Your Racist Relatives

Dear White People,

I’ve written to you many times about what it means to grow up in a racist, rural, southern area. I’ve outed my cousin for saying racist shit at Thanksgiving and another one at the Mokane Fair. I’ve written twice about why I don’t stand for the national anthem, I’ve shared my thoughts on what it means to be raising a white man, and I wrote about the unrest at Mizzou in 2015, since I worked there at the time.

I’d like to tell you that when I wrote about my cousin and his racist joke, I was sent a message from his mom which was intended to put me in my place. It essentially said: We’ve tolerated your gayness, so you must tolerate his racism.

I will not. I have not. And we have not spoken since then.

And that’s OKAY.

I know a lot of you white folks out there are struggling right now. You are fighting the good fight, but most of your family is posting shit about All Lives Matter, how rioting never solved anything, how if “they” would just protest peacefully, everything would be fine.

You know it’s bullshit. You know that when your uncle says, “I’m not racist, but…”

You. Fucking. Know.

You know because you’ve always known. Your whole upbringing was awash in racist shit. It’s seeped into every part of you, even though, at a young age, you knew it wasn’t right. You knew it didn’t make any sense that people would say those things or even feel that way when you had literally never seen anyone who didn’t look like you. How could people form opinions of others they’d never even met?

But listen. You’re not 9 years old anymore. Now if someone at the picnic says, “You can come sit over here with us white folk” you can ACTUALLY FUCKING SAY SOMETHING. Because now you have words and context to tell that family member to fuck off. Loudly. So everyone can hear.

It’s okay to call a racist a racist. Even if they’re your aunt, your cousin, your parent. Even if they protest that they aren’t. Even if they get mad.

Even if they never speak to you again.

And I know that’s what makes you hesitate. Because you know once you start doing it, fuck, you’re gonna lose a lot of your family.

But do you really want to hang around people who feel like that?

Again, I know it’s hard. Just a few weeks before my grandma died she was telling me a story about how my aunt really liked this black man but couldn’t date him because, you know, he’s black. All I said was, “Why?” And she said, “I guess you’re right. It doesn’t even matter.”

What would’ve happened if I said nothing? If I just let it slide?

1. She would’ve thought I agreed

2. She would’ve thought that’s the way things are.

Guess what? It’s okay to delete your racist relatives from social media. It’s okay to call them out. In fact, it’s your job as an ally, as a human being on this planet, as a responsible citizen of the United States of America, to do so.

Maybe you’re afraid of the repercussions. Sure. Maybe you’ll get in a huge fight. Maybe they’ll never speak to you again. But. Also. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll think long and hard about their actions. Maybe they’ll ask questions. Maybe, like you and I have had to do, they’ll admit all they’ve been taught and then work to change themselves.

And dig this: maybe there are a few more people in your family who think like you. Maybe they, too, are chickenshit to say anything for fear of losing a family member or having a hard conversation. Maybe a majority of your family feels just like you but no one says anything because of the strong personality of you know who. WHAT IF YOU ALL JUST FUCKING SAID SOMETHING INSTEAD OF JUST SITTING THERE ‘POLITELY’ ?

Fuck politeness.

Fuck racists.

It is your job to educate yourself about the deep, deep roots of racism in America. It is your job to educate and argue with those family members. Yes, it’s tiring work, but you know what else?

Our black friends, neighbors, teammates, co-workers, relatives, and loved ones are fucking exhausted from doing all the hard work.

Are you tired of explaining to your mom’s best friend on facebook what white privilege means? Too fucking bad. Keep going.

Are you sick of your well-intentioned neighbor saying, “I don’t see color?” Too fucking bad. Keep going.

Do you swear to god your head’s going to explode if you one more person say “aLl lIvES MAtteR”. No one cares. Too fucking bad. Keep going.

And finally, if you’re reading this and you’re feeling even a little bit mad at anything I’ve said, ask yourself this:

  1. Have I said all lives matter in response to black lives matter? (If yes, you were definitely taught to be a racist, but with some reading and listening to people of color, you can learn and be helpful)
  2. Have I ever said, “I’m not racist but….” (If yes, you were definitely taught to be a racist, but with some reading and listening to people of color, you can learn and be helpful)
  3. Was I raised in a small, southern, rural town? (If yes, you were definitely taught to be a racist, but with some reading and listening to people of color, you can learn and be helpful)
  4. Was I born and raised in the good ‘ol USofA? (If yes, you were definitely taught to be a racist, but with some reading and listening to people of color, you can learn and be helpful)

We ALL have a lot of work to do.

Here are some resources to get us started:

NAACP – http://detroitnaacp.org
Detroit Urban League – https://www.deturbanleague.org
Black Lives Matter Detroit – https://www.alliedmedia.org/blm-detroit
The Detroit Justice Center – https://www.detroitjustice.org
Focus Hope – https://www.focushope.edu
People’s Action Detroit – https://www.thepeoplesaction.com

Stream some movies:

“When They See Us” Netflix
“Mudbound” Netflix
“Becoming” Netflix
“Teach Us All” Netflix
“Just Mercy” Amazon Prime
“I Am Not Your Negro” Amazon Prime
“The Hate You Give” Amazon Prime
“Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise” Amazon Prime
“Whose Streets” Hulu
“Black Stories Presents: Your Attention Please” Hulu
“If Beale Street Could Talk” Hulu
“Sorry to Bother You” Hulu

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (There is a movie based on this book)
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt
Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey
Racism Without Racists by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa

(this list courtesy of NAACP Detroit)

Well, he IS a boy.

On Saturday night members of my rugby team headed to Portland, MO for the 4th annual street dance hosted by my second cousin’s bar. I mean, you probably know this bar is called “Holzhauser’s Bar and Grill,” and it’s pretty much been owned by a Holzhauser for 80 years.

Anyway, the rugby team has been coming to Portland pretty steadily for about 9 years. We sometimes have a bonfire in my parents’ back yard. We always drink too much and sleep in tents in the yard.

More than 50% of team happens to be made of women who date women (or Non-binary people who date women).

Of course, being from such a small place,  I always hesitate to bring my friends. We are a large group: some of us are black, brown, or present more masculine than Portland might be used to. The only reason I feel comfortable there is because of my last name. Holzhauser’s fight for their own, even if their own is, you know, a little queer. Without my family there, I wouldn’t be there.

But the story goes like this: a large group of the team was playing pool. The end.

As I was leaving, an old acquaintance of mine walked out beside me and said something like, “my son really enjoyed watching your friends play pool. He was like, ‘all those lesbians. It’s so hot.'”  Since I was tired and ready for bed I just said, “Gross.”  To which she replied, “Well, he is a boy.”

*record scratch*

I kept walking and didn’t say anything else.

Because I figured this is the best way to say something about it:

One extremely upsetting thing to me is when men think that lesbians are made just for them. I can’t tell you the amount of times some dude has looked me straight in my eyes, licked his lips, and asked me to kiss my girlfriend so he can watch. Or has asked me to kiss a random fucking woman. Or he’s asked me to come home with him and his girlfriend/wife so we can have a threesome. Or just fucking asked if he could watch while I had sex with my girlfriend (I won’t touch you, I promise). In those moments, I felt threatened. I felt scared. It’s hard to express how violating that is, how I have to worry if he might try something, or try to hurt me if I say no impolitely. When that’s happened, I’ve had to try to use my wit to get out of the situation instead of just punching him right in the dick.

So, here is this teenage boy at the Portland bar watching my friends play pool and acting like regular humans playing pool. And he finds that hot because…he’s watched too much porn. He’s seen anything in the media. He’s been taught that lesbians exist to turn him on.

And his mom justifies this. When I say to her, “Gross.” She defends him with his gender.

I know I’ve yelled about this before. But I have to again.

Cis-Men are taught that all sex exists to please them. They are taught that without a penis, the sex doesn’t count. (If my wife sleeps with another woman, she isn’t cheating). They see two women in a relationship as non-threatening and not real. Many of you have asked, “who is the man?” Because you just can’t fucking deal with the fact that THERE IS NO MAN. And, again, I direct you to a friend from high school who asked me how I had an orgasm if no dude was involved. OR all those people who questioned my virginity because I hadn’t had sex with a dude. “But, like, you’re still a virgin…”

I’ve watched men blatantly hit on my girlfriend when they knew (and didn’t care) that she was with me.

We are invisible and too obvious all at once, depending on the desire of some man.

So, women of the world, just fucking stop defending cis-men like their brains are too infantile to learn compassion or empathy.

Parents, teach your sons that no woman’s body is his god-given right. And that when two women are together, they are definitely not doing it for him.

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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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The Writing’s on the Wall

I have been in many romantic and sexual relationships with women during my tenure on this planet, and that has afforded me a unique position that I think most men in romantic relationships with women might not get. Women talk to other women. They talk about sexual abuse and assault because women believe you, and ALL women have experienced some sort of sexual assault, whether they are willing to admit it or not. Whether they call it sexual assault or not. The issue is, most women don’t like to call what has happened to them assault because we are always comparing our trauma to someone else’s. It goes like this, “yeah, he coerced me into having sex and I asked him to stop, but I said yes, and it’s not like he hit me, so I guess it’s not like So-and-So’s experience, so it isn’t really rape/sexual assault.” And since so many women have that story, they just call it sex. When I say this has happened to many women, I really mean most. I mean, actually, everyone. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.

Here are some very upsetting numbers:

Nearly half of the women I’ve been with have been raped. And, no, not the “man jumping out from behind the bushes” kind of rape, but the “I know this guy” kind of rape. And it fucking happens all of the time, you guys. ALL. OF. THE. TIME.

In fact, I’ve never heard a story from a woman who has been sexually assaulted or abused by some guy she didn’t know. It’s always her “boyfriend” or her “friend,” or, you know, someone else’s friend at the party. Or the guy from class who’s just been trying to get her to go out with him. And these women I have loved blame themselves. Or they don’t use the “R” word for reasons I mentioned above. They don’t think their story is the worst, so they are ashamed to even say anything happened. They have been socialized to understand this is what it means to be a woman.

Growing up, I understood that a girl losing her virginity happened under this circumstance: the boy begs and begs and begs and begs until the girl finally says okay. The boy will hurt you. The boy will not understand that you are capable of feeling pleasure. If he does understand, he will not care. The boy will tell his friends. You will be called a slut. He will be called a hero. You are expected to do it again and again.

This is how it happened with most of my friends. This is the story I was told. This is the narrative I was expected to live, too. I was supposed to be okay with this, the way some of the women I’ve loved were supposed to be okay with this. And they were. They were so okay with this, that most don’t even tell this story any more. They are so used to how all of this happens, it doesn’t even seem like something worth mentioning. Because. It’s happened to all of us.

Endure this. This is what it means to be a woman.

This abuse is so embedded in our culture that unless I’ve been penetrated by a man, I’m not even considered a woman. Or, not a real woman. I’m something less, unless a man has touched me.  I know this because friends used to get confused about my virginity. “…but you’ve never had sex with a guy….”

Here’s another number:

1/4 of the women I’ve known and loved have had an abortion. The reasons are variable. One was 15 and it was her boyfriend. One was 17 and in a relationship with some fucking asshole. One was something around 20 and stuck in an abusive relationship. They all knew they were lesbians, but you know, lived in a world where they were forced to be with men. You can’t even know what that feels like. You can argue that they knew what they were doing, that they could’ve just not had sex. That they could’ve been more careful. They only knew that they were doing what they were told they should do by society. They were enduring womanhood. You can go ahead and blame the girl for a society that tells her that men’s sexuality is more important than women’s. That it is completely her fault that she begged and begged him not to. That she at least asked him to wear a condom. That he pulled it off without her knowing. That if she really loved him, she’d just do it.

1/4 of the women I’ve known and loved told me about their abortion. Which leads me to believe there are more. There are always more.

This also leads me to understand that more than 25% of women out there in the world have had one, too. My friends, if it is you, I’m proud of you for a making the choice that was best for you. No matter why you were pregnant in the first place.

Of course, not all abortions come from rape or abuse. Some come from failed birth control (which is blamed on the woman). Some come from a total lack of birth control (which is also only the woman’s fault). Some come from wanted and loved pregnancies that are not viable (the woman’s fault). Some come from life or death situations for the mother (the woman’s fault).

Most women don’t even know they’re pregnant at 8 weeks. That’s just one missed period. That’s also her fault.

After enduring womanhood and hearing countless stories from partners and friends, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to imagine most unwanted pregnancies come from a trauma associated with how the woman became pregnant. No person should be forced to carry the fetus of a rapist.

Consider this: trans men can also be pregnant. They can also be raped. And I apologize for not tackling this immense topic right now.

Consider this: I have been told by men what my body should and shouldn’t look like my whole life. I’ve been told by men how I’m supposed to have sex. I’ve been told by men that I am not officially a woman without having sex with them. I’ve been exploited by men who see my sexuality as an extension of their fantasies. Women are shamed into sex. They are shamed into complying. They are shamed into pregnancy. They are shamed for, finally, making a decision about their own bodies.

Everyone listen closely: you know someone who has been raped. You know someone who has had an abortion.

We need to start using the “r” word. We need to start talking about abortion, too. About real numbers. About how it’s saved more lives than it’s destroyed.

You need to understand that when a woman shares with you the intimate details of her body, she has thought long and hard about what she’s saying. She has broken through the social barrier we’ve put in place to keep her silent. She has weighed the consequences and decided that she’s willing to fight the onslaught of judgement about her “choices.”

You need to listen.

You need to listen and believe what has happened.

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An Open Letter to the Board

Dear Board,

It has come to my attention that I, too, might be in violation of the university’s core values.

I know I teach just one class, but I thought I’d warn you just in case you thought of asking me to teach more in the future. I have been known to fight for the rights of marginalized people, and I’m also a woman. The worst part is, I’m queer. There are several occasions in which I’ve yelled at a man larger than myself to get his fucking hands off me when I felt that I, or the people I cared about, were being physically threatened. I’m so sorry; I know it’s not the way a white woman should behave. I deeply regret now that I didn’t have the forethought to film these incidents myself.

My composition classes are rife with essays written by, I’m so embarrassed to say it, not white people. It’s terrible. I force white kids to read articles where they are not the intended audience. I can’t stop thinking about the way they cry when they are forced to acknowledge their own privilege. And I know the class is supposed to teach them how to write academic papers for their college career, so I need to be immediately punished for making students think critically about political candidates and the rhetoric from both sides of the aisle. I’ve even, on occasion, shared my own political view when a student asked me during a civil discussion. In my darkest moments, I’ve asked them to watch television advertisements and deconstruct their rhetorical content. Of course, this does nothing to prepare them for the corporate workforce to which they’re obligated to join. I can’t believe I’ve let it go this far.

I am a time bomb.

If you dig into my past, you’ll find that I’ve done something most egregious; I taught at Lincoln University, a historically black college, for six whole years. Despicable behavior from someone who now has the privilege to teach at your university, I know. That’s why I wanted to tell you before it’s too late. My time there was wasted, ultimately, on students with low standardized test scores who would never amount to anything. Shame on me.

In fact, and this might be my worst offense, I was one of the people present that fateful day when the evil leader, Dr. Melissa Click, called to her army of liberals asking for muscle. I’m so glad not a single person could hear her over the cries for blood and vengeance coming from that spontaneous, short-lived circle of people interlocking arms. The group was snarling like a ravenous pack of dogs whose hunger could be sated only by student journalists who were not on official assignment. I thank the Lord above that no one came to dispatch anyone holding a camera, and I’m embarrassed to say I stood close to so many spoiled college students that day.

It’s my hope that you will investigate me and do away with me as soon as possible.

In the event I have not made a strong enough case for my dismissal, I offer this: I had premarital sex. I don’t like football. I think I may have forgotten to flush the other day when I was on campus.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

media

Journalists keeping a respectful distance.

 

 

To Be and To Become

There are a few shows I’ve binge watched since the miracle of Netflix began: Orange is the New Black, The Office, and The Walking Dead.

But there is only one show that comes on regular t.v. that I tune in to watch in real-time: Finding Your Roots

Of course, I’m a sucker for any Ken Burns type documentary with sappy music and panning and zoom-outs of black and white photos, but the part I really stick around for is the DNA result. I don’t care who the celebrity is. I just care about that family tree. And I picture my own with a million question marks.

When people ask me why I write, or what made me start writing, I usually don’t have a satisfactory answer. But tonight, I think I have it. My whole life I’ve been searching for my own narrative. My own place in the story of the human experience.

If you know me, we’ve probably talked about this. Or, if you know me a little less, maybe you’ve read about this. I’m a Holzhauser. I emulate all of those characteristics; I’m stubborn, competitive, sarcastic, and a smart-ass. I am proud of my German heritage, whatever that means, and for me, it means growing up close to Hermann and being able to pronounce your last names. It means knowing what happens in October and May and loving meat and potatoes and having cuckoo clocks chiming at my house.

But, of course, my whole life I’ve known I’m not really a Holzhauser. I don’t look like them. Genetically, we are nothing. Am I even German? My mom’s side is Polacek, a Bohemian name. My grandmother wore scarves like any Eastern European immigrant. I am also not her. I’m neither my mom nor my dad. Their stories live through me, but not the way your family’s stories live in you.

I know that’s hard for you to hear. It’s hard for me to remember. Every. Single. Time. But this wanting to know, this knowing that there was another, distinct path my life didn’t take, is what made me start imagining. As a child, it seemed there was another me living in a parallel universe. With people who looked like me. In my mind, they were all blonde.

As it turns out, they really are.

I met my biological mom in 1999. I’ve tried so many times to write about it in a coherent way, in a way that people might be able to read it, but it’s hard. I also met my two half-sisters. I know their names. In fact, we were friends on social media for a while. Until my bio mom unfriended me and the family followed suit. Why? I think because I date women. She never really told me.

From the magic of social media, I’ve found out recently that one of my half-sisters is now a student at Mizzou. She looks like me…if I spent a lot of time in the mirror each morning. She was a high school athlete. From what I’ve seen, we shoot a basketball exactly the same. And though we hung out once when she was 7, she has no idea who I am. I always told myself I’d tell her when she was 18. I haven’t yet.

If you’re curious, I have 5 half-siblings from what I can research. One brother, the rest sisters. As an only child, I can’t even.

You’re probably not adopted. You probably have no idea what I’m feeling. I mean, you’re trying to imagine, but you probably can’t. The same way I can’t imagine growing up with people who share my DNA. Who look like me. Siblings who say, “you’re adopted,” as some strange insult.  I never understood why that was bad.

It is because of my adoption, and that curiosity of a life that never was, that I started imagining the life that could’ve been.

Growing up, I suspected EVERYONE of being my relative. I kept and open mind and wild imagination. Both Laverne and Shirley were once, in my mind, my biological mom.

Maybe that is what fueled my interest in people and cultures. In the living and dead. In evolution. We all come from one African mother, anyway. We’re all related somehow.

For my birthday this year, I bought myself a DNA test. I’ve been wanting to and putting it off for years. This test will tell me exactly how white I am. From which regions of Europe my relatives come.

Which I’ve just realized might be the opposite of what I want. Right now, there are possibilities. I could be from anywhere. Somewhere, way back there, we come from the same people. Until the results arrive, I am an Everywoman.

I’ve done some digging with the little information I have. From what I can figure, casually, and through a website, there are a lot of Patriots and Irish in my bloodline. From what I’ve seen, I’m as white-American as a girl can be.

Maybe you’re wondering why it even matters. I know people who are adopted who give zero fucks about their biological history. I know people who aren’t adopted who feel the same way. I know there are others still whose paper trails ends and begins in the 1860’s. And some even, have no papers at all.

 

I, and two other writers, gave a presentation last night about our anthology. A question was asked, what it meant to be Southern. For me, it means to love and hate the place I come from. To be a part of the landscape of a flooding river and the smell of deer blood in November.

Maybe the cells in my body are the first in my genetics to experience these things. Maybe that’s why I can’t let go. Or maybe my cells hold the memories of everyone before.

Maybe I’m already rooted firmly in place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little White Lies

On Monday, I chose to be part of the revolution, or at least, show my support of Concerned Student 1950. I canceled class and encouraged my students to see the change that was about to happen on campus. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but something had to.

I saw social media posts from only white people saying how irresponsible it was of teachers to cancel, when they are being paid to teach. I can’t think of anything I teach in my composition class that is more important to teach students than a civil rights movement in their backyard.

Tuesday night was scary. There were reports and rumors about all of the things happening on campus: the anonymous threats of violence against black people turned out to be true and two people were arrested. But before that, students were emailing me, concerned for their safety. I stayed up pretty late trying to be informed about what was happening. I heard that the KKK was on campus; this turned out to be not true, or at least, unconfirmed. I heard, third hand, that there were white guys in trucks waving confederate flags and shouting at black people. I believe that, even if it wasn’t caught on film. I believe someone when he tells me someone shouted something racist at him. Whether I saw it or not. Whether he called the cops or not. Whether it was tweeted or not.

I’d like to teach you some vocabulary.

Nigger Knocking: is when you knock on someone’s door or ring the bell and run away.

Nigger-Chaser: is a bottle rocket when you’ve ripped out the stem

Nigger Rigged: is when you’ve fixed something half-assedly, or temporarily.

Nigger: any African-American, or my white cousin since she tanned so easily

Nigger: something you call someone when you’re playing around, the way you would use the word, “asshole.”

I know these definitions because I heard these words and sayings my entire childhood. Well, that’s not exactly true; most recently I heard that awful word from a second cousin, just back in September, when he was trying to tell some story. I said, “No. We’re done.” And I walked away from him.

And you might remember last Thanksgiving when I wrote about my cousin joking about “coon hunting” in Ferguson. What you might not know is, not too long after that, I received a message from his mom (my first cousin by marriage) wherein she told me I should’t’ve chastised him in public (on my blog) because he has black friends (and by the way, they are very educated), and then I was told that the family had been very tolerant of my “choices” and had treated all of my “friends” with respect because they loved me.  I’m still trying to unpack all of this. I guess the logic was I should tolerate his racist comment (or not put him on blast, though I never used his name) because they were never mean to my girlfriends. And wife. Don’t forget I was illegally gay married for a large part of that.

One of my family’s favorite stories about my grandpa is, apparently, the time Sammy Davis Jr. and Nancy Sinatra performed together on some tv show. Grandpa was a big fan of Nancy. The story goes that at the end of the song, she kissed Sammy Davis Jr. and so Grandpa got up from his chair, turned off the gotdamn tv and never listened to her again. He was one of the people I remember using that horrible word the most.

Did I ever tell you about my white high school? One person at my school had a black dad. One. And when her boyfriend, who happened to be black, came to see her one day, a group of white guys got up to blockade the door. To confront him. All these guys wore confederate flags, either on shirts or belt buckles, and boots. They threatened him. His kind was not welcome here. Is what they actually said. The principal told him to leave, for his own safety. I heard that later he came to a basketball game and was beaten up. There were no cell phones in those days. Did it really happen?

In her last weeks on earth, my grandma told me that my aunt had a crush on some guy. But she couldn’t date him because he was “colored.” I knew my grandma was using some antiquated language, which, to her, was a respectful term. So, I just said, “why can’t they?”  To which she smiled, shrugged her shoulders and said, “You’re right. It doesn’t really matter, does it?” See. People can change.

More vocabulary:

A faggot is a guy who can’t play sports.

A dyke is a girl who can.

A fag-tag is that strange loop that appeared on men’s shirts in the late 80s.

Gay-wad was also a popular word when I was younger.

My students still say something is “gay” if it’s stupid.

There have been times when horrible words were used against me. I’ve feared for my safety because of who I am. Because of a part of me that I cannot change.

  1. I came to school and found the word “Dyke” keyed into the paint of my gym locker. I told teachers. It was infuriating and hurtful. My school had less than 250 students. I knew them all. The people who did it were people I’d known my whole life. I wondered what strangers might do to me. No one in administration spoke to me about it. The next day it was painted over like nothing had happened. I understood the message: We don’t care that this happened.
  2. I was in Houston. Kissing my girlfriend on the sidewalk. A truck drove by. With two white guys who yelled, “Fucking dykes!” And sped off. It’s not just what they said, but the growling hate in their voices when they said it. We were scared and went home.
  3. Walking outside a mall in St. Louis alone at 5:30 in the afternoon. A Jeep full of white guys, college age, drive by me, honk, and all in unison yell “FAG!” at me. I stopped. As they drove off, one turned around and said, “Oh, shit. It’s a chick.” I was shaking. There were so many of them. I went to the mall and had one of my first panic attacks.

I don’t have pictures of these incidents, but I keep them with me wherever I go. In public with my girlfriend, I look around to see how many people might care, or how many people might do something about it.

Does that count? Does that prove to you that homophobia exists? If your lesbian friend is harassed on the street when you’re not there, does she make a sound?

Think really hard and you’ll recall some times when your friends did something like that, to be funny. Or told a story about a time they did. If you’ve never experienced anything like this, you’re privileged. I’m privileged it’s happened only a few times. If you’re white, you’ve heard those racist comments and jokes, maybe not aimed at anyone specifically, but you’ve heard them. Or you’re lying.

If I came to you during any of these times and told you what happened, you wouldn’t blame me for feeling really, really shitty. When someone in a position of power, a white man, yells a word at you that’s been used to oppress, well. That is a scary and dehumanizing thing.

Privilege is being able to count those experiences on one hand.

I was 19. It was some fast food place in Houston. My girlfriend and I walked in, ordered, and sat down. We started eating. But something felt strange. I looked around. The place was full. We were the only white people. I was shocked. I’d never before experienced that. I was ashamed.

I minored in sociology in college. I took an African-American studies class. I was the only white person. I was afraid to speak up in class, even when I knew the answers. I was afraid to talk to people. I made no friends in that class. I thought everyone hated me.

I took another class: Mexican-Americans in Houston. I was the only white person. One of the assignments was to interview a Latino artist in Houston. The whole class started talking to each other about who they might interview. I almost cried. It felt so unfair. How was I supposed to find someone like that?

Then. I got it. As much, I think, as a privileged white girl could. I don’t pretend to know what it means to be black in America, but I’m doing my best to try.

In my experience, the best way to be an ally comes in two easy steps.

  1. Listen Up

This step is hard because it means shutting up. When I learned of the walk out, I tried to find out all of the information I could before forming an opinion. I’m new to campus, have never experienced racism there, and had heard nothing about it. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe it happens. Of course it happens. As the information rolled in, I educated myself about the history of campus. I read so much to understand.

  1. Speak Up

Those vocabulary words I gave you are still being used where I’m from. They’re used where you’re from, too. You’ve heard them recently. Your family members have said them and you felt awkward and walked away. Or maybe you just sat there and kept pretending to listen when all you could hear was blood rushing into your ears. Maybe you have no idea about what’s happening on campus and you don’t want to “take a side.” Fine. But there are things you need to be doing anyway, in your home, at that holiday dinner. When someone says one of those things, say something. Make the situation uncomfortable. Call people out. It doesn’t get easier, but it does get better.

To be honest, I’m nervous about posting this. All of the hate that’s been going around is contagious and disgusting. But. This is what I can do to speak up.

It’s never easy.

There’s one more word I could put in that first vocabulary list. I’ve been called it a few times. And this post might prompt someone to think it of me. If you know what word I’m talking about, then you might be someone who needs to listen up.

Homeward and Bound

I want you all to know that I just had an amazing weekend. I was in Decatur, GA for the Decatur Book Festival. I was there to sit on a panel about the new anthology I’m in: Crooked Letter I. During my stay, I met the most amazing people. Writers. And I was reminded who I am, who I want to be, who I’ve always been.

When I landed at the St. Louis airport today, Mom texted me to remind me that the Mokane World’s Fair was happening. If you’re not from around those parts, Mokane is a town of 247; it’s where I went to school. K-12. And this fair, of course, is small, but growing up, it was a big deal to go there and kiss my 8th grade boyfriend in the dark, beneath the ferris wheel lights while all the parents played bingo.

Today was the “Old Time Fiddler’s Contest.” It’s held every year, and people from around the state come to compete. There is a Junior division. That means kids of, like, 7 or 8 fiddle, too. I drove straight there from the airport because Cyrus loves music and fiddles, and Mindy was taking him to see them.

mutton

“You ain’t nuttin’ til you eat mutton”

It was in the middle of this fiddling, in the 95 degree sweat rolling down the small of my back, that I became moved. In my head, I was writing a piece about white culture. You see, I told my girlfriend this weekend, who is Venezuelan-American, after having met so many talented women of color at the festival, that I wasn’t anything. That I was just white. And she said to me, “Your color is white and it is beautiful. You challenge the cultural conception.” It was a sweet thing to say. I love her. So I sat there watching this small child with a German last name play her fiddle while wearing a cowboy hat and Wranglers. I thought to myself as I looked around at all the older people enjoying the music, this is where I’m from-this is a culture worth something. I was composing an essay, finally, praising my upbringing. We are a people of German heritage and kindness and fiddles and biscuits and gravy. I come from a people who work hard, who don’t mind sitting out in the heat to listen to a child play “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” at varying speeds. Old men in their bib-overalls and work boots. The women fanning themselves and smiling.

fiddler

Fiddlin contest

This, I thought, this is me. This is home. 

And then.

Cyrus became bored with the fiddles, as a five year old does. We walked out of the pavilion and sat with my dad and a distant cousin of mine. The cousin pulled out his phone, “Isn’t this girl your twin?” He said. The girl in the picture was white and had a lip piercing. She wore a backward baseball hat. “I look like her because we’re both lesbians, right?” He said something about how she was also attracted to him. My mind drifted. Then he started in on a story that I couldn’t quite follow…”then we were down on Broadway, you know, where all the niggers are…”

I write this word in its entirety because it is the way I hear it. Loud. Grating. Awful.

With this I said, “No. We’re done,” and walked off.

I circled the fiddle contest area, running my hands through my already greasy and sweaty hair. White privilege means a lot of things and this is one of them: this fucked up privilege–this assumption that, because I’m white and from a small town, this word is okay to say in front of me, that I feel the same way, or that this is just what we say.  I felt bad for walking away because my dad was stuck there, listening to the rest of the story or apologizing/explaining why I walked away mid sentence. But I couldn’t stay. I never can.

So I calmed down and went to get another Bud heavy.

I came back, only after I’d made sure he was gone, to stand with my parents and my aunt.

And then.

A woman walked up to us, apparently a friend or coworker of my mom and my aunt. They joked she looked so nice since she wasn’t soaked in sweat. Mom introduced her to me, “she worked out at the state hospital, too.” I said hi. The woman started in with, “well, I’m not sure how long I’m gonna work there; there’s a lotta stupid people out there now.”  I nodded my head and sipped my beer.

And then.

“All those damn foreigners can’t speak any gotdamn English…”

I said, rather loudly, “I have to leave now.”

I walked off, choking back tears. I heard my parents say good-bye, and I gave them a wave without turning around. All the warm feelings I had earlier, about the fiddles and old men in overalls, all those washed away. Or were sweated out. Or were soaked up by the sun. Something about heat.

That is where I come from, though it’s not where I fit. Like everyone, my whole life I’ve been searching. I’m adopted. I’m queer. I’m white. I’m a writer. I’m an athlete. I’m from the smallest town on the planet.

This weekend though, among the writers, I felt snugly in place. But the woman and modest mid-westerner and Southern way of putting myself last always creeps back. Among Jamaican-American, Palestinian-American, Japanese-American, African-American women, what could I possibly say that is different or worthy?

My name is Christina. I’m no different but different from you. I’m starting here.

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The drive home.

Flying Flags, Burning Bridges

I grew up in a town of 150 people (1980 Census, now 85 people) in the middle of Missouri. Where I’m from, the stars and bars are everywhere: t-shirts, bandannas, bumper stickers, flags on porches, wallets, belt buckles. I grew up here, but not ever have I worn this flag to display my proud white heritage. I’ll tell you why.

To me, the confederate flag means bad things. It means hate. When I see a confederate flag, I go the opposite direction. Why? Because some of those wearing that flag called me a dyke, a pussy eater, a fucking faggot. Because those were the people in school who called black people niggers and said a lot of other, awful, ignorant and racist things. Because they beat up said black people for being alive. Because people wearing that symbol harassed the one person in our school who happened to be black. And. Well, really, I think that’s enough.

Now, am I basing my judgement of something on only a few people? No. Not a few, but thousands, as this was my experience from ages 0-35. I’m basing this opinion on a lifetime of negative experiences because I have never met one person in my life who wore a confederate flag with the words, “the south will rise again!” (or had one tattooed on their chests, or taped to their truck, or painted on his belt buckle) and wanted to discuss the richness of southern cuisine, dialects, fashion, sense of family or faith, or community. If that person exists, I’m very, very interested in speaking with him or her.

Of course, there’s the rainbow flag, too. Which, to me, used to mean I was accepted and welcome. The first one I saw was above the Peace Nook here in Columbia. The year was 1997 and someone had to tell me what the rainbow meant. I became fascinated and began to look for rainbows everywhere. It meant there were more people out there like me who held some of the same beliefs, who, if they saw me wearing a rainbow, could immediately identify me as one of them. But as I’ve grown older and have experienced people harassing me because of it (yes, some of those people were wearing that other flag), people who were sexually aggressive (so much that I had to run), people who told me I was going to burn in hell, I avoid rainbow flags and necklaces and bumper stickers. Because it just makes me an easier target.

I also realize that the rainbow flag, to some people, reminds them of dildos or drag queens dancing to club music. Which they may not like. But, hey, at least those are fun and inclusive.

Any flag or symbol helps to identify and make one feel a part of something bigger than themselves, but it also makes one a target. Yes, for all groups.

Having grown up in Missouri, I’ve heard arguments on both sides whether or not my state is southern. If you know me, you know I argue that it is based on food, slang, and political views and affiliations. Based on social conservatism and that fact that coming out meant some of my friends and family treated me with Bible verses, derogatory names, and utter silence.

That’s southern.

So what’s the difference between flying these two flags? One stands for something that has passed, for a country that struggled to exist, whose ideas were already antiquated and strove to keep millions enslaved, and one stands for new ideas, for hope to come for a group of oppressed millions. I’ve seen southerners fly a rainbow flag, but never gay southerners (who are very proud to be southern) fly a confederate flag.

Taking down the stars and bars doesn’t immediately change the racism rampant in our country, and it does’t mean that Americans aren’t appreciative of southern culture. Raising a rainbow doesn’t change homophobic opinions or ensure the safety of LGBTQ people.  It also doesn’t mean gays are running the world.

I’m not proud to be a white southerner. I’m not proud to be gay. I’m proud to be Christina-who happens to be a white girl from the south and who happens to be attracted to women. I’m proud to be a world citizen who now, finally has some of the same rights you have always had: the right to marry, on paper, someone I love.

So, gentle reader, until the confederate flag is the symbol of sweet tea and gramma’s fried chicken at a Sunday meal, and no one calling my significant other my “friend,” and without anyone saying “(insert any racist term here),”  then I just can’t get behind it.

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