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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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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The Sum of His Parts

Seven years ago around this time I wrote this.  If you don’t have time to read it, no worries; I can fill you in. Cyrus had been in the hospital for two months, weighed less than 5 pounds, still, and two of the family’s cats died within that time span. I wrote about the book of Job in the Bible. How I felt like I was being tested. How fucking dramatic and ridiculous that whole story is.

But here I sit, in the hospital with Cyrus again. The machines have been beeping for 15 minutes straight, rousing him from sleep, with the same noise they made seven years ago, when the oxygen in his blood fell from 100% to 15%. When he nearly died all the time. When he had seizures. When I became not just a parent, but joined the preemie parent club. A group in which I wanted no membership.

So, in the scheme of all the awful things that could happen (and have happened) to Cyrus, another broken arm isn’t bad. Unless you start to do the math of the amount of times he’s been in the hospital the past year. It’s something like 6 or 7. He’s been put under general anesthesia at least half of those times. A major surgery in August. Two broken arms since November. And now. Third time’s the fucking charm.

It’s his left arm. A level 3 supracondylar fracture. He had a level 2 in November; they had to place two pins and a cast. It’ll happen again in the morning. He just got the cast off his right arm on April 4 and was cleared for physical activity 10 days ago.

Now. Why do I tell you this? I’m not sure.

There are definitely times I want your sympathy, your kind words, your anger and bitterness of the injustices in the world of parenting. (Yes, the most self-serving, first world problems)

Sometimes I tell you because maybe I want to justify my overprotective parenting or his constant need for help up and down stairs. If you notice, he grabs my hand a lot for help. He knows he needs it. He’s so cautious.

This happened today, reportedly, when he was walking through the cafeteria at school. One minute he was walking; the next he was on the ground crying and holding his elbow. When the nurse called and said he fell, I could only say, “C’mon. No.”

Some of you have wondered at his condition: does he have weak bones? Was that caused by being a preemie? What do the doctors say? What can be done?

So far the answer seems to be bad luck. But I know that his motor skills aren’t equal to those of other kids his age. He stumbles a lot. His eyesight isn’t great. He lacks maybe 20 degrees of peripheral vision.

The even shittier thing is that when he last had this break, he was just learning to write well. He started writing with his right hand, and things got all confused. He basically had to go back to the beginning. And now. He’s almost to second grade and in 25% SPED classes because he can’t really write. He eats through a tube in his stomach. He goes to therapies. Blah blah fucking blah. You know all of this already.

Doctors struggle to treat him as a whole human person. Even the doctor this afternoon, who listened when I said he had severe anxiety about being in a hospital, admitted she hadn’t looked up his medical history “that far back”-which meant November. It’s become a joke when someone walks in the room and says, “any medical history?” I scoff. And that’s the exact word I mean to use. I tell them they can read all about him in the system. He should have seven whole years of information there. If they press, I give the abridged version, “25 weeker. Seizures. ROP. Nissen. Feeding tube.” Cyrus’s ailments and procedures aren’t countable on all my fingers anymore.

***

This space intentionally blank for you to grasp the million dollar bill from the NICU, plus all procedures that came after.

Now. Think about all that without insurance.

The trauma plus the bill would be more than enough to kill and entire family.

***

Every time something happens, some doctor says, “He’s doing great for a 25 weeker!” (You throw really good. For a girl.)  I know that he is great. I’m so happy he is alive and thriving. He is intelligent and caring. He is relaxed. He seems to be some sort of gamer nerd in the making. He also wants to be a football player. But just once I would like a doctor to say how amazing he is. Period. Or to look at him like he’s been through it all. Like he’s older than 7. I want someone who recognizes that he’s not just a kid with a broken arm, but a kid who’s had a whole bunch of bullshit happen to him. A kid who has never gone a year without a hospital visit. A kid who is afraid of steps and running. A kid who is afraid to eat. A kid who screams, sweats, and shakes when he sees one of the kids’ hospital gowns with “sleepy tiger” written all over it under cutesy pictures of a cartoon tiger.

I said so many years ago that I’d take broken bones over seizures and eating issues any day.

I guess I didn’t realize my wish would come true.

 

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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