Managing Conflicts Among Women

I wrote this piece, about eight months ago, and I gave this speech, about six months ago, as way stations in my progress towards articulating* my thoughts about how we respond to confrontation within feminism, and confrontation generally with other women. I’m still working on this line of thought. I probably will be forever. This is just another way station. A somewhat lengthy one.

I need to start with a couple of disclaimers, and everyone knows I hate disclaimers, because these things I am talking about are not sins at all, and I am deeply unrepentant of them**. The disclaimers do, though, lead to the heart of the matter.

The first is that I wish to talk to, with, and about other (moderately to very) feminine women. Yes, this is certainly a conversation more about femininity than about womanhood. Yes, there are butch and masculine women. Certainly I am their great fan (certainly, they make my heart go pitter-patter, although it turned out that it belongs to a man). Although I see guilt-voices from other feminists chiding me to then speak of “femininity,” and not “womanhood,” I respond that, here, I talk about feminine women, both because I do not entirely, yet, understand the entanglement of womanhood and femininity, and because I really do not presume to speak on behalf of feminine men. I am not of them, nor to have spent great time studying them. They might tell me I am describing them as well as myself. Feminine women, too, may tell me I am wrong. But this is a significant part of what feminism is about – it is discovery of the bounds of the invisibly gilded birdcage in which one is made to present both beauty of feather and of lilt. There are feminists who believe her freedom is found in casting off her femininity. I am not one of them. I wish to help her embrace her femininity and create a world in which she can be both free and authentic. So let me dispense with that, sisters.

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A whole bunch of women (and three men) who are not talking about feminist stuff. Source: Reddit

The other disclaimer is that, when I talk about confrontation among women (who may or may not be Sisters), of course, not everything every woman says*** is feminist. Obviously, right? I mean this isn’t news. Look, you, at the the women of Fox News (who occasionally might get it right, but frequently get it wrong). Look at Carly Fiorina. Extending this obvious point, though, is perhaps a more subtle one: there are disagreements between women that are not grounded in feminist principles, and for these disagreements, feminism may provide groundwork but not substantive resolution.

But in this, the sister is damned if she does, and damned if she does not, and now we are getting somewhere.

She is damned when the disagreement is feminist, damned in a million traps laid for her. She is hard pressed into forms of logical discourse that may or may not apply well, to feminist theory, and more particularly, which encapsulate sexism in that they favor strongly masculine thinking styles over feminine thinking styles and masculine knowledge over feminine knowledge. I’m not saying that women nor femininity are inherently illogical – they are not. My scientific credibility is not in conflict with my femininity – but these rules and processes are built by men and for men, to operate in a world of men, and I am saying this as a feminine woman who has spent great time and effort acquiring this knowledge, both from other women and directly from men. To this point, too, these processes also favor the knowledge of the enfranchised over the knowledge of the un- or disenfranchised, a thing we see over and over again in phenomena like mansplaining and whitesplaining. And thus she finds herself damned into conversation that amplifies all of the disparities she opposes in the most deeply moral ways imaginable to her kind, and as her adversary is likely pressed into the same type of conversation, she is double damned.

She is damned, too, and perhaps less overtly, if she does not. My observation is predicated firmly on observing myself (and learning, over decades, to not see this as a flaw in myself). It is necessarily generalizing, and it is not meant to invalidate the examples of sisters who differ in these particulars. But for a moment, I want to speak to what I suppose, are many woman besides myself. We have no love for fighting. In fact, we hate it. When we choose to use the didactical tools of the patriarchy, we, like men, are somewhat able, although I suspect far less completely than them, to depersonalize our conflict. Certainly, when we fight men, they will tell us to do so. And damn us, we try. But our fighting is inherently far more personal, I believe, than theirs. This can be seen in archetypes and stereotypes – particularly the archetype scene of the two men who pummel each other with fists, and running out of endurance, lying on the ground together, find healing. These men then arise and drink beer together. Because their fights, even, surreally, when they seek to physically hurt or even kill each other, are not very personal.

This is not how fighting among women seems to work, at least not in many of the scrapes into which I’ve gotten. No, our fighting is deeply personal, it is scarcely anything other than personal. Contrast against that example of the men in a fistfight a prototypical way that a woman has fought with violence: by throwing herself into the gears.

Probably not completely unique to women (and feminine people in general), but more pronounced, on average, among women, is a tendency that needs consideration here. Even if we do lash out, we also lash in, and this is important. The gears stop, but against our bodies are exacted a terrible price. In a funny way, my history with anorexia is a good example – I would get caught up in self-starvation, the mental health problem that could most double as a political statement!

My observation (and particularly my introspection) reveals that our anger almost always is deeply enmeshed with guilt, self-doubt, and self-loathing. This makes our fights very different from fist fights, and it makes our very notion of victory, in the best of cases, very different from what other kinds of victories look like. Think about this: when was the last time you felt good after conflict, and particularly when was the last time you felt good after conflict with another woman? If you’re having trouble finding even one example, think about all those times when you didn’t feel good. Perhaps you “won” the fight, but that victory was deeply pyrrhic for you. Inside the Sisterhood, “white feminism” demanding an erasing solidarity probably works entirely based on this subconscious or even conscious knowledge, for all of us, that there are no knockout punches in our fights, and we will never walk away unhurt, nor really even feel any strong sense of having won. Often times, sisters back down to other sisters, for this very reason, although this, too, is pyrrhic, in the self-loathing engendered by allowing (what we believe to be) wrong-minded views to flourish.

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Rose McGowan, whom I love, recently picked a fight that should be addressed (because she was right about almost everything, but what she was wrong about made all the difference), but not in a way that just hurts all the sisters involved. Source: Wikimedia

I am coming to believe, buried in this, and probably at a level at which we are rarely cognizant of it, there is some kind of fear that there is evil in us, evil that works in a morphology like dark magic, where once it is unleashed, it is not re-bottled, and it will consume us. Society is all too willing to reinforce this idea about us, from the witch trials, to the very idea of hysteria, to the celebrity-gone-mad storyline****. Although not uniquely told about women, these are all strongly gendered messages, and ones we internalize in our self-hatred as well as recast onto other women.

Thus, we find we scarcely know how to fight someone else without fighting ourselves, and although we may be mortally afraid of others, in ways, we are always more afraid of ourselves.

And that is why this message is so powerful.

And that is why this message is so powerful.

And thus, although our fighting is deeply personal, deeply sensual, focused not so much on weapons nor damage, but far more on tooth and on nail, it is powerfully violent in a whole new way that fists could never be.

This is interesting. If the prototype of men fighting is the fistfight (something I suspect very few women have ever done – I certainly have not, in any event), it is worth noting that this kind of fighting is optimized not to inflict severe injury. Think about our bodies and think about how fighting looks (the stereotype on television will work). There are certainly places on the body (such as the base of the skull) in which a relatively smaller force could be lethal. Men in the stereotypical fistfight do not hit each other in these places. In fact, this is seen throughout animals – rams head-butt each other in a way that involves a fight that results in a winner and a loser, but which relatively less frequently involves anyone killing anyone else. Now guns and knives change this, significantly. But the point is that the culture of fighting among men (and certainly, they have spent time creating such a culture, over many, many generations), is optimized in a very different way than the culture of fighting among woman has been. In primitive society, strong solidarity was far more crucial to the safety of women than men, and being cast out was likewise far more dangerous to women than to men.

Echoing this, over the millennia, although incarceration certainly primarily affects menfolk, broadly, there is a pronounced emphasis on casting out when it comes to the treatment of women – adulterers, sex workers, and other women of “ill repute,” single mothers and those not deemed appropriate for pregnancy, and many others.

We echo this, as well, in our discourse. It is a part of the reason why we argue about whether other women are feminists, in a way that men would not do (instead, typically arguing that he is wrong, or more broadly, stupid). We do not have old boys’ clubs, or really a direct equivalent, but we do have amorphous but pervasive networks of social power, and many of us rely on them in far-reaching ways. And they are networks from which women are far more commonly cast out, a thing for which the old boys’ network is not renowned.

So we have a different brand of fighting, often, among women, with different stakes. In some ways, these stakes are far more precarious, and rather than analyzing the ways we fight each other as women by comparing us to men, we should understand how these ways have evolved over time to be most damaging to most women.

Now what?

First, if we buy into this line of reasoning, which is admittedly here in a rough draft form, then, we should see that making fights among women more like fights among men will not solve anything. Certainly, most of us don’t have any real interest in throwing punches. But even when we consider fighting amongst men outside of throwing punches, it is optimized to serve priorities of men and masculinity. It will not be a good fit to our concerns. If there is any level on which we agree that the deeply personal, emotional realm is somewhat emphasized in us as women, we cannot simply shift our fights more into the realm of masculine logic, any more than our fights would be simply resolved just because we held them in Spanish instead of English (or vice versa). Rather, we must complement the development of masculine / agency – driven tools for confrontation with the development of more powerful, but unabashedly feminine / communion driven tools.

Second, such a line of reasoning changes how we understand escalation. Escalation to physical violence, in many of our arguments, makes no sense, and having come this far without using physical violence to solve any problem, like ever, it is not something we are going to accidentally use. Rather, the escalation types, of which we must be most wary, all involve some kind of outcasting process. So if we want feminism-informed conflict among women, we must seriously look for ways to take this, from exiling women from feminism, to exiling women from being recognized as part of what needs to be done in female representation in business or political spheres, to exiling women from our social networks, off the table. While recognizing that our arguments may be deeply personal, and that we may indeed fight tooth and nail, we need to recognize as well, the needs of our opponents to maintain community.

These are pretty lofty demands, and it is still hard for me to understand how I would use them practically when I am in confrontation. But there is power in knowing what needs to be done.

* The book I’m writing, when – not if – I finish it, is centrally about understanding what inclusion issues in feminism teach us about feminism, both as movement and as ideology, and resolving our struggles in-Sisterhood not through solidarity that means silencing those most vulnerable, nor through assisting privileged sisters in drowning themselves in self-hatred, but in a way that recognizes our plurality and focuses on the strength that plurality brings us and the opportunity it delivers to us to build better feminisms.

** I grieve sins, far too many do I grieve, but these are not the sins I grieve.

*** Nor even everything any one woman says, you know, like even if that woman were one we hold sacrosanct within our movement. But certainly not if they’re just some bitch like me. This now being the third blog post in which I’ve dabbled in the footnotes, talking about the idea of using bitch as a reclamation word, and not delivering on it. Who knows, you might have to wait for my book.

**** These stories are far older than Norma Desmond. They have been encapsulated in things like mad songs, almost always sung by women, from ancient times – in proto-operatic forms, the mad song was even a standard component of many compositions, and in my nature of impertinence, although it is, certainly pertinent, I am listening to my favorite collection of them as I write.

On Embracing My Fears

For living a joy filled life, for finding passion and excitement, making dreams come true, living stories that I will tell and retell, every single day, I want to make an admission that might surprise you.

I am afraid.

Always.

It is a constant current running through the back of my mind. I wake up every day to a day full of opportunities to disappoint everyone I care about, to fail everything in which I believe. To not make a good enough breakfast for Teri. To not be a good enough mother to Iago, a foreshadowing of my failures to come as a mother to a human child. To not be pretty enough or put-together enough. To not be a good enough entrepreneur or scientist – to let down my team, which is a family to me, and especially my two closest co-dreamers. To let down all the children and families we serve.

I am afraid, too, that we will not keep our house well enough to be good neighbors. That I am not doing enough for my community. That I am not doing enough with my voice to make our world better. That I do not give enough money, time, or attention, to all the causes that need me.

And always that I will let down my mother and father.

This isn’t something to be overcome.

Audre Lorde said this:

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

Lorde wrote this in the context of her Cancer Journals, understanding-through-writing about her experience with breast cancer. Although it is in part an ode to grappling with mortality, it is a paean of everyday life, too, for all of us as women especially, and given the statements about fear found stitched throughout Lorde’s powerful writing, for her, herself.

Lorde's many comments about fear and the role it plays in women's lives are a worthy reminder for all of us, whether we have embraced strength or are still striving to do so.

Lorde’s many comments about fear and the role it plays in women’s lives are a worthy reminder for all of us, whether we have embraced strength or are still striving to do so.

Like Lorde, when I say that I do not see overcoming my fear, I mean that I cannot stop being afraid, but I can learn to live in a way that makes my fear irrelevant. The reason I am joy-filled and adventure-filled today is, in great extent, because I have been learning to do this, and although I remain filled with fear, that I am also filled with joy and that my life is filled with adventure tells me validates my path for me.

One of my recent realizations is that I have come an immense distance in my authenticity. I feel I am true in nearly every moment, and when I display artifice, it is with reason. I’ve even learned to be authentically vulnerable. But the interesting thing I find is that, even when I am authentically vulnerable, I am channeling my fear into lessons for myself others. What is wonderful about this is that I have learned to be powerful even in the midst of embracing fear.

The revolution is not that I say, “I am not afraid anymore.” It is that I say, “I am strong.”

I find the latter so much harder to own than the former, even though it is truth and the former is lie.

When I say that I am strong, I am filled with fear.

To this there is only one antidote.

Whenever I am filled with fear, I will be strong, and fear shall become my kōan.

On Micro- and Macrofeminism

I have been confronting issues, for which macrofeminist and microfeminist issue alignment, or more precisely, the lack of a means to align these spheres, makes feminists miserable or saps our agency. A classic example of micro- and macro- misalignment is my gripe about feminist men who post anti-sexism memes on Facebook but let their girlfriends, fiancées, wives, or lovers, do all the chores, cook all the meals, and even serve them to them. This is not an example that I pull out of thin air, exactly*. Erm.

Something about this is not quite feminist.

Something about this is not quite feminist.

These terms may be new. Let me explain what I mean by them. I’m borrowing (obviously) the concept from economics, although there are important distinctions. By macrofeminism I mean our thought and discourse about, our belief in or prioritization of, and all the heartshare, that big, systemic issues take up. The hundreds of millions of girls and women who go without basic access to water, sanitation, and education are a macroscale issue to me – I don’t directly touch on their lives, at least right now. As an upper middle class Indian American in a safe neighborhood – for me, Black Lives Matter is also really a macroscale issue, although for another feminist, these issues may touch much closer to home.

In contrast, microfeminism includes, certainly, all the micro-aggressions that affect us personally, but more generally, the feminism of our daily lived experience – how we are disrespected, invalidated, or erased, how we are made recipients of misogyny (and frequently expected to say, “Thank you” in return), and how we are taught to hate and loathe ourselves or see ourselves as “less than.” These issues relate to macrofeminist issues in much the same way that economies are made up of many small transactions, the three dollars you paid the barista and the change you fed in the parking meter, and so on, which, when considered as a whole, become gargantuan. The big distinction from the economic use of microeconomics and macroeconomics is that, because of all the factors outside of sexism or patriarchy**, and because there is no unifying metric of feminism in the way that economists can at least try to convert all effects to some currency unit, what is microfeminist and what is macrofeminist may differ from person to person.

I choose these terms instead of saying something like, “walking the walk” and “talking the talk” for two reasons. First, there are actions associated with the macrofeminist issues – activated macrofeminists make voting decisions, educate and inform others, and sometimes even mobilize others for feminist movement. This is true in Teri’s case. He isn’t just lazily re-sharing memes on Facebook. His thoughts on this – including the ones that prompted this post – are deep and meaningful, and they are not lacking in sincerity. He is therefore walking and talking in alignment – what feels out of alignment is not his words and deeds, but his handling of the global and local applications of his beliefs.

The other reason I want to use these two terms, since I write every blog post I write, every speech or talk I give, not just to teach and share, but to, myself, try to learn, to learn, intersectionally, to not discount my personal experience wholly in favor of systemic issues that often have limited direct impact on me. See, as I share, particularly when I talk about anorexia and the personality traits I have that align with my anorexia experience, one of the most dominant hurtful themes*** of my childhood was learning that my hurt was always overruled by someone else’s hurt. As soon as I opened my mouth to speak my hurt, someone else would interrupt me, telling me theirs was worst. And I believed them / maybe it was. So I closed my mouth. And waited my turn. That never came. Like, ever. This is directly relevant because, all these years later, and through all my exposure to feminism, I know that I am not the only one of us – women, particularly, but also others – who experienced this. And when I look at feminist movement and women’s spaces, I see that they are filled with guilty women. And I get that. Because social butterfly that I am, I view every social interaction as an opportunity to let someone down – Teri, my friends, my team, my parents, acquaintances, strangers – my thoughts overflow, too, with guilt. I learned as I recovered from anorexia to be done with the idea that, because my hurt never measured up, it would never be my turn to hurt. I finally came to understand that this was the root of my lack of self-esteem, and overcoming this belief – allowing myself to hurt authentically – was central to how I came to have some small measure of self-respect****.

These daily micro- aggressions add up, and we should question expecting feminists to table them for the bigger systemic issues. Source: Wikipedia

These daily micro- aggressions add up, and we should question expecting feminists to table them for the bigger systemic issues. Source: Wikipedia

Back to my classic example. I would not be true to my feminism if I ignored this misogyny in my home because all my effort is on macrofeminist issues. I would not be truly feminist if I ignored it everywhere else I experienced it, like, all the time. But I admit that, sometimes, I do, precisely because of this fear that I will detract from my macrofeminist causes. These are trivial, although micro-aggression adds up. It isn’t all trivial. At its most serious extreme, and yet in this exact process, there have been times when women (not me) have been asked, “intersectionally” to overlook their own sexual assaults because their assaulter was perceived as an ally to feminist or progressive movement. Where this happened – the most flagrant, recent, example, was some of the early response to claims of sexual assault at the hands of Bill Cosby (where the intersection of race complicated the issue but did not warrant invalidating the claims of women reporting rape), but another prominent example from recent years was sexual assault at Occupy Wall Street and other similarly styled protest movements – we are not doing feminist movement, nor women either as a political entity nor as individual women, any favors when we whitewash these assaults.

In contrast, in my usage, say an affluent, ethnically non-marginalized feminist women can talk about black lives and the impacts of poverty and lack of access to education, or about curtailment of reproductive freedoms, for sisters who are affected by these issues in ways she is not (and in that way, is not “like her”), but also, on the microfeminist scale, not feel pushed to ignore or overlook all the times when men objectify or make unwanted sexual advances, making whatever-it-is cents on the dollar compared to men of her own ethnicity, or when she feels, say, like a sucker because all the responsibility in her relationships with men is placed on her shoulders*****. Rather than dismissing her feminism as “white” or “faux,” if she is engaged in discourse and movement both at the microfeminist and macrofeminist levels, we can recognize and celebrate this as a more integrative, and thus more intersectional, feminism.

When we do this, we make her stronger, and we make feminism stronger, rather than pitting feminist cause against feminist cause or feminist against feminist. We also empower her to learn to dynamically balance her commitment to discourse and movement on issues at both levels. I do mean dynamic. When she has just been catcalled, or something has just been mansplained to her, or when her microscale issue is something not so micro, we should understand and embrace her anger on her local issue. We should give her a moment, and not expect her to breathlessly return to advocating on a more systemic level without acknowledging her own mistreatment.

Apropos of the dynamic nature of this process, recognizing this as micro- and macrofeminist alignment has the further benefit that it offers us a robust platform on which we can engage in the kind of prioritizing we need to do, if we want our feminism to be intersectional. This prioritization would not work by denying sexism or misogyny, ever, or queuing up some experiences in dead end “slow lanes” like what was done to all my sorrows when I was younger. Rather, it would recognize that no feminist, even we who throw our bodies into the gears, should be sacrificing her own dignity or self-respect as a woman in order to support feminist movement. This is important because, as I’ve said before, it’s time to have some intersectional real talk and get beyond just saying we’re intersectional and then not thinking intersectionally.

So please give this some thought. It’s not so important that these terms take root – but the idea underlying them is different, and I believe it is one component of our pathway out of toxic, faux, and bullshit feminism, and back to empowering and fulfilling feminism.

* Meaning I’ve been calling Teri out on it. Teri is a good sport to let me publicly analyze these issues. Make no mistake, I not only love him with all my being, but I respect him – if I use him as an example it is because our relationship is a highly accessible example-base for me, because I push him to be better and I expect him to push me to be better, and also because this is entirely the point of microfeminism. I am particularly thankful for his willingness to embrace the discomfort my baring myself sometimes causes him, e.g., when I embrace the term “bitch” as a reclamation term for myself, and he cringes, still.

** Here, I use a simple operational definition of patriarchy as the system that sustains, reinforces, and expands the reach of sexism.

*** There were many positive themes, and I have lived a joy-filled life through it all.

**** This is a (life-) long journey. Much as I still see myself as fat, always, and as ugly, nearly always, even if I also am able to somewhat accept the fact that I am not fat by any sensible measure, and to understand that I am perceived as beautiful, and that all the people who use words like stunning, lovely, or gorgeous – words I receive probably somewhere or other every week – that all those people are not simultaneously lying to me.

***** All the way down, she gripes at the airport, to “annoying guy behavior,” like blocking the boarding lane at the airport gate when your number hasn’t been called yet, but you’re right directly in the line, so we have to ask you if you’re boarding (to which you always say no) to let us around you. Seriously, why do you do that?

Maybe It’s Time I Became an Openly Progressive Woman

I think it might be time I change my perspective on something. I have never affiliated myself directly with a political party – I’ve always been an independent. I’ve voted for many Democrats, especially at the national level, but I’ve cast votes for many Republicans, as well, often at the state and local levels*. I’ll always vote for the best person (ideally the best woman) for the job, but I think it’s time I sacrifice a little bit of my fiercely independent nature and pull in closer to the Sisterhood.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go to the first Women’s Health & Economic Summit, hosted by the Michigan Women’s Progressive Caucus, and particularly Democratic women from the State House. I had been quietly getting to know progressive women here in West Michigan, over the past year, in part because I see very clearly the war on women, on black and Hispanic people, on the LGBT community, and, all too often, on common sense. I do not wish to roll the clock back even farther, and I am keenly aware of the risk the next few cycles of elections holds for all of us.

I walked in on the event, yesterday, with some concern, which was not entirely unfounded. I am a businesswoman who has a very strong sense of entrepreneur identity. I work at a mid-size non-profit (Hope Network, which has a financial size of more than $100M in revenues), and I innovate there. We’re doing things now that have never been done at Hope before, and we already have in our cache the next, next, and next levels of what we’re trying to do (and are prepping the old guard to be very, very afraid). Some people also call those of us who are entrepreneurs “in the big box” intrepreneurs, and I do like that, too, although my businesswoman identity is tied into pro-social innovation, not the big box, so social entrepreneur is probably what I like best. Anyways, as I walked in the door worried that I would not be welcome as a businesswoman, even though we know how many progressive women are small business owners.

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Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), a hometown sister, delivering her statements early in the day.

I was a little right. In the Q&A following a morning panel, two people used their opportunity to ask questions to attack entrepreneurs and providers and everyone else who serves in the healthcare industry. While there is some validity to their point, I felt personally attacked by this, because it’s what I do, and although there is a great need for structural reform (for which I myself advocate, in fact, I advocate unhesitatingly for a transition to a single payer system, to, in essence, doing what works in many other parts of the world, rather than practicing American Exceptionalism), I do not believe in an attacking dialog on this, and especially not one in which there is no room even for healthcare providers to have voices.

Intersectionalism runs deep – this is not a claim to my identity, just a statement of fact. It’s the whole point of intersectionalism. I cannot put away the fact of my Indianness. I cannot ignore the fact that, during my lifetime, although Mr. Obama is a noteworthy exception, every time there has been a Democrat in the White House, relationships with India have become jingoistic on the American side, leading to cooling of bilateral cooperation and adversely affecting the lives and livelihoods of my family. I have, nonetheless, supported all the Democrats who tried to get there, during my adult life, starting with hand-delivering get-out-the-vote information for Bill Clinton when I was a senior in high school. In this same sort of way, and perhaps more saliently to me, because my identity as a businesswoman is probably stronger than my identity as an Indian (for better and worse), I can’t put away my belief in economic empowerment through business development when I enter progressive spaces.

I want to back up a step, though. Before that happened, when I walked in the door, people immediately recognized and welcomed me (and I wasn’t really sure there would even be many people I knew). I didn’t have to give my name. My friend, Amber, at the check-in station, already knew it. Representatives and activists came and made me feel welcome. Right away. This is pretty much what happens, time and time again, when I enter the spaces of my feminist sisters. It is frequently not what happens when I enter LGBT spaces**. And it’s something I’ve been listening to, thinking more and more about how I need to embrace my feminist roots, and my feeling that there is some structural mis-alignment (as exemplified by my giving) that over-represents my LGBT identity and underrepresents my feminist identity, when the latter is one I have been clear is much stronger for me. That is, my strongest identity of all is that of being a woman, of being a Sister.

So I did not walk in the door feeling unwelcomed – I walked in the door feeling very welcomed, at home, where I belong. This is a thing I’ll come back to, please bear with me. If the moment I described above validated my fears, they were subsequently invalidated by the rest of the day. I attended two great panels that were about empowering women economically.

The morning session I attended was music to my ears, talking about the value women bring to workforce development, and the many shared goals women of all ages and millennials bring to the workplace. The things with which we will change the world. We talked about fighting sexism, recognizing implicit biases in the workplace that harm women (and minorities), and building a workspace that meets the changing needs of the workforce as women and millennials come to dominate.

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Rep. Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) speaking at a morning panel about women and the strength we bring to workforce development

One of my goals is to integrate my life even more – I want to live my career, whether my current role as Director of my Center for Autism, or future ones, in a deeply feminist way. So we’ve been tackling a lot of these issues at the Center. And it’s tricky. I find my millennial leadership team members, amazingly, afraid to ask me if they can bring their young children into work due to a sudden issue with childcare. At my Center where we grow the lives and dreams of young children. In part, they’re scared because, technically, this is against our corporate policy. I respond (and HR may deal with me as they wish) by reminding my leadership team, gently, that they set an example of how to work with the families we serve, who are dealing with the same exact problems, and that of course they should bring their children in, and of course I trust their judgment in the matter. They do not need to say that dedication to their jobs will not be adversely impacted by their children paying occasional visits to my Center. I knew that already.

Time to admit I have some work to do.

Time to admit I have some work to do.

The rest of the day was much like that. Rashida Tlaib, alongside whom I spoke last year at Lady Parts‘ V to Shining V, received an award at lunch and delivered an impassioned and remarkably funny speech. Particularly impactful to me was her story of breastfeeding at the State Legislature and something atrocious a man had said to her, emphasizing that no matter how high we climb, we are still sexualized and objectified and well, treated like women. It mirrored something in passing that another Representative had said, which emphasized how women who are running the State still find themselves running home to cook meals for their families, much like I do.

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Rashida Tlaib of Sugar Law Center being fierce. It’s kind of what she does.

One more thing that resonated with me is how many of the women in the House spoke about how influential women in their communities had told them to run for office time and time gain – sometimes more than ten different women had told them this – before they listened. This has actually happened to me more than a few times in the last year, and at least two women I respect immensely have told me to do it. I need to think much more carefully about this, as I learn about what it is that I don’t know (which is kind of a lot) about the business of running for office. I think I worry, too, that I may not be electable, and that if I ran, I would be taking up attention that another politician deserves – taking up too much space. I don’t know if the former is really founded, because I have so many people in my life who are willing to support me. And I got a good dose of reminder that the latter is how entirely too many of us women think, entirely too often.

This is where I want to leave this story. I think it’s time that I think much more critically about my sense of need for independence, and the extent to which that’s a show, pretend, vs. my really deep-seated sense of Sisterhood, loyalty, and alliance. I need to question the implicit assumptions I have that Progressives and Democrats are anti-business. I need to listen to my heart, that tells me when I’m among progressive women, I belong more than I have ever belonged. I need to listen to my brain, which tells me that women are in a perilous time right now, and solidarity is more important than ever. And I need to listen to my voice, which tells me, sister, you’re stronger than you think you are, and you have more to say than you give yourself credit for. And I will listen. To all three.

* I do own my regret that some of the Republicans for whom I voted did what I wanted as a businesswoman but turned around and sided away from business interests, with social conservatives, when politically convenient, to the detriment both of women and of the LGBT community. While I’m a dimensional, non-single-voter issue, this is a compromise I recognize that I made, in the past, without full appreciation of the consequences, and I am trying to learn better.

** Although even in that story, Christina Karhl and her wife waylaid us for a drink and were one of the shining spots in that awful night.

On Why I Haven’t Been Going to Church

I haven’t been going to church. I’ve been a devout churchgoer for wide swaths of my life – from around fourth grade, when I became best friends with a preacher’s kid, all the way through high school. That church I left, because my first sin against God was physics, and I had no room in my sensibilities for such a religion. After a couple of years off, I spent a significant amount of college, my wonderful time in engineering graduate school, and a few years after, at another church. The excessive focus on sexual impurity, even though at that time, I was a “virgin,” drove me away. I had had enough when a married man earnestly counseled us that we could be committing “adultery in our hearts,” because the emotional connections of our chaste relationships could damage our future marriages. Again, I had no room in my sensibilities for such a religion.

You cannot love both God and this foolishness, dear Sister.

You cannot love both God and this foolishness, dear Sister. Source: Pinterest

Then, after a long pause of probably eight years, I went to Mass, because someone I loved was (is) Catholic. Now I make fun of Mass – the Brothers Fathers free styling over the beat break in the Lord’s Prayer, the recurrent sermons about the Father’s pension account, etc. I am not a Catholic, but I even helped for some time serving refreshments for hospitality at our Cathedral. I found, mostly, that, while I loved the grandeur of the ceremony, I felt a lack of substance at times, although I was thankful to be able to spend time experiencing it.

Finally, last year, I made a couple of attempts to find a church among progressive kinds of church spaces. People from my last church tell us they miss us and that we should come back. We miss them, too. I fear we shall not be back, soon, If I in any event am making the choice.

We do not unite in this kind of solidarity enough. Source: Jewish Women's Archive

We do not unite in this kind of solidarity enough. Source: Jewish Women’s Archive

I am taught by my feminist elders a feminine tradition of understanding the values placed on our bodies and their compliance to society. Certainly, this value is seated in many ways in the sexual roles of women, and compliance is most clearly demanded of our sexuality. We certainly agitate to redefine our roles – we are not bound by our sexuality, we do not exist for the benefit of the male gaze, even when those women among us, who, like me, are attracted to men, choose to allow ourselves to be viewed and appreciated by them. We are not baby making machines nor baby rearing machines, and we are not relegated to domesticity by our sex. But in recognizing the extent to which we do engage in those roles (women do more unpaid domestic work than men even in the most equal countries), there is tremendous power in the notion of the women’s strike as a means of reminding society how much it depends on but how little it values the agency of women.

In the United States, a Woman’s Strike for Equality in 1970 garnered only tens of thousands of women, but it still became a clarion that brought the second wave here to the US. In Iceland, a few months after my own birth, a far more unified strike occurred, with 90% of the small nation’s women refusing to work, cook, or look after children. Although the strike did not end sexism (an enemy that has had too much time to grow too large and too infiltrated by far), it revolutionized a nation and certainly contributed to that nation nurturing sisters who inspire us still today, like fierce Birgitta Jónsdóttir.

This tool is used still, and perhaps we sisters should all be more cognizant of it. Although I recognize that some of our sisters are extremely brave warriors, like many women, I have little experience with violence, and my place in the revolution is through peaceful means. Peaceful, but I shall surely be insistent.

Certainly, I will not make my body available as evidence or implement of violence in the prurient war on impurity waged by many of the “evangelical” branches of faith. And surely I will not support the choice of progressive Christianity to sit by idly, doing nothing to confront their own supposed brothers in Christ, but rather telling gay people that they “love us” when one must surely quip, “What’s not to love?” If I go so far as to call this sin, I call it sin not to decry you as a sinner, but to refuse to participate in it.

Surely, I will not submit to nor enforce the authority of men who have never owned a uterus over the rights of my sisters to make choices over their own pregnancies and to plan their own families. If I must stand for the notion that this is a spiritual question at all, I will stand closer to the American Nuns than anyone else speaking spiritually on this topic, and most firmly with the sisterhood of women of any (or no) belief. And though the Pope does not condescend to ask my opinion, I say very simply, that no forgiveness is required, for no sin has been committed.

Although I can never make the choice to be or not be pregnant, know that this is personal, and I will fight for other women to have that choice. Source: Daily Kos

Although I can never make the choice to be or not be pregnant, know that this is personal, and I will fight for other women to have that choice. Source: Daily Kos

Believe me, I will not participate in a system in which the rich cry to the poor to cast off their sins, while they gather their fortunes. If I do not give you my money, know that it is because you will not use it to do God’s work.

Know that I will not participate in a segregated church world in which white Christians cry out that they are oppressed because they are called to account for their corrupted and un-Godly beliefs, while they turn a blind eye to the smoke rising from burning black churches.

I act only for my own body, and my own sensibility, that body which I own and which no one else may ever own, not even those to whom I give of it freely and richly. I act in pride of ownership, for I own myself, both grace and flaw. And I wish to own my choice to refuse church.

My choice is not a choice of convenience, and I do not refuse church to sleep in on Sunday mornings or for brunch. Anyone who knows me knows I am not ruled by convenience, and although I may do both of these things, they are not the reason you do not see me in the pew.

My choice is grounded not in my lack of faith, grounded not in my lack of appreciation for spiritual teaching, grounded not in any lack of sense of community, but grounded simply in my observation that I have the right to disallow the use of my own body as a means of my oppression. I do not dispense with God, for God is not bound up in your temples. I do not dispense with belief, because belief is not conferred by your priests or holy men. I do not dispense, either, with fellowship. When you are in the world, when you are amongst our people doing good, fighting for truth and justice, when you decry inequity, I remain your natural sister, and though I do not enter the corrupted places to take communion with you, at least not often, I remember every day, the sacrifices made for me. If I vex God, and surely I must often, it is in a spirit of knowing deeper faith, not for pursuit of blasphemy.

Finally, although I pray mostly for strength where I am unstrong and courage where I am cowardly, and most of all, for those who hurt, too often under your feet, I will surely say an occasional prayer for you, as well. If you pray for me in return, do not pray that I return to church. Rather, pray that I will remain strong in my sensibilities, that I will have no room in me for false religion. For I, like you, am tempted.

The strike may not last forever – indeed, I hope it shall not. But please know that this is why I do not go to church.

Navigating “Us” vs. “Them” and the Role of Lived Experience in Regulating Ethical Healthcare Practice

A colleague shared this recent piece by a social advocate who chose to leave the practice of applied behavior analysis. The piece was noteworthy to me for a couple of reasons. First, she and I believe in a lot of the same things, broadly – inclusion, advocating across lines of lived experience for marginalized people, as allies and not as usurpers of their place in the conversation. More specifically, like her, from what I can gather from her blog, I believe in a world of co-advocacy and partnership with autistic and non-autistic people. Although I believe in the idea of the autistic cognitive architecture, I also think that, much like the idea of “white” obscures differences inside the majority culture and maintains the us vs. them system by creating a false appearance of homogeneity, recognizing that neurotypical brains vary greatly is important, as well. Like the author, I’m uninterested in curing autism – I simply want a world in which autistic people can recognize their dreams and have the means to chase them*. So, we’ve got some common basis from which to agree and disagree. Second, of course, although some time ago, I made clear that I am not an evangelist for ABA and not even a practitioner of it, myself, I did make the choice, really, and take full responsibility for it, to focus my own Center for Autism on early identification, treatment planning, and early intensive behavioral intervention, or ABA therapy, for autistic** preschoolers.

As an aside, watch this. We need to embrace and empower autistic voices.

Back to Steph’s viewpoint. I think it is an interesting viewpoint – I had not seen this particular article before, but I’m familiar with the perspective, and she has a lot of important things to say. Part of me wishes she would not have chosen to do what she did – walk away. I respect why she did it – and I could see making the same choice in her shoes. I also respect and embrace the anger. But the reality, too, is that there’s a groundswell of support behind the idea of ABA – 39 of 50 states, I think now, covering the vast majority of the population, individually passed coverage bills, most of which specifically apply to ABA (and not broadly to autism therapy). In all of these states, strong networks of the parents of autistic youth were involved in advocacy. I can’t speak for them all, but I was here, in Michigan, as a small part of this happening here, and I do know that I testified alongside autistic young adults who supported the legislation. But while the point that this did not happen over the dead bodies of autistic people, in the sense that there is disagreement amongst autistic people over the topic of early interventions, the point really is that it did happen.

Photo of one of my actual kids and one of my actual (past) therapists, both of whom I love (source: Hope Network)

Photo of one of my actual kids and one of my actual (past) therapists, both of whom I love (source: Hope Network)

Here in Michigan, we’ve added well over a thousand children to ABA therapy in the last three years. So this is a thing. And the reality is that most of the people trained in behavior analysis have no exposure, at all, to the debate on its morality – they are definitely taught ethics, but the ethics are unquestioning (or at least, they seem this way to me, based now on knowing many practicing behavior analysts) with respect to the basic tools they use, as well as the basic assumptions they make about the lives of the kids they serve***. So the result is a strong divide – hardly anyone inside the system is talking about this, and hardly anyone who is talking about this has any relationship to “the system,” which is a real barrier to positive change. This means that things even that shock the vast majority of us, about which there is little or no controversy, like the Judge Rotenberg Center, whose use of shock therapy to “treat” autism is internationally considered torture, but continues quietly in Boston, even right now****.

To me, there are two big issues we must somehow overcome, besides retaining people like Steph from the article in the conversation (if not as therapy providers, as participants in developing a more ethical range of services).

The first is addressing the lack of autistic people in the ranks of early autism service providers and developers – I think this is a real shame. It was a big deal to me to have an autistic staff member, and I finally accomplished this some three years into being at my Center, and more than two years after taking control of my Center. What I really want, but I will admit I don’t know how to do yet, is to have autistic therapists collaborating on the therapies or services for autistic kids. I really hope someday the universities who train in this area do more to get people who have lived experience to join the ranks of trainees and therapists. The problem is that none of us can ever really know exactly what it’s like to be an autistic person, and this will always be a limiting factor with respect to our ability to make ethical judgments. And given the amazing range of autistic people, unlike some other populations, this should be an addressable problem.

The second is that autistic self-advocacy is full of people who have voices – people who are not or not very “impaired” or “disabled” in the sense that society traditionally defines it, whether or not they identify themselves in that way, and who thus are able to participate in the traditional, unmodified discourse (that is ableist and assumes the kind of dialogues that neurotypical people have and use). I love these voices of autistic people, even if they are a subset of a larger whole, and I celebrate them even if they say things I don’t want to hear, but the danger implicit in this is the same kind of danger, say, that would occur if affluent black people who are isolated from deprivation, poverty, and violence, were the only advocate voices on behalf of all black people*****. Or it’s a danger I navigate, myself, when I advocate for trans people – suicidality, poverty, lack of family/community acceptance, and hate crime / violence are all real things, that happen entirely too often to “my kind,” and at the same time, I’ve never experienced any of them******. This is actually more relevant than it might seem – Ivar Lovaas, relatively later in his career, collaborated with John Money of Hopkins in developing LGBT conversion therapies, essentially applying ABA to the LGBT “problem” with disastrous consequences…. Now, many states are now in the process of making conversion therapy illegal (I hope Michigan joins, someday) and President Obama has joined this call, himself. I wasn’t taught this when I was first exposed to Lovaas’ work. I did become aware of it, shortly after I started at the Center, and ever since, I’ve always been conscious of it in trying to build and to understand.

The difference is that, although it can be hard to hear them, people marginalized for their race, their sexual/gender identities, and by poverty, deprivation, and violence – they do have voices, and more and more, they are taking their place in these advocacy frameworks. But, in the kind of neurodiversity view for which the author advocates, how exactly do voices of people who don’t have voices count? This isn’t rhetorical. It does sound entirely like the maddening conversation in which the majority always asks to be educated on the backs of the minority. At the same time, there is legitimacy in a question of how a conversation is shaped that is truly inclusive, if one believes this kind of broad neurodiversity model (and eschews the idea of any kind of therapy or special services that seek to help autistic children gain skills that neurotypical children gain and they don’t, or which NT kids gain more easily than autistic kids, whether or not they are based on a “curative” model).

And, I think there’s a complex question of how much relevance people who do have voices have to the welfare of people who don’t, although certainly, just as in the case of LGBT advocacy, lived experience should count for something, even if that lived experience necessarily has gaps with respect to the broad range of lived experiences.

Anyways, the big thing that I think, in response to this article, is that we have to learn to question the ethics and morality of everything we do – even the things we most believe in – more openly, and we have to be prepared for critical moments when it turns out we were doing the wrong thing, and be ready to change in those moments instead of doubling down. And just like we believe that our therapy can become technically better over time, we have to believe there may be ways to make it more moral and more ethical, too, and we have to set both of those goals, not just the goal for technical excellence.

I guess the problem with these none shall pass moments is that we’re always stuck in what we know today, and not what we will know, tomorrow. (source: Wikimedia)

For now, I’m trying to continue standing on the bridge and making sure that therapy is ethical and truly good for kids. I’m doing it for them, and for myself, and not for anyone else, because I don’t think they owe anyone anything. I respect Steph, the author, and her choice to advocate from the outside. I embrace the disagreements we likely have in our philosophy towards autism, and just the fact that our lived experiences are likely very different. I hope that we can both, together with actual autistic people (since that is neither of us) do something to make a world that is better for autistic kids, and autistic people generally, and I recognize that none of us knows precisely what that world will look like, because we haven’t lived there yet. But  I believe, together, I hope, with her, and with all my autistic friends, that it will be wonderful.

* And importantly, I feel I have no say in what those dreams are. That’s none of my business, unless / until someone chooses to share them with me. Certainly, I’m not in the business of telling anyone what their dream is. Although I suspect I’ll live to see my world changed in unimaginable and wonderful ways by them.

** Regarding the use of the phrase “autistic people” – this is something I encourage everybody to read. I’ve heard many people say (and probably said, at some point, myself) some kind of analogy like you wouldn’t say “cancer kids” (actually, people who’ve worked a lot with kids with cancer do, but that’s another conversation). For what it’s worth, autistic people who both use this language and recommend that others use this language recommend it precisely because they don’t think analogies like the one with cancer are appropriate. I used to more navigate the fence between parents, who preferred the “child with autism” language, and self-advocates, but I more and more give in and agree that the self advocates have it right.

*** This isn’t a criticism of Behavior Analysis. Certainly, right now, Psychology as a field (and the roots of Behavior Analysis came from within Psychology, and although many now identify their field as a different, separate field, many behavior analysts also studied psychology as undergraduates) is just visible dealing with the aftermath of a miserable ethical and moral failure. This came in the form of our field’s unwillingness to take a firm stance against torture and our allowing the American Psychological Association’s rules and ethics code to be twisted to condone and even torture. If you don’t know about it, read the Hoffman report.

**** Changes were made, albeit with a “grandfather clause” that allows some people receiving services here to still be treated with the skin shock aversive, although apparently new patients are not receiving this, any more. But that change did not come from organized rage within psychologists or behavior analysts, but from the outside.

***** Look no farther than Dr. Ben Carson, although, for all his many, many, many flaws, he is actually less racially ignorant than many of his rivals in the current Republican primaries.

****** The complex dynamics of survivor guilt play a big part in this discussion, as well, since I am, admittedly, primarily “lucky” (or privileged) to not have experienced these ills.

Our Model of Suicide and Maintaining Mental Health Stigma

This is one of those short posts that started life as a comment on someone else‘s timeline on Facebook. My friend, Tania*, asked for people’s thoughts about the idea of legalized euthanasia, suicide, and/or physician assisted suicide. Her questions follow this article from the NYT last weekend.

Anorexia is my personal experience, but it's also relevant to me because there is so much policing around the expression of and fear around the honesty of us as women who are there (and to a lesser extent who were there) Source: @daniellehelm on Flickr

Anorexia is my personal experience, but it’s also relevant to me because there is so much policing around the expression of and fear around the honesty of us as girls or women who are there (and to a lesser extent who were there, and of course, of the men who’ve been there, too) Source: daniellehelm on Flickr

There was one book**, back when my struggle with anorexia was much more active, that was about a young woman who did eventually die (passively) – the young woman made an argument that, in her case, anorexia was terminal. Her argument was based on her experience trying a wide variety of both outpatient and inpatient treatments, and getting progressively sicker. It was a pretty sophisticated argument – it wasn’t a simple brinkmanship kind of argument. The anorexia world is full of these stories of people who drop down to unimaginable weights – like a person who weighed 120-130 lbs dropping all the way down to the sixties – who go on to survive and thrive. Marya Hornbacher is just the most widely celebrated of these stories***. But the young woman… well, actually, it wasn’t her making the argument – if I remember correctly, the book was written by her surviving father, who was telling her story, bravely even including her feelings about the terminality of the illness. Again, if I remember correctly, he didn’t necessarily agree wholeheartedly with what his daughter said, but he had given it deep thought, and he had come to the conclusion that it could not be cursorily written off (as many people are wont to do – for instance just cursorily saying the young woman in the NYT story shouldn’t be “allowed” to “choose” suicide). And, importantly, he recognized that he did not understand the illness like she did, because he had been there as an observer, but the battlefield had been her body.

As survivors (and proud of it!) we know an elemental joy of surviving that you, who have never survived, may not be able to understand. But in having survived, we come face to face also with the knowledge that our survival was not guaranteed, and if we take pride in our survivorship, that pride must recognize the sisters we lost. Source: @Rega Photography on Flickr

As survivors (and proud of it!) we know an elemental joy of surviving that you, who have never survived, may not be able to understand. But in having survived, we come face to face also with the knowledge that our survival was not guaranteed, and if we take pride in our survivorship, that pride must recognize the sisters we lost. Source: Rega Photography on Flickr

What’s important about this view is also that she was not saying that all people who are suicidal should end their lives – people who find this to be their solution are not saying, for instance, that no suicide prevention work should be done, or even that our efforts to prevent suicide should not be intensified. Rather, they are merely saying that an expectation of survival of their illness may not be reasonable.

I read this book more than ten years ago, and so it’s taken me a long time to evolve how I think about this. But, what stuck with me for a long time is that, when we talk about diseases and disorders that affect things other than the emotional brain, there are many, many things that don’t have a 100% survival rate. My fiancé had leukemia twice – he survived, and I am thankful, but we accept that a minority will not. For all kinds of leukemias integrated together, the five year survival rate is now just over 60%, meaning we accept that almost four in ten will not make it. Death may not have been a certain outcome in Teri’s case, but neither was life a certainty. If one ignores whether death was “one’s fault,” then the reality is that several mental illnesses – anorexia is one of them – have known rates of mortality. Anorexia is one of them.

When we talk about mental illness, there is not nearly often enough the kind attitude of survivorship mixed with pushing us all to do more, be more clever and resourceful, to help more people survive. My experience, anyways, is that this attitude is very different when talking about a non-mental illness that might take one's life vs. a mental illness that might take one's life. Source: A Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Light the Night Cancer Walk, Dave Overcash on Flickr

When we talk about mental illness, there is not nearly often enough the kind attitude of survivorship mixed with pushing us all to do more, be more clever and resourceful, to help more people survive. My experience, anyways, is that this attitude is very different when talking about a non-mental illness that might take one’s life vs. a mental illness that might take one’s life. Source: A Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Light the Night Cancer Walk, Dave Overcash on Flickr

In contrast, we assume – without a clear basis other than that we believe that people are responsible for their mental illness in a way that people are not responsible for their physical illness – that mental illness cannot be terminal (maybe, excluding dementias, although I think we mostly consider dementias neurological and not psychiatric).

That basis – the belief that people are responsible for their mental illness – is a deeply problematic one for a variety of reasons. The fact that psychotherapy can help people help themselves feel better really does not validate that idea – all manner of disorders and diseases are amenable to behavioral “treatments,” not just mental illnesses. Schizophrenia is not only significantly more heritable than, say, hypertension (compare this and this), but although both are amenable to behavioral treatments, behavioral treatments (like weight loss, diet, exercise) have higher effect sizes by far for hypertension. Infectious diseases are not given the stigma of mental illness based on one’s having “chosen” the illness, even though they are clearly essentially completely behavioral, whereas almost no mental illness is considered completely behavioral by scientists****.

The result is that, when we think about some other health problem, that has a death rate, we assume those deaths might be preventable, if we get cleverer and come up with new technologies and new medical practices and new ways to help people with prevention. In contrast, when we think about suicide, we assume that those deaths are preventable, and that nothing needs to be done to prevent them except to coerce people to not commit suicide, to call people who commit suicide cowards, to criminalize suicide, etc. To me, that’s deeply problematic, whether or not one believes one should be able to “choose” suicide.

Moreover, it should be deeply problematic to everyone who is trying to reduce / prevent suicide, as well. It pushes suicide into a deep taboo. And it’s hard to treat something that’s taboo. And, of course, it’s deeply problematic for people with mental illness even when suicide is not a part of the conversation.

So, to me, do I support the policy Belgium enacted? I probably do. But the thing I support far more firmly is destroying stigma around mental health. I believe in it for me. I believe in it for all the friends with eating disorders who saved my life, time and time again, ten years ago. And I believe in it for all my friends who live with mental illnesses that I haven’t experienced in the way I experienced anorexia and so don’t fully understand.

I believe in it for all of you, too, who have never been there, and so who find it easy to pass judgment. At times, I yearned to be back in your blissfulness of ignorance, although today, I include my experience with anorexia alongside all the many things I am thankful for in my life. It made me the woman I am today. I am glad – daily – to survive, all the more because I know my survival was not guaranteed.

* God, what is it with me, I can’t even get past the italicized intro without a footnote. Just pausing here to say that Tania is such a heroine for the AutismFamily. Her particular passion is autistic (she coins “Aspien”) girls and women, and I love her work so much.

** Comment or message me if you know the book. I think it’s one I borrowed from the Jacksonville Public Library, the summer before grad school in psychology, which was the time of my rock bottom with respect to my own struggle with anorexia / disordered eating.

*** And I’m sure I’ve mentioned before how much of a heroine Marya is, and how amazing it was to, if only for a moment, meet her when she was here to speak.

**** Getting overly technical, susceptibility to a wide range of infectious disease is heritable. But again, the heritability of many mental illnesses is far higher than the heritability of many infectious diseases, if not most/all of them.

Living Like Black Lives Actually Mattered

Let me start by stating what will be obvious to some and make others uneasy: We aren’t. We haven’t. We don’t.

Seriously, this restaurant is such a marker for pretty much everywhere crime and poverty happens in this city. And I refuse to not drive by it because I'm afraid. Crime happens in the locus of every Chicken Coop not because black people are criminals but because every Chicken Coop is ensconced in an entrenchment of poverty, and those of us who have always had enough to eat have no idea how hard it is to climb out of poverty.

Seriously, this restaurant is such a marker for pretty much everywhere crime and poverty happens in this city. And I refuse to not drive by it because I’m afraid. Crime happens in the locus of every Chicken Coop not because black people are criminals but because every Chicken Coop is ensconced in an entrenchment of poverty, and those of us who have always had enough to eat have no idea how hard it is to climb out of poverty. Source: WZZM

It’s endemic in the way we talk (leading to terms like microaggression). That part of town. Don’t get caught with a flat tire over there. My neighborhood is bordered on the northern side by a street that is a huge racial and class divide, with mostly white lower middle and middle class people (and a few affluent people and a few poor people) on one side, with modest, but stable housing values, and systemic impoverishment and deprivation of American lives on the other side, mostly visited on black people. A food desert, with roads that somehow magically never get fixed, and a clear lack of opportunity. Not a coincidence – no, this situation is all too common in all too many towns and cities, as a result of redlining (not just conceptually, but redlining was real, here, in Grand Rapids). Not just for black people, but for our Hispanic family, too. So there’s this fabulous restaurant on Division here in Grand Rapids – it’s an old drive-in, with a big awning and picnic benches for eating outside, a very “hearkening back” kind of vibe, makes you feel safe and wholesome. Taqueria San Jose. We’ve known about it forever, but somehow it seems like a light, summer thing, and when we’re hungry, we end up someplace else (we go to a number of other restaurants right there, just never this one), and when we drive by it, we’re forever saying, “We should go to that place!” A lot of my hipster friends know about it (and it was full of white hipsters on lunch break when I went). But I get surprised that many of my white friends know this part of town incredibly poorly, and are surprised I go there at all. “Oh, I don’t get out to that part of town very often.” You should know a few things about Division. One is that a disproportionate number of the violent crimes that happen in Grand Rapids happen on stretches of Division, typically late at night (but it’s totally safe from inside my car, for me, any time of day, and particularly in the middle of the day, because, of course, this violence isn’t random violence but violence that exists in a racist system that impoverishes groups and classes of people). You should also know that the Hispanic community has invested greatly in their money, and their sweat, and their tears, in building businesses in this part of town, something that has changed rapidly even just in the six years I’ve been here*.

I loooved Hyde Park. And my favorite Hyde Park memory was the elderly women who had Barack Obama tees pulled over their church dresses at the bus stop, and the look of optimism on their faces.

I loooved Hyde Park. And my favorite Hyde Park memory was the elderly women who had Barack Obama tees pulled over their church dresses at the bus stop, and the look of optimism on their faces. (Source: Wikimedia)

I had another similar experience – back when I was in the business of dating straight girls** – I was on eHarmony (okay, you guys, I really didn’t know about this, and I’m sorry), and I was living in Hyde Park in Chicago. Hyde Park is kind of a unique place. It and its sister neighborhood, Kenwood, are predominantly black, but also affluent, and there are very few places like Hyde Park in the US that are congregations of black affluence. Which is too bad, because y’all should really have the opportunity to live in such a place. The University of Chicago is there, along with the Museum of Science and Industry, the former being what brought me to town. I lived in a brownstone rental two and a half blocks from the Obamas’ home. But I remember at least once, a woman couldn’t believe I lived in Hyde Park and made it really clear that she would never come to Hyde Park, because of the danger, with heavy racial implications. I politely indicated that I loved living there, and I made it really clear that she and I would not be dating (#TaylorSwiftVoice Like, Ever). Many of my white friends in the city told me I had a different experience living there, because while neither black people nor white people think I am them, they both have a stronger tendency to just be themselves and be comfortable around me than they would around each other, but I had a beautiful time, as an outsider living in a black neighborhood, and I’m so thankful for having had that opportunity and for the graciousness with which black neighbors accepted me. For me, I spend much of this American life surrounded by people who don’t look like me (that’s you) – but it’s still good for me to be in a place where all the people are black and don’t look like me, and not only in places where all the people are white, and don’t look like me. If you’re white, you should have this experience, because particularly if you’re a white man, you may not have any idea what it would be like if the world didn’t belong to you. If you’re black, you should have this experience (again, there are so few of these kinds of places in the country that most black people haven’t), because you need to see black power.

Driving while black is real, even if it doesn't happen to happen to you (and particularly if it doesn't happen to happen to you because you're not black). Source: NY Daily News.

Driving while black is real, even if it doesn’t happen to happen to you (and particularly if it doesn’t happen to happen to you because you’re not black). Source: NY Daily News.

There’s a story I’ve told a number of times – it’s one of those stories I tell because I don’t really understand what it means. There’s some funny business to the driving while black / driving while brown phenomenon. One of the funny things is that I don’t get profiled as an Indian American (and I’ve rarely heard of my Indian American friends getting profiled, either***), even though from a distance, I can’t look that different from the range of appearances of Hispanic people. When I was starting to come out – this was two winters ago – I went out for drinks, with Teri, and I was driving home down Division (the same street Taqueria San Jose is on), and this big SUV pulled up next to me at a light. There were these two big, white guys in it, and they were clearly staring over their steering wheel at me. And I was scared, as a newly visible woman out by herself. I reached for my cell phone, to call the police. And we made eye contact, and I realized they were the police. And as soon as we made eye contact, they lost interest, drove off, and pulled someone else over a block up. What was that all about? For one thing, it was about the racial order of things – as I’ve commented before, although I am not white, as a mostly non-marginalized minority, in the racial ordering of things, I am placed**** in the category of the people who are protected and served, whereas Black and Hispanic people are often placed immediately in the category of the people from whom “we” are protected. To me, it is also about the insidious nature of racism. I am, somehow, subtly, read consistently in this process, through a mixture of minute signals. I think sometimes those signals are wealth signals (I was driving my cute VW Eos, for instance), although I think even wealth signals are subverted by the process of racism – for instance, clean cut and made up, in a fancy-ish car, I might be read to be a professional, whereas my car might be read as having been the result of my work in the drug trade or some other illegal enterprise, if I had been read other.

The biggest problem, to me, the biggest barrier, in talking about these realities is that we want to talk about them without talking about racial/ethnic diversity. So, we point out the obvious – that, biologically, race is a marginally meaningful construct at best, that all lives matter, that everybody deserves respect and dignity.

Yeah, that isn’t going to work. Really. It’s not going to end racism. And racism really can be defeated.

What should we be doing? One, we need to stop expropriating issues. I mentioned this in the context of Lana Wachowski at the Trans100. 84% of hate crimes against LGBT people are against trans people. Of hate crimes against trans people, almost all of them in the US are committed against blacks and Hispanic people, largely impoverished black and Hispanic people. In a similar way, ignoring the fact that violence and crime in general, in many of our cities, like Grand Rapids, is not evenly distributed – that there is no unitary concept of how safe a city is, explaining how Grand Rapids can be simultaneously the best place to raise “your” children and the worst place to be black. We need to stop talking about crime like risk is unitary and talk about the people most at risk and the factors placing and keeping them at risk.

Two, if it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, we should talk about it as a duck. Whatever else turns out to be the truth, Charleston was either an act of terrorism, or there is no such thing as terrorism. It is not only racist and ethnocentric to operationally define racism as only acts committed by radicalized people of Muslim background – it is nonsensical. When a white person shoots up a church – not any church, but a church that has burned down, been attacked many times, because it is a seat of anti-racist movement – we should talk about it as an act of racial terrorism unless some mysterious countervailing evidence appears.

Three, we should learn about and embrace the cultural heritage of others. I have been telling this story recently, in the LGBT context, as queering the value equation – but we have to start understanding that embracing the fact that people are different from “us” (and perhaps that there really is no “us”) – is one of the greatest sources of power available to us in a diverse country like the United States. So stop telling minorities (or women or LGBT people) they’re just as good as you. They’re already aware of that, and they’re aware of the ways they’re better than you, too.

And four, we need to be showing up in these impoverished communities – supporting them. Not just at candlelight vigils for their dead (as a trans person, much as I love our own TDoR and the importance of remembering our fallen, our story is not just about loss but is a story of hope, and we have to accept that marginalized communities are not a sob story for which to have pity (I hate pity), but a wondrous source of resilience, creativity, and innovation. So, stop saying you’re sorry, and show up. Don’t just show up at the vigils and the protests – don’t just tweet the rage hashtags – show up at the shops and restaurants. Make your own business open and inviting to people who aren’t like you, too. Again, not for the purpose of pitying them or showing them charity, but because you embrace them as sisters or brothers or … whatever.

Because you actually see their beauty, because the truth is, people who don’t look like you are beautiful.

* I actually just joined the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of West Michigan. I believe it’s the right thing to do to serve underserved families, including black and Hispanic families, but I also know that, demographically, we are going to have more and more young Hispanic kids over time, so being perceived as the best partner for this community is cold hard business, too.

** I know more than a few trans women who still try to date straight girls, after they transition, which is the joke… for the record, I think this is a really bad idea and more likely than not will be invalidating for everyone involved. But, hey, live and let live.

*** There was an incident when I was in maybe fifth or sixth grade, when my mother was driving us home from some youth activity – she went through a series of ridiculously cheap giant station wagons – if you’re much younger than me, you don’t get this, because they were rapidly becoming relics already by then, but the 40+ crowd knows what I’m talking about. Anyways, we were driving home in this big lumbering station wagon, and my mother used the turn signal, and slowed down to take the left onto our street off of the two lane road leading up to it. This truck came careening from behind and tried to pass us on the left, while she was turning, and it knocked our car into the woods. I suppose we could have been seriously injured, but miraculously, the car slowed down and neither of us were hurt. She sent me home on foot while she dealt with the situation. She felt that the driver of the truck was obviously drunk, and even though he, himself, said that her taillights and turn signal were clearly visible, the other (white male) driver wasn’t tested for intoxication and was not ruled at fault. My mother had a couple other times like this when she did feel discriminated against, and I take her more seriously with age. Clearly, there are also awful hate crimes against Indian men, particularly Sikh men, absurdly***** mistaken for Muslims (as if it were okay to kill Muslims), but I do argue that, in many contexts, most notably Nikki Haley sitting over South Carolina during this crucial time, in much of America, this is how things are, and as I argued before, there are dangers in distracting us from the dangers and depredations visited on Hispanic and Black communities.

**** This is the very point of the idea of privilege – I did not place myself in this category, and I did not decide how this was supposed to work. But I derive benefit from it, whether I like it or not, even if I make myself part of trying to pull the system down.

***** Deserving of my vaunted (and ridiculous) footnote-on-a-footnote, absurd because these men are thought to be Muslim because they wear turbans, whereas men who wear turbans in the United States are almost invariably Sikhs. Made more absurd because of the history of relations between Islam and Sikhism. And of course, and sadly, made far more absurd, yet, by the fact that most of the acts of mass violence in the United States are committed by white men.

Authenticity as the Sine Qua Non of the Trans Success Story, and the Virtuous Cycle of Narratives Informing Lives

I’d like to try and draw together some thoughts that evolved during dinner with a friend at Philly Trans Health Conference, over the weekend. She and I are two very different, but similarly very happy trans women. This topic of happy trans people is established as one of importance to me. I want to move our happiness from a privilege, from luck, to birthright and expectation for our people*. Much like I want to make a world where people are proud to be autistic, where society recognizes the immense gift it is given in the form of the autism family, I want to make a world where LGBT (and particularly T) people aren’t just safe, but we are truly proud.

Proud as Proud Can Be... and you can click on the flag to buy trans pride stuff from randomflyingpidgeons!

Proud as proud can be… and you can click on the flag to buy trans pride stuff from randomflyingpidgeons!

In pursuit of this goal, I made my friend, Kelly, really think during dinner**. I wanted her to evaluate, critically, what it means to be a woman*** – beyond being addressed or seen correctly by others, and certainly beyond wearing a dress or heels, and granting that our identities as women are diverse, beautifully heterogenous, and ever evolving, what did it mean to her that she was a woman? She was a little surprised at how hard it was for her to answer this question.

I asked her a second critical question – not to push her or distress her, but because I think the answer is central to our cause. Why was she happy? And if the first question was hard, the second question was far more difficult.

One piece of extremely worrisome data I want to bring into this conversation is the subset of suicides, particularly of trans youth, that have arisen recently and that explicitly do not seem to look or functional like marginalization, lack of acceptance, or oppression stories. More than a few trans youth have killed themselves in the recent past (like Kyler from San Diego), who had parents who loved, accepted, and celebrated them. Who had solid, if not world-class access to transition-related medical services. Who had schools that celebrated them – one of them was Homecoming King – and who were in at least some cases pretty well-integrated into their communities. Who do not seem to have been experiencing a lot of traumatization by way of bullying or other victimization. I think we need to stop and question why these kids are dead, and how we failed to do anything about it. And we have to recognize that just acceptance – people recognizing one’s gender identity, people supporting one’s name or pronouns, access to school, employment, accommodations – doesn’t seem to always be enough.

This is Istanbul's 2011 Pride... the change is global! (Source: Wikimedia)

This is Istanbul’s 2011 Pride… the change is global! (Source: Wikimedia)

Moreover, trans acceptance, and LGBT acceptance more broadly, is not a static picture. It has changed dramatically just in the recent history – the stuff that happened since Stonewall – and it is changing at a breathtaking, accelerating rate every day. What is the quality of evidence that acceptance is reducing suicidality in our community?

I want to propose an answer to my own question. I cannot provide an evidence basis for it, but it is consistent with my base of anecdotal evidence. I’ve quickly had the privilege not just to become a happy trans person, but to get to know a lot of happy trans people, in fact many of the most influential ones, and even to share my very life with one. And I’d like to hypothesize based on my experience of them and myself. My hypothesis is that every happy trans person begins their process of authenticity with a sincere, internal step of self-acceptance. I mean real self-acceptance. They enter transition or coming out, knowing and deciding to learn to love, who they are. They do this first, and every subsequent decision in their authenticity process derives directly from this internal conviction – a conviction not just in the truth of their gender identity, but in the goodness and rightness of their gender identity. And, this is really important, they enter into coming out and transition happy. Really happy. Although they may gain confidence, surety, ease, from things like their name or pronouns, or from transition-related medical services, they neither seek nor obtain wholeness from them. They don’t, in fact, need to seek wholeness from anything, for they enter this process with it.

Marya is amazing. So thankful for sisters like this one. Source: Mark Trockman / trockstock.com

Marya is amazing. So thankful for sisters like this one. Source: Mark Trockman / trockstock.com

When I was in the throws of surviving anorexia, like many other anorectics, I found a lot in Marya Hornbacher’s words. Her Wasted has this phrase**** all the “ana’s” knew by heart: “If I eat this apple sandwich in precisely twenty bites, no more no less, I will be happy.” We repeat a similar mantra, over and over again, as trans people, and it’s sheer and utter nonsense. If I just have the facial features I think I want, I will be happy. If I just have a vagina, or I don’t have a uterus anymore or, …, I will be happy. If I have a beard, I will be happy. If I get pronouned correctly, I will be happy. If I “pass,” I will be happy. And we continually defer happiness to some future that never seems to come. Recovery from anorexia depended (for me) crucially on rejecting the idea that I would be happy if I just lost another one, two, ten pounds, and not just because I had gone far, far beyond the place where I had ten pounds to lose.

In Christianity, there is a rift between evangelistic and liberation theologies, in that the one is interested in finding deferred happiness in heaven, and the other is interested in helping people be well and whole. The rift is old, and deep, not just in Christianity, but far beyond it. The Christ who overturned tables, fed masses, cured the sick, and befriended the harlot, is alongside the apostle, in the same New Testament narrative, who cared less for what is good and what is evil, and cared more for what is right, and what is wrong. Before that, the God that demanded the Israelites strike down their enemies and leave no survivors was the same God that demanded grapes be left on the vine for the poor and the stateless, again, the one a question of rightness and the other a question of goodness. And on it goes back, turtles astride turtles, and we are forever, the serpent and the sons of Adam, at odds, the one striking at the other’s heel, and the other smashing one’s head*****. It plays out far beyond Christianity, and it is deeply enmeshed in the way we live.

And this is where I bring to the trans community not an answer, but the right framework to find that answer. We are failing these fallen siblings of ours, trans youth and trans adults, not just because we haven’t won complete acceptance and inclusion for our kind, but because we have not taught nor empowered each other to find our identities, to take that internal step of self-acceptance that allows for and necessarily precedes the pursuit of authenticity, and in so doing, we do more than just put the cart before the horse. We kill our own kind by selling them a dream that can never succeed.

So how do we stop? How on earth do we not just stop selling this absurdism that transition or coming out experiences, in themselves, can make anybody happy?

My thoughts from dinner that night, over margaritas and excellent Mexican food, link me back now to a video that I helped do for my beloved Actors Theatre, a couple of months ago. In it, I discussed a virtuous cycle between art and life, where life inspires ever greater, more true, more honest art, and art in turns drives us towards our own truths and our own authenticities, making us better people. This is the kind of art that Actors does, and I believe desperately that this is something of which people need far more.

I am far from done in figuring this puzzle out. But my first answer to this question is that we, as visible trans people, must think of our trans visibility, our stories, our narratives, as participating in a similar virtuous cycle with all the life experiences of the trans-gentry******. If we tell stories that are focused on how far we take transition, or how much external acceptance we gain or take, we will instead participate in a vicious cycle, in which we will press our own people ever farther from the thing that could save their lives. So rather, we must tell stories of authenticity, of identity, not because others could ever take on our identities*******, but because, as iron sharpens iron, as life and art lift each other up, our authenticity and identity stories will push our people higher and elevate them in their pursuit of the self-acceptance that presages being a happy trans person.

That’s my theory. I’m all for gathering supporting data, but I’m not going to wait, because this is life and death, and as one of that minority of really, truly, madly, deeply happy trans people, I’ve got to do something. While happiness remains a privilege, like any other privilege, I need to use it not just for me but for making the world a better place.

* Consider this also a shot across the bow of those people (you know who you are) who think that misery is at the heart of trans activism, and who reject any trans person who is happy. I view happiness like I view footnotes. I put it out there until you quite consider it over the top, and then I put it out there some more. The next shot will be between the eyes, my darlings, for I am out to get your worldview.

** I also made her change our plans and go to a place where I could get reservations, because you know, that process of walking around until you find a place to eat is what leads the world to eat at TGIFridays, and life is far too short. And excellent Mexican food came with Mexican revolution – there was a handwritten sign propped in the glass above the door calling for social justice in Mexico. Thank you for that, my darling Kelly.

*** Make no mistake… this ownership of what makes a woman is the principle bullet of exclusionary feminism movements. Although I respectfully agree with these women that women are a wonderfully diverse people who defy simple definition, and the seat of our definition is not in our cleavage, our hips, our dresses or makeup or any of those kinds of things, I continue to strongly reject their claim that only the cisgender early female life experience can be a gateway to womanhood, or that women of all kinds cannot coexist and build each other up and empower each other.

**** In fairness, none of us have any idea what an apple sandwich is, and if I had reached a greater place of sureness in myself when I got to meet Marya, I would have not just thanked her for what she did for me, which was a lot, but I would have pressed for an answer on this important question.

***** I’m with the serpent, and Ruth, and Mary Magdalene, and Jesus, and all of those seeking good over evil and not right over wrong, but you knew that.

****** A very cute term I am now borrowing from Kinky Boots.

******* The boom boom I have, that all the boys chase, and all the right junk I have, in all the right places, belongs to me and no one else. Just as I can never be any better than lousy at being someone I’m not, none of you will ever be a better me than I will.

A Sorry, Not Sorry Conversation

Dis furst part dedicates to da ladeez

Dis furst part dedicates to da ladeez

I want to try and address two very different situations, involving the word sorry, and explain why, although on the surface the arrangement primarily benefits me and disadvantages everyone else*, I’m not sorry for saying I’m sorry in the one situation, and I wish you would stop saying you’re sorry in the other.

So first, the situation that should be sorry. There is so much ballyhoo about we womenfolk saying we’re sorry. We’re almost bombarded with this message, from feminist blogging, to worrisome study results measuring the concerning level of sorriness among women, to advertisers (damn you, you make us cry anyways) who sell us woman power by criticizing our behavior, and even from our feminist boyfriends who chide us for saying we’re sorry. I was particularly taken by Amy Schumer’s latest contribution to this conversation.

Sorry, Amy, not with you on this one. Although you're amazing and I encourage robust debate amongst us as feminists and women.

Sorry, Amy, not with you on this one. Although you’re amazing and I encourage robust debate amongst us as feminists and women

In the video, a panel of women scientists are apologizing over each other, and the situation is used to essentially poke fun at the way women act. Now, I really do like Amy Schumer. But normally, when we make fun of women for being women, … that’s sexism. When we implicate that there’s something wrong with women, that their preferred behavior is implicitly wrong, and that they should just be men (because men and their behaviors are superior), that’s misogyny. But we give feminists a pass to attack women, if they’re attacking women for saying they’re sorry, or for all the other behavior more common among women that some feminist or another has arbitrarily adjudicated as furthering the patriarchy. And we never ask why men don’t say they’re sorry more – we just attack women and tell them to stop apologizing – that itself should be a clue that something is… hinky.

I’m not so down with this. Scratch that. I’m so not down with this. Look, Teri, Ms. Schumer, everybody. I don’t think you understand why I apologize. This is most tellingly clear in that you don’t pay attention to all the things I’m not sorry about. I’m not even vaguely sorry for being a feminist. I’m not very sorry for bringing the revolution. You interpret me as being sorry for the space I occupy, sorry for the air I breathe, sorry for the attention I demand. What you fail to understand is that I – and I believe, a lot of the other women out there “over” apologizing, we – apologize not because of remorse or regret, but because our apologies act as a social grace. We say we’re sorry because it bridges a gap between you and us. We say I’m sorry, when we sit down next to you, because it covers over the awkwardness that lingers in the air when we sit and say nothing. And we’re also giving you an entrée to make a little small talk, or strike up a conversation with us, if you like.

Because here’s the thing. We really like it when you’re comfortable. This is perhaps a sine qua non in your budding understanding, if you’re not high femininity, of your very feminine friends and loved ones. This is really important to us – and although, on the surface, we do it for you, we ultimately do it for us, as a recognition of who we are, and for our own joy. Just like women who like to look pretty, not only like to look pretty themselves, but like to have pretty things around them**. And while we cultivate that prettiness for ourselves, we take joy in your enjoyment of it. A thing which no feminist is very willing to talk about but which any high-femininity woman knows perfectly well is this: we’re not very interested in being feminine in the middle of a forest, where nobody is around to see it***. And this scares a lot of feminists away from femininity itself. Because they’re so busy trying to rid women of objectification that they fail to understand that femininity is the oldest of performance arts.

Just like this. A cushion of air. Except without so much crying for Argentina.

Just like this. A cushion of air. Except without so much crying, not crying for Argentina.

It’s such an old art that it’s embedded into the architecture of your world****. It’s actually really important to you, too – you just don’t know it, half the time, because you float on an air cushion of our social graces without even realizing it. Just like you appreciate our beauty often without appreciating the line between a woman being the object of your admiration and a woman being objectified. You don’t notice that, when you’re around us, and we’re “over” apologizing, you’re fighting less, you feel better. And then you apply the lens of how you think, to us, because you still think we want to be like you*****.

Now maybe, we do care too much about other people’s comfort and not enough about our own. But your “intervention” in the form of criticizing what I do without understanding it isn’t helping – it just makes me feel badly about myself (which wasn’t why I said sorry in the first place, and if you thought it was, you may actually create the very problem you’re trying to avert). No. This is how many women, how femininity in general, does things. Get used to it. And masculine folk, maybe you should try extending more social grace to others. Maybe, who knows, you’ll like it as much as we do. Or maybe at least you won’t get into as many fights. Maybe your partner will even find it hot. Or, if you really can’t say you’re sorry very often, don’t – it’s okay to just apologize when you’re actually sorry. But stop criticizing my sorries – if you want to help me, because you think I don’t take care of myself, do it by investing in me and supporting me, not by criticizing me.

Sadly, this is is way more intended to help you feel better about yourself than to do any good (HuffPo, 2013)

Sadly, this is is way more intended to help you feel better about yourself than to do any good (HuffPo, 2013)

Right. So here’s the switch to not sorry, as if you thought I wasn’t pressing hard enough already. Now I know you ain’t gonna dig this. Christians, this one’s for you. And your campaign to come to Pride and say you’re sorry. Yeah, stop doing that. Oh, come to Pride. You belong – you don’t have to be LGBTQIA+ to be Family. But come because you belong. And quit with the “I’m sorry”. Quit with the “Not All Christians.” And (if you are really clueless), quit already with the #BlameOneNotAll.

If you’re not white (although I’m kind of guessing you are, #SorryNotSorry), you probably already know why. Hang in for a second and let me educate the majority culture, please. In the 1990s, there was an era of “I’m sorry” events – I think inspired by the beauty of the reconciliation in South Africa, without understanding any of its problems. A group of white people would get a group of black people to come to them, and they would apologize, and then cry and cry over their healing of racism. Yeah, and you probably don’t get why this is a problem, do you…. It’s a problem because the black / non-white people in this dynamic were basically props – they were there to get the decor right for the white people to feel the sense of forgiveness that they wanted. If you ask them, and they’re being really honest, they’ll tell you the whole thing was kind of awkward and not healing for them. They’ll tell you they didn’t ask you for an apology (and can we talk about back income, if we’re really saying we’re sorry here, write me a check). Moreover, they probably (but you may not) know that you left those events and you didn’t change the world******. And this is the way in which this process differed deeply from the goals of South Africa’s racial reconciliation – in the 20 years since those “I’m sorry” events of the 90s, those people who were sorry built communities that were more and more segregated, so that they could spend less and less time with the people to whom they were supposedly sorry. If anything, in many ways, things got worse instead of better, and in any event, while what happened was an important step, racial healing isn’t what happened.

Okay, so these guys were not too shabby. But pay close attention to everything they did, not just one thing they did. Context is queen.

Okay, so these guys were not too shabby. But pay close attention to everything they did, not just one thing they did. Context is queen.

And there it is. Changing the world. Here’s the thing straight Christian allies frequently fail to get. We don’t need you to tell us God loves us “even though” we’re gay, or “no matter” what we are. We already know that. God already knows that. It’s not even in dispute. The only ones who don’t know it… are Christians. We don’t need you to apologize. We don’t need you to tell us you’re not like the rest, any more than we need men to tell us they’re not rapists. What we need you to do, is change the world. Or more particularly, change not God (who is just fine), not Christ (who is just fine), but change Christians (who need to get back to God). Make them confront how they took religion and turned it from a vehicle of love to a vehicle of hatred. Call them out and call them in – make it clear that exclusionary practices are deeply and fundamentally inconsistent with core Christian values, but that they can return to what they once believed in. Tell them that, if they walk away from the idea that Jesus died on the cross for everybody, then whatever it is that they’re doing, it’s not Christian, and it isn’t holy, and that you can’t support their lifestyle choice, although you will not stop praying for them, nor stop hoping. If they’re the sort of people that put up angry billboards or protest marriage equality, particularly, don’t put up a competing billboard telling us you love us. Help them remember the time before their hearts were filled with hate, and help them teach themselves to love, again.

So remind them that they need forgiveness, that it’s not too late for them, and that God still loves them, even if they stopped loving God (because you can’t hate us and love God… if that’s what you think, there isn’t anything about your own religion that you get, at all). And if you haven’t figured it out, don’t do this work at Pride, because that’s not where the problem is. Go do this work at your church, at all the churches. And recognize that the problem has nothing to do with the LGBT community but is about the hearts of Christians.

And again, when you come to Pride, come to celebrate, because that’s what Pride is there for – celebrate because it is so, so good to be. Good to be me. Good to be you. Greater gift has no one ever received than this, and when you don’t get that, you struggle to belong at Pride not because we don’t accept you (we do), but because you don’t understand what we’re doing or why we’re gathering.

So stop saying you’re sorry, and get to work. And stop saying I need to stop saying I’m sorry, and get to work, and let me do the work I need to do. Because there is so much work to be done. And doing that work alongside me is the only thing that can make you my ally.

* Interestingly, I have been accused both of apologizing excessively and of being excessively unapologetic. Curious and curiouser. But you’ve got ninety nine problems, and this bitch ain’t one. Speaking of which. I’ve been meaning to write a piece about bitch pride. But you’ll have to wait for that, pups. Even though you recognize that this footnote is nothing more than excuse to use the word bitch. Three times.

** And the gender binary is at the heart of why they make an exception when it comes to men, who they might legitimately not value heavily on their prettiness, but whom they value for a host of other characteristics.

*** In defense of pointing out the obvious, especially to ourselves as obvious, I would point out that intersectionalism, which often seems to blow the minds of mainstream feminists, was not really an attempt to say something profoundly new, but to inject what had always been obvious to black women, just from having to integrate feminist movement into their complicated lives, into the feminist vernacular, in essence to remove the invisibility from it so that white feminists could see what was directly in front of their own noses. But that’s what happens when you bathe in isms – obvious stuff gets hidden in cloaks of invisibility.

**** So like any great architecture, if you stand back and take it in, it’s breathtaking, but you’re also allowed to let it make you whole and nourish you while barely even noticing it is there.

***** The most savvy of readers will note that I used to rail against the idea of difference feminism. The reason I hated it was not because I didn’t believe in difference – viva la difference – it was because there was no critical assessment of women’s beliefs or values in most of difference feminism. I believe very much in that critical assessment, and in fact, I claim that I’m offering a deeper, more nuanced, and truer assessment of this whole business of us saying we’re sorry, than the people who are telling you to stop apologizing.

****** Which to me, is maybe the second most damning of sins, behind failing to live for oneself.