Sexual Harassment: Now You See It. Why didn’t you before?

A black and white image of empty theater seats, curving at an angle away from the viewer

sexual harassment accusations are emptying a lot of seats

Red Flags and Shock Fatigue

Sexual harassment is bringing down a lot of people’s heroes. Not so many of mine.

The only Woody Allen movie I’ve ever managed to sit all the way through was Antz.

I feel about him the way I do about tempeh. Other people have ordered tempeh and told me, “Oh, this is the best tempeh I’ve ever had!” and I’ve tried a bite, and honestly? Tempeh tastes like rot to me, and not in a good way.

I tried to watch Annie Hall, and not very far in, something in my stomach churned, and I turned it off and watched something else. I don’t even remember at what point that happened in the movie, or what triggered it.

Sometimes very good storytellers have a skewed view of the world, and those of us who see the skew recoil from the stories. Not every well-told story is good. When the allegations against him came out, something in me breathed a sigh—not of relief, just a momentary, “Of course”— as I finally got an explanation for an instinctive recoil.

We’ve known about him for years. He keeps making movies. I keep not watching them. Will the known abusers now face consequences?

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About the idea of the safety pin

I don’t wear a pin because I’ve never been able to sit down and shut up when someone’s being an asshole to someone around me, and people have always been comfortable asking me for help or accepting help when offered, so it doesn’t feel necessary (also my hair is purple and blue and very festive, and most people don’t look at me and assume I’m excessively conservative. My bumper stickers are also pretty freakin’ obvious already.)

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Understanding Gender: A Guide for Kids

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When a baby is born, the first thing everyone wants to know is, “Is it a boy or a girl?” Even during pregnancy, parents often have an ultrasound scan, to look at a baby’s body and find out whether their baby has “boy parts” or “girl parts” before the child is born.

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Bullying prevention

 

 

Schools are responsible for setting the tone of the school and keeping kids safe at school, but in order to do so they often require a sea change in how they handle reports of mistreatment, as well as how they train the kids.

  • We need to train kids through programs like peer mediation, which teaches kids how to handle problems in fair ways through talking.
  • We need schoolwide, consistent programs like “The Three Bees” (Be safe, be responsible, be respectful).
  • We need to actively ask kids to be heroes, rather than villains. In larger schools this might mean setting up buddy programs where kids who are afraid can ask for help and get several older kids who volunteer to walk with them in “high risk” settings (between classes, after school).
  • Adults need to adopt a “believe the victim” mentality. This doesn’t mean coming down like a hammer on every accused, this means LISTENING to every child. Even the bullies. Because in many cases, bullies ARE victims, struggling for control anywhere they can find it.
  • Toxic school cultures like “Don’t be a tattle tale” and “Boys will be boys” need to stop. Kids need to be actively trained to treat people well. I don’t care how “innocent” children are, toddlers and preschoolers can be mercenary little bastards and while some are tenderhearted and empathetic from the get go, a lot of them really need to be actively trained not to hurt people to get what they want.
  • Consent culture MUST be taught.
  • Bodily autonomy MUST be taught.
  • A child who bullies needs to be trained, not suspended. They need to be isolated from the child who is bullied.
  • Children need to be taught to understand boundaries and be allowed to set boundaries and have their boundaries respected. This starts with things like saying “stop tickling me” and having the tickling stop. And maybe the idea that tickling without asking isn’t funny.
  • We need to communicate everywhere that “We don’t treat people like that. We don’t allow people to be treated like that. We don’t let our friends treat people like that.”
  • We need to teach adults to listen, to mediate, to problem solve, to look for underlying issues rather than just bad behavior.
  • We need to stop punishing victims for coming forward.

The difference between life and death, between learning and depression, between functioning and suicidal ideation is not who people are, it’s how they are treated. That means that the people around them can be heroes, or they can be villains. There are no innocent bystanders.

This is true whether we are talking about trans people, LGBTQA people, disabled people, or just kids who ‘read’ to others as being different for whatever reason.Even when bullying doesn’t involve fists, it can kill. It can make people feel trapped in their situation. And the opposite of bullying is not “stricter discipline” but “more connection.”

Teach kids to be heroes.

Rule Number One

We need to talk. I know we’ve probably not met and we’ve never said word one to each other online because I filter the hell out of my Facebook and you probably don’t go to Tumblr because it’s incomprehensible and I usually don’t get into it on those comment threads. But you need to hear this.

So, I adore your kids, okay? They’re amazing. They are bright sparks in a hard world. They’re looking around at a society that is far stranger than the one I grew up in, and let me tell you, Oregon in the 80’s and 90’s was pretty dang strange. And they’re trying to figure out who they are and where they fit.

These are kids who have loving hearts, who genuinely want to make the world a better place, and find their place in it. They want to make things better for poor people and children, and they want to help keep people safe and they genuinely want to do the right thing just as soon as they can figure out exactly what that is.

I need you to stop breaking them.

In my world, rule number one is “Mama loves you.” Not, “Mama loves you if you go to college and marry a nice person of the opposite sex and dress like people expect you to and get a job that is socially approved with sufficient status.”  Not, “Mama loves you if you go to the right church and wait until marriage to have sex.”

Just, “Mama loves you.”

Here are things that don’t matter when it comes to rule number one:

  • The clothes someone wears
  • Who they love
  • What pronouns they use
  • What sex acts they do, and with who
  • What church they go to or don’t
  • Whether or not they are gainfully employed
  • Whether or not they go to college at all or finish in four years
  • Whether they identify as the gender they were assigned at birth due to inny or outy bits
  • Tattoos
  • Piercings
  • Hair color
  • Who their friends are
  • Who they vote for
  • Mistakes they make and trouble they get into

Now, I get having hopes and dreams for your child. I’ve got three children and I’ve poured my life into them for 23 years. I get having expectations and wanting to provide them with a solid start in this difficult world. But there’s a right way to do that and a wrong way. It’s one thing to help your kids understand your values. But if the value at the top of the list isn’t “Mama loves you” (or parental/quasiparental tag of choice), I’m sorry, the moment your child realizes that they can’t meet your ideal for them, there’s an awfully good chance they’re either going to break, or you’re going to lose them, or both.

You need to understand that you cannot stop a child from being gay, or trans, or bi, or nonbinary. It’s not about “how you raised them”, it just is. And the more you make them feel “wrong”, the less they’re going to care about doing right. The less you love them, the less they will feel lovable, and the more likely they’re going to go looking for that love in harmful places. You can’t make them gay, but you can make them broken.

I am losing count of the number of teenagers I have had in my house or in my inbox or chat talking about how they can’t tell their parents who they are because they are afraid. Kids who did tell you who they are, and you kicked them out, because “not under your roof.” Kids who struggle for years to get back to a healthy place where they place enough value on their own bodies and souls that they don’t go out doing the exact risky and scary stuff you’re afraid of because it doesn’t matter, they aren’t worth it, you told them so.

I spend a lot of time telling them how worth it they are. And they are. These are beautiful souls who, given a chance, will pour their whole selves into helping someone, into making a difference. They have so much to offer, but you make it all harder by teaching them that they don’t.

I love your kids, but it hurts me when they hurt, and I need you to stop breaking them. Stop worrying so much about their immortal souls and worry a lot more about their hearts. Stop worrying about what the neighbors will think, and start worrying about whether your child will survive.

So… stop asking your kids when they’re going to give you grandchildren. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Stop asking them when they’re going to get married, because the last thing you want for them is for them to end up with a bad marriage for the sake of being married. Stop judging the work they’re doing, and the friends they have.

You can tell them it’s okay to stand up for themselves. And accept it if they stand up to you. Listen. Don’t get defensive.

You can tell them it’s okay for them to expect people to treat them well. And then you better treat them well.

You can tell them it’s important to try hard and do their best. But don’t tell them they have to be the best. Don’t make your love contingent on victory conditions. Some of the best people in this world never won anything.

You can say that you worry about risky behavior because you love them and you want them safe, but don’t you dare kick them out and make them even more unsafe.

Teach them that you value them, not that they are worthless.

You can even teach them about your religious beliefs, but don’t you dare put them in hell on earth just because someone told you they might go to hell someday. I’m fairly certain if Jesus exists, he judges people more harshly for cruelty to their children than he does for who they sleep with or whether they have tattoos, that was pretty clear in the bible I read. Jesus was all about embracing people society couldn’t stand. Try being more like that.

I love your kids. They’ve slept on my couch and they’ve lived in my house and they are always welcome here. But it would be a better world if they didn’t end up broken to begin with.

Rule number one. Please. I’m begging you. Make sure they know it. Tell them it doesn’t matter. Tell them you want to understand but you don’t need to understand in order to keep loving them. Tell them they deserve love, and happiness, and joy and all good things, and that you know that their path in life may not look like your path but you want to be a safe space for them to come home to. That you don’t have to agree about politics or religion or social issues or any of those things, that they’re still worthy of all that life can give them.

And if that little person you thought was a boy comes to you and says that she’s a girl, your response there is a life-and-death issue. Their future happiness and ability to survive adulthood depends on what you say to them. And if it’s anything other than, “I love you, let’s figure this out and find out what you need to make you happy,” you’re playing with fire, because the biggest difference in whether or not a trans kid survives (yes literally survives) their teen years and young adulthood is whether they get support and acceptance or not. Your attitude can literally kill them.

Rule number one.  Mama loves you.

Because while I will always keep my home open for them, I’d rather they not need me. I’d rather not have to build them back up and explain to them how you forgot the important thing.

Rule number one.

Pondering identity: Race, class and gender

It is, if not amusing, certainly bemusing to me that the older I get, the less clarity I have about my identity. When I was 20, I attended, very briefly, Evergreen State College. And the one class I enrolled in was titled, “Race, Class and Gender in Comparative Perspective.” The subject matter was a comparison between modern-day India and the antebellum South in the the United States. I didn’t get very far in the class because I got knocked up, and got my own personal sojourn through the roles of “young, single welfare mother” and “college dropout.” At the time I identified as bisexual, female, white, ethnically Jewish, polyamorous, democrat, feminist, and liberal. I never quite figured out the class thing because I had professional parents, who didn’t have much money while I was growing up, and I spend a couple years on welfare… so I had a middle class upbringing with working class resources. I dropped out of college mostly because I didn’t want to waste my money while I wasn’t able to focus. I didn’t go back yet because life is complicated. 22 years and I still say “yet”.

I’m still a liberal, feminist democrat. And I’m still incredibly pale, and I still like lox. I’m still the child of a white, Anglo Saxon protestant mom whose family roots go back to the Mayflower and a Jewish dad whose parents’ families fled Russia and Poland in the early 1920s, long before Hitler had power in the area. Because lots of  people were assholes to the Jews back then.

In high school, during my junior year, I wrote a research paper about the history of Judaism. People have been kicking the Jews around for a hell of a long time. There was a lot of material. On the one hand, I felt it very personally, that these people like me had been so abused for so long. And on the other hand, Judaism doesn’t claim me, nor do I claim it as more than a cultural factor, because my mother is not Jewish. I grew up celebrating Christmas and Easter with rare forays that felt like tourism to seders and Hanukkah parties.

Recently someone said to me, “How do you dance the hora?”

I looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “And why do you think I know?” I asked.

“Well, your last name….”

Clearly someone who does not understand assimilation. (Side note: I actually have danced the Hora, many times, but I wouldn’t be able to right now and I only “know how” when I’m in a big circle of people dancing the hora because it’s that kind of dance.) It greatly reminded me of college, when a girl from Texas turned to a roommate and drawled, “You’re from California, what’s IN tofu?”

My roommate responded much as I did. She put on her best valley girl accent and said, “Like, I don’t know.”

But people have treated me different for “being Jewish”, no matter how little I look it or the fact that I don’t practice Judaism and never really have. I’m a freckled redhead with green eyes and pale skin, and really all I get from that side of the family is a lot of curl in my hair, full lips and a really flat butt. And my last name. It’s the name that makes people jump to conclusions, like, “Your people killed Jesus,” and “Do you sacrifice babies?” In contrast, assuming I know the Hora is pretty mild.

Growing up I went from being the weird white kid at the mostly black school (the school, now, is 97% black, in the middle of Detroit) to being the weird Jewish kid in a relentlessly white, sorta rural town in southern Oregon.

When people started saying, “White people don’t get it” I always felt kind of weird because growing up with my best friends being Black, and hearing the kids at school talk about their fears, and then ending up being identified without my taking the identity with a people who have been systematically oppressed for millennia, who have been the victims of genocide and segregation, who have been vilified, caricatured, rejected, and feared… it’s hard to imagine that there aren’t kind of a lot of commonalities. And yet… do we ever really understand where other people are coming from? If someone asks me if I’m Jewish, I can say “no”, honestly,  and they shrug and move on. Most of the assumptions, even the negative ones, that people make about Jews tend to be fear of financial or political power (accurate or not) rather than assumption of inadequacy or violence, unless we’re talking sports. It’s a different thing.  Just different.

So I’m sort of batting around thoughts about cultural appropriation. Intellectually I understand the concerns, but I also come from an incredibly mixed background of religion, ethnicity and place, and grew up with people talking about the melting pot as a good thing. I grew up liking moccasins and Baja hoodies and matzo balls, was baptized in the Episcopalian church and ultimately ended up as a lapsed Unitarian Universalist. And if you ever wanted a religion based on cultural appropriation…
As a teenager my go-to-sleep music was this:

Which is a Punjabi Buddhist mantra (I think) set to Celtic harp music.

Even baby carriers, everything comes from somewhere. Some of them come from multiple places. I like talking about where they come from but mostly I just want people to be comfortable wearing their babies, so sometimes the fact that things like the ergo are really Westernized adaptations of a number of Asian baby carriers gets lost in the shuffle, but hey, there were similar things in Sweden and Africa and yeah, it becomes challenging to know how much to worry about the cultural appropriation side of things.

We’re well off now. Secure, not “wealthy”, almost “comfortable”. On paper we look relatively wealthy, but mostly it’s because we’re planning for my husband to retire early. Like just over a year from now. So it’s got to last a while. But very, very far from where I was when I was 22, on welfare. Or worse, before welfare, when I had literally zero dollars and got by on foodstamps. Still have to think about money but surprises only upset us, they don’t break us anymore. And I grew up not able to afford college. I grew up in working class neighborhoods. But I grew up with parents who were white collar professionals. I had more in common with the upper class kids except the inconvenience of not being able to buy trendy shit. My parents gave me lessons and adventures and put a priority on my education and they were married and still are.

I talk about privilege a lot, and I’m working through most of this stuff with much the same filter. I don’t have a crystallized, formalized opinion yet.

Last night I was watching Honest Trailers, and was laughing my ass off. What they had to say about Skyrim and Harry Potter were hilarious. And then we got to the Avengers, and it was awesome, right up to the point where they said, “This movie will make your inner 8 year old stand up and squeal, unless you’re dead, or a girl.”

And my god. I just shut it down. Closed the window and stopped watching, though there was plenty more in the rabbit hole. If they’d said pretty much any other label in place of “girl” it would have been immediately obviously offensive and I don’t think they’d have said it. But “like a girl” and “girls don’t like these things” and “fake geek girl” have been too prevalent lately to let this one go.

In elementary school, I won the competition to be on the Olympics of the Mind robot building team for our school district-wide TAG class. Won it. And when the team assembled, the boys put their heads together and told me and the other girl who’d made the team, “You guys can do the costumes. We’re building the robot.”

Their robot sucked and failed to work.

In the same class, we were learning to program computers. And when it was my turn, every time the teacher would give me the same program I’d already done, and then turn to the boys and help them do more complicated things. Not because I lacked aptitude but because clearly teaching me wasn’t worth the effort because I couldn’t possibly be interested in that. I was an adult before I taught myself to code at all. There was just no support for it.

In high school, despite having some of the highest scores in the math program, I was not invited to be on the math team. It was like I was invisible.

I grew up hearing Free to Be You and Me tell me that the only significant difference between Mommies and Daddies is the biological act of parenting. I grew up with a dad who taught me to cook and a mom who went to school and had a law office. With a dad who did much of the outside work and a mom who sewed. With a dad who wasn’t afraid to cry and a mom who wasn’t going to back down from a fight for justice. And it wasn’t until college that I learned this was kinda weird.  And it wasn’t until the past few years that I really understood how deep gender discrimination goes. That having a female name makes it harder to get published. Or hired for many jobs. Or any of a number of other biases that in retrospect should have been obvious and I thought were just me. I was “bossy” and “bitchy” and “pushy”.  I talked out of turn and raised my hand too much. I was fired from a job supposedly for breaking the rules (I didn’t) because one of the bosses didn’t like how her husband was looking at me. Once, an insurance company refused to pay what a totaled stolen and recovered vehicle was worth until my father came on the line and threatened to pull his accounts. I was 24.

And I never fit. Have literally never worn high heels. Too tall. My hands don’t fit in women’s gloves. They don’t make most women’s shoes in my size. Hardly anything is made to fit me. I’m thankful to walmart for actually acknowledging the existence of large women, as it means that I can at least wear colorful sweats and t-shirts without shopping from big and tall men’s stores (which I do anyway.)

I feel like when society defines what it means to be a woman most of it isn’t me. But I don’t feel like I’m not a woman. Except I don’t want people judging me on those terms, so I’m pretty likely to use a gender neutral pseudonym when I publish. I hate that it comes down to that. And  my eldest kid is nonbinary. In their words, “I don’t mind being a sister and a daughter, but don’t call me a girl like that’s all I am.” I get that completely.

I don’t have a uterus anymore. And now that Miles is on the very tail end of weaning, I probably will stop having breasts in the next few years. I’m letting go of the things that ever made me connect to the idea of “womanhood” as separate from “personhood”.

I don’t have any answers, but I’m reading articles right now about whether or not Jewish people are white, and sort of laughing exasperated inside because my god, I’ve never felt completely white or completely Jewish or really completely anything because are things ever that simple? I’m not NOT those things, but they aren’t all I am either.

When I look in the mirror and think about identity, mostly I think, “I’m me.”

Not entirely straight, not entirely bi, functionally monogamous but I’ve been polyamorous in the past, not sure I could deal with it now, so does it matter? I don’t know. Not Jewish, not not-Jewish, and the Jewish identity matters more than being “white” as an identity because the tribulations of my great grandparents are much closer than the struggles of my 8-times grandfathers and grandmothers. Woman, female, not feminine, not masculine either, hell, even on the Meyers-Briggs my answers hover in the indeterminate middle. Mostly I’m not binary, and don’t like dichotomies. And injustice makes me angry and sad. And I want people to be safe, secure, happy and loved.

I don’t think there’s a box I fit in. Or maybe that is the box. That I don’t fit.

Maybe that’s what it’s about. Sitting with the uncertainty and accepting that as reality.

I’ll go with you

A few days ago, one of our co-op members posted about http://www.illgowithyou.org/ .

This is a project formed in response to the transgender protest #wejustneedtopee. See http://www.advocate.com/politics/transgender/2015/03/14/trans-folks-respond-bathroom-bills-wejustneedtopee-selfies for an excellent article about the issues faced by trans folk in bathrooms. To quote one young friend of mine, “Not having a safe bathroom made high school a misery.” A mom friend went to court to take the school district to task when her daughter was excluded from using “girl” bathrooms on the grounds that a six year old child is somehow a hazard to other children simply by dint of being a little different between the legs.

But it goes way beyond bathrooms. Transgender people are often subjected to relentless, devastating discrimination and violence. The isolation and feelings of alienation are so profound that more than 40% of trans folk have attempted suicide. Not considered, ATTEMPTED. And many succeed. How many people have we lost?

I posted about the buttons. It is a tiny thing, but it is a thing. And the co-op is buying them in a way that for every 100 we buy, we’ll donate 400 to local groups. We’ve already committed to ordering 200 paid-for buttons, which means at least 800 buttons to donate. My goal is that we get so many people wearing them that a trans person will walk into a public space and see so many buttons that they will feel welcome, reassured, and not even NEED to ask, in order to feel safe.

And someone in my extended family said three words that broke my heart. And then fired me up.

“Don’t encourage them.”

If you are reading this, and somehow think that LGBT queer folk are somehow bad, wrong, or not to be supported, loved and made to feel safe as they walk through their everyday lives, we really need to talk.

The idea, the very notion that I should not wear and encourage others to wear a button that simply states, “I’ll go with you”, telling trans folk that they have an ally present who would be happy to make the bathroom spaces feel less scary to them, upsets me to the core. Especially since I strongly suspect said sentiment is somehow grounded in conservative christian notions of “sin”.

I don’t talk a ton about my religious beliefs which are complex, private, and not a subject I’m willing to discuss, but I will say that I was brought up from a young age learning a lot about the teachings of Jesus, and the ones that stick with me the strongest are the stories of Jesus sitting down with the people everyone else rejected, and simply being with them, talking with them, and LOVING them. Do you think that Jesus would have checked under someone’s robe to see if their garment matched their genitalia before offering them bread?

I have many, many people in my life who are trans, nonbinary, genderqueer, lesbian, gay, bisexual, poly and just plain ol’ too queer to define readily. And if you think for a second that I’m not going to stand by them and do everything I know how to do to make this world a safer, more loving place for them because you think I shouldn’t encourage them, you don’t know me at all. And if you think they are somehow unworthy of having a place in this world, undeserving of housing, employment, health care, love, and the same rights that all the so-called “normal” people get just for showing up simply because they don’t look like you want them to look or act the way you think people “should” act, you need to go back and read the teachings of Jesus a little more. Start with “love thy neighbor” and “judge not lest ye be judged”.

The main reason given by most of the gospels for the plot to get rid of Jesus was due to his constant breaking of the old ways in favor of common sense, common decency and humanity over law. They killed him for doing things differently, for throwing the religious establishment’s rules out the window because they no longer served. “The sabbath was made for man, not man made for the sabbath.”

Someone said to me today, in a comment which I deleted because I want my friends to feel safe, “Don’t encourage them.”

You know what? I will absolutely “encourage” “them”.

Because “they” are in my heart, my soul, my breath. And so, so many have been discouraged to death. Literal, actual death.

Encourage them? I want to shout to the rooftops, “You are welcome here, by my side. You are welcome here, in my heart. Tell me who you are, and I’ll do everything I can to meet you there. And if there’s somewhere you want to go, where you don’t feel safe, I’ll go with you. Because this world is better with you in it.”