A Note to My Second Cousin: Fuck Your Microaggressions at the Potluck

Dear Second Cousin,

If you remember correctly, just this Saturday evening we were hanging out in Portland, celebrating all the 70th birthdays that just happened in our extended family. You and I hadn’t seen each other in quite a while, and because you’re, like, 7 years older than me, we were never super close growing up. Anyway, I made a joke about being from Portland because you’d told me your daughter was dating her second cousin and you laughed at her. And I was relating to you the time my dad told me I was related to my boyfriend. I joked, you know, good thing I’m gay, anyway. And you said, “Yeah, we all know” And the other cousins standing in the circle, sweating and drinking their Busch lights as the lightning bugs started to flash all laughed. But you. You had to say, you had to mansplain, “Well, I think women are lesbians because a man has done them wrong.” And I, ever so much more like my sweet, non-confrontational mother, just said, “Oh, my God. Shut the fuck up.” I looked at the surrounding cousins to help me, but nothing came except swigs of  light beer and the shifting of bodies and slapping of bugs.

What I meant to say was this:

  1. How dare you, or any man think that a woman’s default setting is men. That’s fucking ridiculous. I hate how men think they have ALL OF THE POWER to keep a woman straight or turn her gay. Fuck you. Fuck every guy who thinks they have that kind of influence.
  2. If every woman who’d ever been treated badly by a man became a lesbian, EVERY FUCKING WOMAN WOULD BE A LESBIAN, you sweating, cut off shirt wearing ogre. Look at you, all uncomfortable in those Wal-Mart brand, saggy ass jean shorts. You think women are into all that mess? Please.
  3. Are gay men gay because a woman has done them wrong?
  4. Lesbians are not man haters. But you, and men like you, are doing a super duper job of turning us (and straight women) that way.
  5. Also, your comment about your daughter being a lazy barrel racer. Fuck you. And fuck your sexism.
  6. I want to say your comment didn’t wake me up all night with thoughts of what I should’ve said. With me telling myself how terrible I was in that situation with no comeback. I totally stayed perfectly asleep not thinking about how I’ve been out for so long and still, you, a family member, had to say some stupid shit. Some stupid shit in front of others who didn’t notice the indiscretion or also didn’t know what to say. Some stupid shit that I, queen of witty comebacks, didn’t have a comeback to.
  7. Fuck you. And fuck the deer sausage you brought.
  8. And to the relative who asked where my “Friend” was (meaning Gaby, my partner of yearly 5 years) Fuck you, too.

 

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Pride and Prejudice

It’s pride month. So, let me remind you that I’m a homosexual. I’ve been aware of myself and out for 21 years. In that time, society has changed drastically, but not enough.

Maybe it’s because of my age or the people I hang out with, but it’s very rare that someone asks me “when did you know you were gay?” or “who’s the man?”  It’s such a relief.

This is the time I dreamed of when I was 17 and sitting in that therapist’s office and he was trying to tell me that being gay was going to be so hard and weird and maybe I should reconsider. As he would go on about all of the challenges of being gay, I would try to imagine the day when I just lived without anyone caring if I was. Today is that day.

I’m so grateful to feel so much safer than I did 21 years ago.

That doesn’t mean that everyone is safe, though, or that things are just fine.

My fitbit app updated the other day to include “female health.” It’s a nifty period/ovulation tracker. I pushed the button to allow it to ask me a series of questions. They included what type of birth control I use. I clicked none. And felt judged. Now that that portion of the app is set up, I can go in and track things in my life like: sex, unprotected sex, and the morning after pill. Obviously, these things don’t apply to me.

And I really hate that my fitbit thinks I have sex with men. My fitbit has made an assumption about me based on the fact that I clicked “female” at some point in time. At least I’m a cisgender female. Think of those others who have clicked the same and then been faced with a menstruation app that doesn’t apply to them. I’m sure all of this seems like the stuff that makes your conservative uncle want to say something like, “all of these gotdamn people wanting everything to be sooooo POLITICALLY CORRECT.” But, if the people making the fitbit app update were a little more diverse, I bet this wouldn’t happen. Someone in that room would’ve said, like, wait not all women have sex with men or have a period. And they would’ve designed a separate button that says, like, “click here if you have sex with women.” I would’ve felt so included. I would’ve happily clicked the shit out of that button. I wouldn’t known that someone out there was looking out for me. Instead, I feel a little sad. Instead, I have to stare at those options of clicking protected or unprotected sex.

Speaking of sex.

I’ve had this skin problem on my right hand for years. In the past, it went away and came back. I would have a few months with no outbreak. But now, it’s been here since October. It’s eczema, I think. These tiny bubbles form under my skin that leak fluid. My hand itches like a sonuvabich. More specifically, my thumb, middle, and pinky finger and no where else. It never goes away. Something as simple as water can make it flare up. It’s the fucking worst.

But here is what is worse than the worst: this is, essentially, my penis.

I’ve been to the dermatologist and allergist. I’ve had patches stuck to my back. I’ve been prescribed some insanely expensive steroid cream (which only makes my skin crack and bleed). I’m not telling you all of this for a diagnosis. I’m telling you this because, as I mentioned before, things are better for queers, but not the best.

I had to suck up my feelings and tell the dermatologist that my partner is a woman. That my right hand is vital to my sex life. She smiled, but didn’t seem to care.

The allergist, when I told her, at least showed sympathy and said, “oh, my, this must really be affecting your quality of life.” I said it was. And I felt heard. Or nearly understood.

But yet. Here I am, still suffering with this stuff. Now, before you all start messaging me with other ways to be sexually active without my right hand, believe me, I know them. I’ve been having sex with women for 20 years.

Consider this: maybe a male friend you know has confided in his doctor (and you) that his penis has tiny, itchy bubbles, that it is constantly burning and flaring, that the skin cracks and bleeds. Would you offer him other ways to have sex or would you want to help him find a solution? Don’t you think the doctor would do everything in their power to help this poor guy?

So, why am I sharing with you these intimate details of my life? Easy. I want you to know that homophobia, or even lack of awareness of homosexuals, affects my life in a lot of strange ways. Several times a week, maybe even every day, I’m reminded by others that I’m not the status quo, that I’m not still fully included. And I’m white and cisgender. Just imagine how trans people feel. How people of color feel. How immigrants feel. How differently-abled people feel. How someone who is all of those must feel.

This is why inclusion and diversity are so important.

Your conservative uncle might also get annoyed with all the pride talk this month and all the rainbow flags. He might ask, “who cares if they’re gay? Why do they have to run around waving flags?”

Because. Every other day of the year is straight, white man day. And though there is no specific flag for that (though some might argue stars and bars), I see it everywhere, all the time. And I’m reminded, even when I look at my phone or visit my doctor, that I am still an outsider.

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Getting Trumped

#100

The last time was just a few weeks ago. It was the night after our rugby game and I went to our bar for a quick drink before picking Gabi up from work. I was sober when I arrived, but it appeared that others weren’t, including one member of the men’s team who bumped into me. Some of us were looking at pictures from our game and we noticed that some of our nipples were hard. When you wear jerseys as tight as ours, it’s hard to miss in still, high quality photos. We giggled. Then the dude, a friend, reached over and poked my nipple. *boop* And I swatted his hand away. He told me it was cool, I could grab his cock if I wanted. I declined.

Before Trump’s video broke, I would’ve said, “It’s harmless; he’s gay.”  But I can’t feel like that right now. And I should mention that this isn’t the first gay man to grab my boobs. There are many straight men in that category, too.

#87

This happened a few years ago at a dance club here in Columbia. I was out having a good time with my friends. We were drinking and dancing, like humans do. Some guy started dancing with our group. I danced a little sexy with him. Why not? I was there to have a good time. But in the middle of all the dancing, and it happened so quickly I had no time to process it, he reached over and pulled a Trump. Though, it wasn’t necessarily a grab, but a slow swipe. It was awful. And violating. But what was worse was the look in his face when he did it. A fucking creepy, sly smile. Like not only was he proud of himself, but he was certain that I wanted it. I did not. Not even a little bit.

# 65

Chicago. 2014. Rugby weekend. I was with Gabi and we’d been dating just a few months. Some guy walks by our group and grabs my ass.

I can’t believe it wasn’t until last week that I realized all of the times I’ve been sexually harassed and assaulted. Maybe my problem was a lot of our problems: feeling embarrassed to say anything, thinking that no one believes what we’ve said, thinking that they can’t understand how horrifying and violating it is, thinking they’ll just tell us to relax, that we’re over-reacting.

 

I’m 36 and I just realized I’ve been the victim of sexual assault several times in my life. It took this long because I’ve been taught to understand that it’s “just one of those things.”

#2

I’m 14 and my boyfriend  insists on making out with me through “The Fugitive.” I’ve asked him not to. I’m told that it’s what people do. And I should like it. And don’t I love him?

#1

Though I honestly can’t remember if this is the first time, I do remember it vividly. I remember it because I was old enough to almost understand. I was 13. And he was my boyfriend. It was on the bus, on our way to a track meet. He was a track star in our tiny school. He could climb the rope in gym, upside down. We sat in those green plasticy leather seats. He put his hand on my leg, my knee. That I enjoyed. Or, at least, didn’t mind. But his buddies were in the seat in front of us. They turned around and peered over. And there were only guys behind us, too. I was trapped against the window. His hand kept moving down and closer. I asked him to stop. I told him to stop. But those guys in the seat ahead were watching and he had something to prove. And they kept saying, “C’mon, he’s your boyfriend!” And I kept saying no, politely. I didn’t want to be uncool. I also didn’t want his hands anywhere near me. But he did. I mean, my pants were on and everything, so I wasn’t sure if it counted for something I should tell someone. He just kept his hand there for a moment and wiggled a finger. I felt like puking. I broke up with him not long after that.

 

I’m telling you this because maybe you don’t realize it. Maybe, correct me if I’m wrong, ladies, but this happens to all of us. I’m curious to know just how many numbers we all have. Women are groped and fondled our entire lives. We are pulled into the laps of our uncles and made to kiss our dad’s friends on the cheek when we’re younger. We are expected to be handled by strangers on the street, in bars, at work. We are made to feel shame for not liking it or for telling anyone. We are told we’re over-reacting when we try to explain the violation.

I’m writing this for all of those guys who’ve done this. I’m writing this for those who haven’t.

Most importantly, I’m writing this for all of the women and men who’ve been the victims of these assaults. And I finally feel comfortable defining them that way. But, my hundreds of times are small compared to those stories I’ve heard from other women. Rape is a hard word to say, so most don’t. But I feel like we all know a few people who’ve been a victim.

After Trump’s video @kellyoxford asked women to tweet their first sexual assaults to her at #notokay. She reports getting two per second.

Though 100 might be an exaggeration of my own numbers, I know that once can feel like a million. I’m curious to know your numbers, too.

Maybe, as women, we prefer to be silent because we are taught to be. We are told to be.

I hope you vote loudly this year.

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Why I Sit, Part II.

The last time I sat while the national anthem played was at Erika’s volleyball game just a few weeks ago. I was the only one. Dad was behind me, back a few rows of those middle school gym bleachers. I could feel his eyes on me. He didn’t say anything when it was done.

Beside me was Gaby, my Venezuelan, now American citizen girlfriend. She always stands, she told me. I asked if she felt that she had to. Yes. Yes, of course she does. She has an accent, you see. I can’t even imagine what people might say to or about a woman with a Venezuelan accent not standing for the anthem.

I’m privileged; I’m white. I talk like you do. I can code switch, too, between city and country folk. So I am positive that, even though you might delete me from social media, hatefully share my writing, or make snide comments on my post, you won’t kill me for who I am.

But you will do your best to shame me.

***

Last year on the Fourth of July, as Gaby and I sat in her yard on a blanket and watched the fireworks, I asked her if she knew the history of the Star Spangled Banner. I told her. How the fireworks represent the bombs exploding, the line about our flag still being there. I was touched and a little teary. Though I am not always proud of my country, I am still an American. I still find myself occasionally getting teary-eyed about the promises our constitution made, about the ideal of what our country is supposed to be. Land of the free. All that. Sometimes I actually buy into it. When I hear stories about refugees fleeing here and feeling so welcomed, so free to do as they please, I cry. How beautiful our country is. And for some people, we are still seen as a place of refuge, a wonderful land of opportunity. And this is what we claim for ourselves, but then, when people are actually in need, we talk about banning them based on a religion we find threatening because it is not a majority here. Which is totally the opposite of who we claim to be. When people who are brown risk their lives to cross deserts and rivers to reap the benefits (which we boast repeatedly) of this nation (whose arbitrary borders have crossed and recrossed theirs) we call them names and tell them to go back to where they came from.

Because a country is just that: a piece of land with a made-up border. Maps are constantly changing, you know. The lines may move, but the people remain.

 

I am told I should stand for the pledge of allegiance and place my hand over my heart. I am told to say, ” I pledge allegiance/to the flag/of the United States of America/and to the republic for which it stands/one nation/under God/with liberty and justice for all.

Amen.

Let’s break it down.

I was told, at the age of 6, to pledge allegiance to an object, but to not have any false idols before me. Do you know how many rules there are when it comes to a piece of cloth? Lots.

I am told, still, to pledge allegiance to “one nation, under God.” Being an atheist, this is silly. Being an American, I cringe because I was under the impression we have separation of church and state.

I am told that I must rise for the anthem and the flag to pay tribute to those who have fought for my right to choose to stand or sit down or sneeze. I am shamed into honoring those who have come before me. So, I should know where I come from, all the sacrifices that have gotten me to where I am today. Okay. I will respect and learn from this country’s history. I won’t forget all that have come before.

But my black brothers and sisters are told to forget all that has happened. The slaves were freed, get over it already. Jim Crow. Civil Rights. That’s all in the past. Let’s think about the future. Everyone is totally equal in this great country of ours; that’s what our white, male, Christian ancestors fought for. Equality.

I am a queer woman. I make 22% less, on average, than the white men in charge of this country. And it wasn’t until last year that I was granted the constitutional right to marry whomever I pleased. Can you imagine being told by your family and government that you were full of sin and didn’t deserve what others deserve, that you were disgusting, that your partner couldn’t have health insurance, that you are not the parent of your own child? What a shame that would be.

Black women earn 15% less than white women. So. That’s 63 cents on the dollar to a white man. Equality.

And black men, well, stay tuned, gentle reader.

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Why I Sit, Part I.

Since Facebook didn’t really exist in 2001, maybe you don’t know that I worked at a guest ranch in northern California. Guest is really just another name for “dude” ranch. That means, of course, people with money pay to come feel like they live out in the middle of the woods. I regaled them with stories of eating squirrel and taught them how to ride horses and shoot a 12 gauge.

I loved it; I loved living in the mountains, far away from everyone. I loved being able to smell sweaty horses and leather late into the night. I loved sitting by the creek flecked with gold bits and listening to the water.

But most of all, I loved talking to all of the people that visited and worked there. What was strange about the workers was that they were mostly foreign. I don’t know how, exactly, but there was an exchange program that got the ranch beautiful people from England, Germany, Poland, Holland, and as far away as Australia and New Zealand. I fell in love with all of them, but a few especially. Our nights were spent around the campfire, drinking local beers, smoking whatever, and telling tales of the silly guests and Sasquatch. I lived and worked there for a total of 15 months.

Again, this was 2001. I was in a hotel in San Francisco with a Polish woman, waking up from a strange night, when she pointed to the t.v. to show me the news. I saw planes flying into buildings. She seemed devastated. I listened closely, something about the World Trade Center. I had no idea what that was. To me, New York was a place I saw in movies. I had no concept of its actual existence. It was a dreamscape, unreal, far away. She was crying and I was watching her cry. I didn’t understand.

What I could understand on the news was that America was under attack. That there might be more planes and more bombs in major cities, so I hauled ass back to the ranch, six hours north, to where I was safe by the fire with my non American friends.

And we talked. And I learned. And it was there, just days earlier that I said angrily that Bush was and asshole and he was going to get us blown up. And dammit if he didn’t.

After that, plane tickets were cheap. I paid 450 dollars for a round trip to Germany. I spent weeks there and some time in Holland and Poland.

***

It wasn’t until the next summer at the Siskiyou Fair in Yreka California that I experienced something that forever changed me.  It was the night of the Rodeo and all I could focus on was getting and keeping her attention. The national anthem started playing, so I stood and put my hand on my heart. She stayed seated and looked at me like I was some kind of freak. “Stand up,” I said, incredibly offended. “Why,” she said, “it’s not my country.”

No one, in my life, had ever remained seated for the national anthem. I didn’t know how to react. Should I immediately cut this person out of my life? But. She had a point. She wasn’t American. If I went to New Zealand and was forced to stand for their anthem, wouldn’t I feel a bit weird? So I told her, if  I were with her, in her country, I’d stand. Then I learned that most countries don’t do that. Like. None. And how strange it was for her to see us all stand and singing along, ” O’er the land of the free/and the home of the brave”  And what did it mean, anyway? It was in that moment, at the rodeo, that I felt, for the first time, how absurd it was. I’d experienced something like this just a few years earlier, in church. Everyone was saying the words, but no one seemed to listen to what they were saying. And then there’s the pledge I had to recite every day in school, “One nation, under God….”

I sat back down. What was I even saying? Why were we one of the only countries to be so proud of our flag and anthems? It was like…brainwashing.

Later in the week, she and I watched the Fourth of July fireworks together. “It’s so American, ” she said. And it was. I was so American.

In many ways, I am still very American.

That was 15 years ago. I haven’t risen to my feet for a pledge or national anthem since then. Of course, I’m no NFL player. The last time I sat in protest was at Erika’s volleyball game, in a middle school gym, just a few weeks ago.

I was the only one sitting quietly as the song rang out through the tinny speakers.

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