hope and the things I hope to know. My feed serves me. That’s why it’s mine. I may find, in the near future, that reading her small, instant words feeds me. For now, I’m choking on it. I also did not un-follow her simply because she took a political or personal action I disagree with. She has built up enough good faith as a creator that I see no need to view the world through a lens identical to hers. I un-followed her because it hurt.

Two words she threw out like a casual sprinkling of flavour on a massive meal: Due process.

I am a sexual assault survivor. I am a multiple sexual assault survivor. In almost every case, it was a man who held cross-sections of power attempting to or succeeding at misusing my physical and emotional form because they could.

When I started to realize – well into my teens – that what had happened to me was, indeed, against our presumed social contract, I began the process of seeking my due.

Due process simply means fair treatment in the judicial system. Not only fair treatment for the person who stands accused, but for the person who stands destroyed. Too visceral? Too emotional? Probably.

Here is due process to a person who has been raped, sexually abused or sexually assaulted:

1

Tell someone. This person may be yourself. Often that’s the first person you tell. If you are young, you may tell yourself after a book or a flyer in your school or an episode of Degrassi confirms that the tearing and ripping inside you is not an anomaly, but a reaction. There’s an overt message that you are not alone in numbers, but 1000 subtle messages that you are probably alone regardless. If you are an adult, telling yourself can happen during, or just after or years later. It can happen when you do that math inside your head that says if I scream he will kill me or if I just make it to the end it will be over and she will leave. Math is a process. Math figures out how much more they have to weigh than you to hold you down. Turns out, it’s not that much. It is not fair that this is how you must talk to yourself, but neither is it judicial, so we will pass this step.

2

Tell another someone. Maybe a friend. Maybe using code words. In my case, it was a guidance counselor. She was not the first person I told, but she was the first to break the code. There is a good chance that the person you tell will not believe you. They may try to find a way to show that it was your fault. This is about you, but it’s also not about you. It’s about constructing a safe cocoon of control that says I would not have made those choices so it would not happen to me or I did something similar once and I am not a villain. Sometimes they will believe you, but since they have spent a same lifetime watching dashing men on film win women over by hands-over-ears ignoring their nos and stops and I mean stops, they will wonder if it isn’t just the way things are. This is also not fair. Now that you have told someone, we may be drifting into the judicial. After all, everyone you tell, even your diary or your mother, can be called up later to testify. That’s the process. Maybe it’s better to say nothing at all, and to smile in pictures at picnics, but then, those pictures may also be called to testify. Anyone/thing you tell is likely to come back at you. This blog could come back at me. Every time we speak, we give a piece of ourselves to that process that we cannot take back with honest words. Words are not proof.

3

Tell the police. Go to the police. We use ‘the’ with police because everyone knows what you mean. No need to give qualifiers, adjectives. They are the police. The police with candies at parades and dirty looks when you walk in groups with other people from school. The police who, perhaps, look more like your assailant than you. Here the process comes due. If you have made it to this part in the process, you are one of only 6 out of 100. 94 out of 100 people chose to stop at step 1 or step 2. You sit in a room or curl up in a ball in a room or pretend you are not in a room and try to take something that is bigger than any part of you and break it down small enough that it will fit on a piece of paper that can go in a file in a drawer or on a computer and maybe turn into fair treatment in the judicial system. If this outcome were common, there would be more than 6 of you. It is not common. Numbers show that. Stories show that. Rooms full of women secure that no one is listening show that. Our arms and our medications and our nervous ticks show that.

4

There are two ways this step in the process can go. You may find, like I did, like a fall from a high height that lands you square on your back, that the last step takes all the wind out of you. It is okay if your process ends here. The next step involves lawyers. Lawyers are people who went to school for a very long time to study a system created before most folks could vote or own property or avoid being property. An apple tree can grow a thousand ways, but it’s still an apple tree. Until we plant something new, this is our only apple tree. This apple tree sucks. People will tell you to have faith in it. They may point to new branches that have grown since you were considered a person. They may say that the roots are strong enough to maintain us through change. That is bullshit. Only 1 out of 65 of us will see fruit from this tree and that fruit is often small and full of worms. Have I lost you? Anyone who tells you that you should not have feelings until due process is served is choosing not to see that no matter how nobly an idea may grow, it is only by its fruit that we can truly judge it. There is no fucking fruit.

5

Some people may think that the previous step is the last one in the process, but there is another. This is a step we take when we’ve exhausted one of the previous steps and found that, no matter what the promise of fairness is, the social contract we have signed has crap clauses. It has the clause that wealthy people and famous people and popular people and really any people can still succeed, no matter what they do to us. They can be free. They can be loved. They can be president. It has a clause that says we are to stay very, very silent no matter what happens, unless the tree gives us grand, ripe fruit. They do not point out the very small text that says it rarely does – and then usually when very pretty and convincing humans with pristine pasts and no scars point at very mean looking humans and say, “it was them!” So what do we do? We hold our hand to our mouth and with a theater aside, we whisper our stories in quiet spaces. We write maudlin poetry and carve lyrics on our bellies. We cry when we masturbate and flinch at gentle touches. We sometimes throw the contract out and shout and shout and shout, only to be met, finally, by a two words that I can no longer bear:

Due process.

Trigger Warning

“There are no warnings in real life.”
He said
Sipping from a cup marked CAUTION:HOT

“You just have to deal with what comes.”
He signaled right

“There are no warnings in real life.”

Beware of dog
Slippery when wet
Hidden corner
Alarm will sound

“There are no warnings in real life.”

Watch for falling rocks
Flashing lights may cause seizure
Edges are sharp
Handle with care

“You just have to deal with what comes.”

by Heather Emme

To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here. To read my post on trigger warnings, click here.

Stop Diagnosing Donald

Dear Discourse-loving intellectuals,

Please stop trying to diagnose Donald Trump. Now.

I understand the desire to put a name to the way he behaves, I truly do. I understand your frustration as he heaps disrespect on disrespect while maintaining his Teflon veneer. But in your efforts to dismantle his run for the presidency, please do not use a-neurotypicality as your proof that he does not deserve to run.

We saw this phenomenon with Barack Obama. When people ran out of ways to challenge his policies, they went for an easy out – they called him a Muslim. They did this because they knew, on some level, that there was a underlying and pernicious prejudice against Muslims. And while an open and fair examination of the rhetoric would show that there’s nothing at all wrong with being a Muslim, by associating him with an unpopular group, his detractors were able to tap into an existing prejudice and use it. Folks were quick to declare he wasn’t a Muslim. Fewer pointed out that it’s not okay to use Muslim as an insult or as an implication that his character is questionable.

Now we’re seeing the same song coming from the other side of the political spectrum in regards to Donald Trump. This time, without a diagnosis or his own self-inclusion in the community, people are calling Donald Trump mentally ill. Crazy. Mad. He’s been diagnosed by pretend doctors so many times, it’s like watching all of the seasons of House at once. And whether there is any fact to it (something that people are jumping in to debate) the real question is, what is wrong with being mentally ill? Why are we cool with the underlying and pernicious prejudice this shows against a-neurotypical folks?

In the end, much as the people who implied Obama was Muslim, the folks implying Trump is mentally ill are relying on the current climate of disrespect for mentally ill folks to help bolster their argument that he should not be president. And as a mentally ill human, I’m not happy being your insult. I’m hurt by the rush to use the way I am to discredit anyone, even someone whose behaviors I disdain. Call him cruel, call him privileged, call him un-presidential, but don’t call him mentally ill as though that were the end of a conversation and not the very beginning.

Pause

I want go back
To Rexdale and say
They stopped a parade for you
The noise they made for you
The way they stayed for you
Your life matters

by Heather Emme

I’m still in surgical recovery, so posts continue to be brief and scattered. This is the first time I’ve posted one of my twitter poems to #verseday. I felt this was worth repeating. To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.

 

By Any Other Name: Let’s Call WBC What It Is

When I was a young pup, about 20 years ago, I wrote for a local queer magazine called Siren. It was there that I first came across stories of the so-called Westboro Baptist Church. At that time, they were protesting the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young man who was the victim of a vicious hate crime. Since I had grown up in a hate-filled church myself, it wasn’t hard to believe that a group espoused a doctrine this harsh. I took them at face value. Most people still do.

The time has come, though, to call them what they are. They are not a Baptist church. Let’s start there. They use the word Baptist, but not one single denomination that falls under the Baptist umbrella will support them. They are autonomous. They are not Baptists. As to being a church, let us examine that as well. The Hartford Institute estimates there are around 350,000 congregations in the United States. Legally claiming to be a church is a surprisingly easy task. By definition (as set forth by the IRS) they are a church. By our social definition, though, the title is not so clear.

Most of the so-called church’s 40 members (as of 2011 paperwork) are part of the Phelps family. Led originally by violent patriarch Fred Phelps, the so-called church was more a family obligation than a community organization. According to his son (and now LGBTQ+ advocate) Nate Phelps, family members were regularly beaten with an axe handle or a barber strap. This type of violence occurred in the families of the children and grandchildren as well.

Given no choice but to comply, the children were taken along to “protests” organized by the family. At these events, they were yelled at, mocked and physically assaulted, proving the family line that there was no safe place outside of the home. WBC is not so much a church as one of the most dazzling examples of Stockholm Syndrome ever created.

After Orlando’s tragic mass shooting, and as Pride approaches, we’re seeing a lot of news that talks about WBC’s planned bad behavior. But by calling them a Baptist Church, we are lending them the legitimacy of an organization that, while certainly on the hook for its own shortcomings, is not represented here.

I propose we start calling them what they are: One Abusive Family. OAF for short. They are just one family. One family that abuses its own members, has no affiliations and reflects no legitimate doctrine. They are not a church. They are not Baptists. They are Phelps’. That is all they are. (And, thanks to the folks that keep leaving and speaking out, we can even say #notallphelps.) They are not WBC. They are One Abusive Family. Let’s call them the OAFs they are.

As you report on them, share them in your feed or express your totally legitimate heartache that people like this still exist, remember: They are a very small group that no one wants to claim. They get together to hate and yell and pretend to be important. We get together to kiss and dance and celebrate love. Love wins. And One Abusive Family will not change that. Don’t give the OAFs space in your day, or in our national discourse.

Boys on Bikes

(Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault)

There is a habit we, as a culture, have of reframing experiences via the male perspective. When a she-identified human is assaulted by a he-identified human, we are trained to ask about her past and his future. What did she do to deserve it? What will it take from him is he’s convicted? We’ve seen this played out vividly in the case of convicted rapist Brock Turner. I’ve never met the fellow, but thanks to the tone employed by some media coverage, I’m now aware of the scholarships he’s lost, the times of his most successful swims and how very, very hard it will be for him to enjoy his life after he was convicted of the crime he committed. His future is the window through which we were allowed to watch this story.

We have also been given the story of the two men who interrupted the assault and held convicted rapist Brock Turner until police arrived.

Despite the fact that, again, this means I’m seeing the story from the male perspective, I want to dwell on this for a bit.

When I was a child, I was sexually assaulted. For the most part, it was just the two of us in the room. But once.

Once someone walked in.

There was a moment. It was dark, my memory tells me. It was dark and maybe she didn’t see my nightgown up around my armpits. Maybe her brain hiccuped, swallowed the whole memory. Maybe there was shock. Shock can do that, right? Shock can make you delete the things that frighten you. I remember that she backed out of the room. She backed out and he left and it was never mentioned. It was dark. It was dark. Of course she didn’t see. She didn’t feel the fear radiating off me like heat from a fire. She didn’t ask why he was in my room late at night. It was dark.

Doing nothing is, like the male perspective, often our default. Anyone whose been on a bus when someone starts loudly and verbally attacking a stranger knows what I mean. We see heads drop. Earbuds go in. Books raised higher against the call to interfere. It’s a weird instinct, but it’s one our species clearly has.

So two men on bikes stopped and halted a crime in progress. A crime that, statistics tell us, isn’t treated like a crime. We wink it away. We rarely test rape kits. We rarely press charges. We rarely see convictions. It’s barely treated like a crime at all. But they stopped despite the overwhelming casual message that what was happening wasn’t a real crime.

There was a moment. It was in church. The head pastor – a man who had, once, in a sermon on forgiveness, talked about how he could imagine no worse crime than rape – told me that I needed to forgive the youth leader who had sexually harassed me while offering me a ride home from church. It was about forgiveness. He had repented and now it was on me to let it go. He didn’t feel the shame radiating off me like heat from a fire. He didn’t ask me what I wanted. It was about forgiveness.

So, you see, we are a bystander species. Doing nothing is our default. We strive for homeostasis and our norm is to close our eyes to sexual assault. I sometimes try to suss out why. I come up with a thousand explanations and reasons. In the end, I land back at: It happens because we let it. It happens because we back out of rooms, we offer forgiveness instead of justice, we mourn for the lost future of rapists.

Two men on bikes did not back away.

I’ll hold on to that.

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.