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.

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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.

 

Let Us Discuss What Qualifies As Hatred

Hello. I’m a woman. When I was born, I had biologically female parts. And while I’ve never really fit into many of the roles and trappings assigned to women, I continue to mostly identify as one. I include in this imprecise group, anyone else who chooses to join me. To over-simplify using stereotypes: Though I fell in love with a man, I am attracted to both men and women. Though I like dolls, I dislike dresses. Though I love having a beer with the boys, I really don’t understand the appeal of baseball (now soccer – there’s a sport.)

All of this is to say that I am not part of a binary, but a flexible, flowing, irregular and wonderful spectrum.

None of this matters, though, when confronting misogynists. They rarely see the multifariousness. What is misogyny? Simply put, it’s a hatred of women, but, like gender, it’s part of a spectrum that ranges from assumptions and micro-aggressions to events like the recent shootings in California.

Websites like Everyday Sexism and Fat, Ugly or Slutty can provide a sort of running tally of the everyday occurrences of gender based transgressions. The bigger events, like the shooting, should speak for themselves.

But they don’t.

Every article I’ve read has had quite a few male identified commenters trying to either dismiss or justify the misogyny in the shooter’s statements. Many (but #notallmen, don’t worry kids) have tried to steer the conversation away from what the shooter has stated and how he specifically targeted his victims. What they are trying to say is that this wasn’t targeted hatred, but (insert excuse here – I suggest vague hatred, justified hatred, madness, ASD, spoiled rich boy syndrome, etc.)

Which has prompted me to provide this side by side comparison. Please read and tell me whether the second lines would have garnered online debate or a visit from the FBI or homeland security and possibly a trip to Gitmo:

What he really said:
I will punish all of you for it. [Laughs.] On the day of retribution, I am going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blond slut I see inside there. All those girls that I’ve desired so much. They would have all rejected me and looked down upon me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them.

What might have made people acknowledge it was a hate crime:
I will punish all of you for it. [Laughs.] On the day of retribution, I am going to enter the church and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up Christian I see inside there. All the fellowship that I’ve desired so much. They would have all rejected me and looked down upon me as an inferior man if I ever made an attempt to join their congregation.

See what I did there? Is it suddenly less vague to you?

Let’s try another.

What he really said:
I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am in truth, the superior one. The true alpha male. [Laughs.] Yes. After I’ve annihilated every single girl in the sorority house, I’ll take to the streets of Isla Vista and slay every single person I see there.

What might have made people acknowledge it was a hate crime:
I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am in truth, the superior one. The true white man. [Laughs.] Yes. After I’ve annihilated every single Black person in the building, I’ll take to the streets of Isla Vista and slay every single person I see there.

I mean, it’s pretty clear that this crime was focused. That one man committed a crime is not  proof of misogyny. The attempts of people to dismiss it and belittle it are. The idea that we’re not thoroughly horrified by targeted hatred when the targets are women – that is the proof. That a man who responds to these stories by presenting women as deserving of mistreatment is not immediately eye-rolled and mocked and is, in fact, supported by others is our proof.

Before dismissing this as a lesser crime or a one-off case of madness (which would ignore several other targeted murders of women) try swapping the context. If the crime suddenly seems more egregious when the targeted victims are part of another group, it is time to reassess why you are not treating this as a hate crime on par with those. Is it because of the facts, or is it because of a lifetime of small (and more overt) messages telling us that women are innately less valuable?

(I have not named the shooter or quoted the people defending him because here, in my space, that hatred is not welcome. The same will apply to the comments. Well thought out comments that do not use threats or ad hominem attacks and maintain good debate etiquette are welcome, even if they disagree with me. Others will be removed or Lego-ed.)