Another great post on being ok with who you are and letting other people be ok with who they are. I think we can all use these reminders.
I have wanted to write about this for a long time. I have so much to say about it. The problem is that I don’t have any stories about it– not that I am willing to share, at least. The world belongs to people who have the best stories. Sexual liberation belongs to women who are willing to stand up and say “I have sex! I have this much sex with this many people, and it’s okay!” or “I dress like this, so take that society!” Purity, modesty, and all that is pro-Virgin power comes from personal testimonies and Conservatively told bible stories.
And then there’s me.
Of course, I admire people who do tell their stories. They have changed my life, and the world really does belong to them. Stories have a neat way of improving social consciousness, evolving into full-blown movements. [Insert Pokemon evolution joke here?].
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This week I saw this dress on Facebook and I LOVED it. LOVED the image, the fact the dress exists, that the woman wearing it probably made it herself, the fact that I could possibly own such a thing or make something that clever or cool. I shared it with my beloved Geek Girls Book Club* (GGBC) because I knew everyone there (male and female) would love it as much as I did.
It never occurred to me (and never would to anyone in GGBC) to shame this woman for her size. But I’m lucky that way–I hang out with a better class of people than the ones you’re about to meet. (Also, I think she’s gorgeous.)
Unfortunately, we all know they’re out there. And as this awesome blog post on The Teresa Jusino Experience articulates so eloquently, when it comes to these sorts of Internet “critics,” women find themselves between a rock and a hard place:
Apparently, a woman cosplaying at ALL, no matter what she looks like, is risking some kind of backlash. If she’s thin (and thus, “hot”), she’s criticized for being “fake.” If she’s overweight, she’s criticized for not being “hot” enough. It seems that women in the geek community just can’t win.
The article’s overall thrust goes deeper, though–to the core of one of society’s most stubborn prejudices: fat-shaming. Male or female, people who exceed our collective, unspoken, ever-evolving body-size limit can expect us to treat them as somehow undeserving of our respect simply because of the extra weight they (we) carry around.
I am overweight by medical and societal standards. Men have called me “fat bitch” or “fat ass” on the street (or in my back yard). I’m not obese (by the above standards), so women don’t usually get in on the act (though it’s always hilarious to have a thin friend sit across from me at a restaurant and talk about how fat she is–I don’t take it personally because it’s not about me). But I grew up with a father who disdained fat, shamed my mother if he thought she’d gained weight while he was away on one of his trips, made crude comments about “fat girls,” and started shaming me when I was a teenager as soon as my body began displaying some curves. Between that and what I saw in the media, it was always clear to me that I didn’t measure up. And for people larger than I am, the problem goes from a voice on the inside saying “I’m not good enough” to people saying “You’re not good enough” in so many ways both literally and by treating “fat” people like they’re somehow failing at life.
I’ve been guilty of making stupid assumptions about all sorts of people, including “fat” people. But I learned as a child the difference between cruelty and kindness, and as an adult I learned about tolerance, and acknowledging privilege, and that mistakes are part of learning and I can grow and be a better person. What I haven’t learned is how to reach people like the ones above who still think it’s ok to shame someone for any reason because, like with so many people who make asshole comments like this, it seems that anyone who calls them out on it simply has “no sense of humor.”
That’s all I’ve got in me for today, friends. Sorry for the sporadic nature of my posts of late, but in addition to everything else, my old dog left me this week and I’m trying to keep up with work and life one day at a time. I’ll get it back together sometime soon. Meanwhile, thanks for sticking with me. It’s good to know you’re out there.
Tolerance is nearly always better than the alternative.
I’m a geek. That’s not news to anyone who knows me, or anybody who’s even seen me. I’m all kinds of geek. Movie geek, horror geek, goth, science fiction geek, gaming geek, and so on, and so on. I’ve always been proud to be a geek. But I have not, in fact, always been kind to my fellow geeks.
When I was a very young geek and I first started going to science fiction conventions, there was a schism between the Star Trek geeks and the Dr. Who geeks. I was a Trekkie. The Whoites ran around with big goofy scarves, and we mocked them mercilessly. Of course, they mocked us right back for wearing our dopey polyester Star Trek shirts and talking into plastic communicators.
As I matured as a geek, I settled in with the pro crowd. We were professional writers, which kind of made us geek royalty…
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Guest post by Sid
Three of those relationships were abusive.
Guy one (G1) was fine in this regard, as was guy five (G5). They each had their own issues, of course, but they weren’t abusive.
Guy number two (G2) choked me one day. We had been together for well over a year, closing in on a year and a half. Some months later, he dragged me with his car for about twenty feet. Any time I tried to break up with him, he sobbed and sobbed, berating himself until I recanted. He yelled at me if I disagreed with him, prayed before a meal, or called him out on one of dozens of pathological lies.
Guy number three (G3) also choked me, but it was much softer. It was as though he didn’t intend to actually hurt me, but wanted to remind me what being choked was like (because of course he knew G2 had done it) and wanted to show me he could do it just as easily. To my mind, this is just as bad. It was more threat than act, but it amounted to the same. Some months later, he was holding my hand while angry and crushed it. It hurt for several days.
Guy number four (G4), though…he’s the tricky one. He didn’t choke me. He didn’t drag me with a car or crush my hand. His thing was all about how much I wasn’t listening to him. He was also quite tall, so when he felt I wasn’t listening to him, he would bring himself up to his full height and grab me by the arms—tightly, so that I couldn’t get away. He would then push his face into mine so that my head went back, and he would scream at me.
I struggled away whenever I could, but often I was backed up against a wall or into a corner and had nowhere to go.
I would scream back, of course, because I felt trapped and threatened, and I was trying to understand what was happening. Any time we had an argument, if I tried to step away from it to calm down and sort my thoughts, he would follow me after just a few minutes. In one of our homes, as soon as I closed the bedroom door behind me, I would sneak out the sliding glass door and walk down the street so I could get some peace. It wasn’t long before he figured that out, though, and ran down the street after me. A couple times, when I’d gotten far enough that he couldn’t see me, he came after me in his car, window rolled down and sobbing for me to get in.
Honestly, I just wanted thirty minutes to be alone. I couldn’t get five.
When we moved, my office didn’t have a sliding glass door (or a window on the first floor), but that’s still where I went when I wanted space. When he still wouldn’t respect my request to be alone, I started sitting in front of the door. It didn’t have a lock.
This worked for about ten minutes, at which point he panicked and forced himself into the room. This happened so many times, I couldn’t even tell you how many. I often ended up hurt because the door would throw me into the wall or would hit me, or he would step on me on accident because I was right there on the floor. Once he was in the room, he would start calm, but would eventually escalate, sobbing about how we had to work this out right now and no I couldn’t take any time to work through the problem on my own. Often, it would take us back to him grabbing me by the arms and pushing his face into mine, and screaming.
Like I said, my office didn’t have a lock. But the bathroom did. Once I locked myself in there with my back against the door. He used a credit card and forced his way in. I got hurt this time because I was leveraging myself against the door by pushing against the toilet with my feet, and eventually my knees gave out.
I started leaving the apartment when we argued. But I would literally need to run, because he would be after me in about two minutes. It was kind of amazing, actually. The first time I went to leave, he looked at me and said, “Really? You really think you have to leave the apartment?” He was aghast at my lack of trust—after all, he’d agreed to give me time to think in my office. Again. Two minutes later, he was behind me on the street, begging me to come back with him.
Finally, I started heading for the stairs instead of the elevator—but I went upstairs instead of down. That was the one thing he never figured out. I finally had some time and space to think—about being a grown woman who was hiding on the floor above her own just to escape her boyfriend who literally made a habit of chasing her.
This relationship did not last.
Now, was I an angel in this relationship? Good God, no. I mean, I tried. The good times were so good that we were engaged, and we both thought our relationship was fine. (I didn’t notice the pattern, see. Not at first. Not for a long time.) At the end of the day, though, I was not my best in this relationship, as much as I wanted to be. As much as I tried to be. But that doesn’t mean—and will never mean—that I deserved what I got.
What makes him tricky, though, isn’t that he never choked me or took a direct swing. What makes him tricky is how entwined he was with so many of my other friends. They had become our friends, and it didn’t seem right to air all our dirty laundry to them. I told two of my very closest friends, though, which was difficult because they were also very close to him. And then one of my friends said something I didn’t expect.
“Well, you know, I think a lot of it came down to you two just not being right for each other. I mean, I don’t think that’s his real personality.”
I could have the very specifics of the words wrong—it was a few years ago now—but the sentiment is dead-on. And I was confused. I had been trying to attach the word “abusive” to this relationship as I sorted through the wreckage (I say “trying” because, as with many things, it is difficult for a victim to call out what is true), and this reaction made me feel all the more like I shouldn’t attach that word. It made me feel even more strongly that the problem wasn’t him—the problem was that I evoked the reaction.
I fought with myself for a long time on this one, and honestly I don’t know when in the last three years I settled on the word “abusive,” but I know it was more recent than not. Maybe it was when I heard this same friend say that she couldn’t imagine what goes through people’s heads when they defend a friend of theirs who was called out for assaulting another friend. “How can you look someone in the face and say that he wouldn’t do that? That it was just a misunderstanding?”
I don’t know. How can you?
Or maybe it was just this last week when I stood two feet away as she hugged Rosie and said, “I unfriended that guy because I couldn’t stand to hear him say on Facebook how he was…” something. I didn’t hear the end of the sentence. I was too far inside my own head trying to figure out how it was that B was so despicable she couldn’t stand to be friends with him on Facebook, yet she had managed to remain very close friends with my abuser since I left him.
Abuser. That’s such a strong word. I look at it even now and think, “Come on now, Sid. Surely that’s not the right word. He didn’t even hit you.” Honestly. That’s the thought: “He didn’t even hit you.” I know better than that, and still.
The thing with a lot of victim blaming, I think, is that it comes from a place not of malice but of pleading. When you say, “You must have misinterpreted the situation,” you’re not really saying, “You’re a liar and I don’t believe you.” At least not most of the time. Sure, there are people who outright say that, but I think even they are really saying, “Don’t let this be true. Please, just leave me any margin for error so I can continue to hang out with my friend who has never shown this horrible side to me.”
It works like this, I think:
- You acknowledge the accusation is horrible.
- If the accusation is true, then you feel you can no longer be friends with the accused.
- You have never seen the accused display any behavior like this; in fact, you would declare the accused to be one of the nicest fellows you know.
- As a result of (3), you choose to believe that it couldn’t have been as bad as it sounds. Your natural inclination is to assume there was a misunderstanding.
- You report this to the accusing party.
You aren’t trying to disregard your friend’s feelings—in truth, you’re just trying to protect your own—but what you’ve done here is opened the door for second-guessing. Second-guessing something that was probably hard to talk about in the first place. Without even intending to, you have silenced her.
Victim blaming isn’t something any friend sets out to do. (Anyone who does so openly and candidly is honestly not a friend—I have stories about that, too.) Victim blaming is something so subtle it can slip by us without so much as a glance.
After my first two abusive relationships (G2 and G3), I was re-applying for a job as a dispatcher. During one of the interviews, the abuse came up in conversation. My interviewers informed me that these relationships proved I had poor decision-making skills and denied me the job. (Before you jump into legality, I can’t prove that was the reason. It was, though.)
It took me several years to get over the shame and the self-blame of those first two, but now I won’t apologize when I tell you that I have been abused. I won’t shrink away and say, “I…I know I should have gotten out sooner, but…” I notice the signs now, and I avoid them. In the case of G4, it took a while to notice the pattern, but when I did—and I realized it was slowly getting worse and worse—I got out, six months before the wedding.
Getting out isn’t as easy as it sounds, and I won’t look down on anyone going through a similar experience. Women in these situations need help and encouragement—not shame, not blame, not doubt. Strength.
My roommate once asked me what my biggest regret was, and I said I didn’t have any. “None at all?” “Nope. Because it’s all important. Our pasts make up who we are, and I like who I am. I wouldn’t be who I am without everything that’s brought me to this point. It’s all important.”
It’s a part of my history. I can’t change it, and honestly, I don’t know that I would given the chance. Not changing your past doesn’t mean you have to relive it, after all. I love and appreciate every lesson I’ve learned, however hard it was.
I don’t make billboards about my abusive relationships, but I don’t make any effort to hide them. And sometimes people still try to shame me—whether it’s with words, body language, or a sudden, superior attitude. It doesn’t work, though. Here’s a quick tip: you can’t shame me about my life, my choices, my hobbies, my aspirations, my friends, or my past. It’s pointless trying.
You can’t shame me because I am not ashamed.
From my friend Nicole. If we want to end rape culture, we have to stop blaming the victim. And that’s something we can all work toward every day.
Today a teacher I follow on Facebook posted a letter she’d written to a local paper in response to a letter to the editor. The original letter from Rob Cobb, printed in the Nevada Appeal, in Carson City, NV, is in the image below. The paper wanted her to cut 250 words, so I helped her do that, and offered to print her letter in its entirety here.
Guest post by TvB
There are quite a few reasons why teachers shouldn’t carry guns in schools, all of which can be saved for another day and a different letter to the editor. I, however, write today to respond to Rob Cobb’s letter in which he states his reasons why teachers shouldn’t carry guns.
1. “Most teachers have never really functioned in the real world.”
Saying I’m offended by this comment is an understatement. What exactly is the “real world” Mr. Cobb? Teaching your children about a subject is just a small part of our job. How about the kids you send through our doors who we need to counsel and console because their parent beat them senseless the night before? How about the kid that can’t afford to eat because mom or dad is so strung out on drugs and spends the food money on getting high so that kid comes to school starving and so we give them food or money out of our own pocket to buy lunch? How about the student that wants to commit suicide because her parents don’t support her being gay? How about the student who’s been raised by gang members and has recently become a gang member also? You don’t think that this is “real world” for us? The real world, is something we try to CLEAN UP and make better for your children everyday. The real world is more real to us than it is for you who think we don’t “function in the real world.” I function highly in this world and I help your child function also.
2. “They went through school, maybe if their parents had money they went to Europe one summer to see the world. Then after college they got a job teaching, and have never worked or lived outside of a school.”
Many of us had different careers before we became teachers. For example, in my building alone, I work with former carpenters, construction workers, nurses, federal government workers, policemen, firefighters, and career military personnel. Are you implying that these former careers of many of our teachers don’t qualify as “real world?” Many of our teachers gave up lucrative careers to be with your kids, helping them understand what the real world actually is. We bring to the table a wealth of “real world” experience and hands-on knowledge to your children. Your comment is not only offensive, but downright ignorant.
As a teacher, I don’t want to carry a gun in school. But what I do possess in my weaponry are some things called, respect, love, knowledge, and common sense. These are the weapons I use to help teach your children how to function in the “real world.” I believe a lot of these “weapons” will go a lot farther than anything the bullets of a gun could ever instill upon the young minds of our children.
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We interrupt this story-in-progress to bring you an update from the future. Ok, now that you’re here, it’s the present. Welcome back!
I ran out of words a few days ago. Words about my current life, that is. I started a new freelance gig, and all my words are currently going there. It’s a welcome distraction from reality and gives me a sense of forward motion. It restores some of my confidence. It reminds me that I’m ok on my own.
B and I are on speaking–even friendly–terms following a series of talks. I unloaded a lot of anger on him in person –which I very much needed to do–when he came to move his stuff. Then we talked as friends and cried together a bit. (I did most of the crying–B never has been able to really let loose in that department, and I think he needs to learn how. I told him that the other day.) That was two weeks to the day after he left, and it was a very, very hard day. We’ve talked twice since then and kept in touch via email and text.
I had my first therapy appointment today. It was good. I wish I could have gone sooner, but my crisis happened right when everyone else was having theirs, and vacations and all that. Going back weekly. Also have an appointment with B and a couples counselor Tuesday. I don’t know what to hope for at this point.
Now and then it hits me all over again, but in between I have found some peace. I am getting stronger every day.
Never fear–I’ll get back to publishing regular stuff on a more regular basis just as soon as possible. Right now it’s all I can do to juggle one ball at a time.
When the two returned home to their houses in the same town, in the same neighborhood, on the same street, four houses apart, neither could stop thinking about the other. The girl barely slept and couldn’t eat. When she awoke in the morning, she looked the man up and sent him an email–something short and sweet and hopeful. In her mailbox, she found a painting from the man of a purple snail. Her heart sang and she sent another email admonishing him for causing her to make undignified girly noises. She immediately sculpted a matching snail for him in blue. Into it she poured everything she was feeling–all the joy and hope and dare she even think it? Yes: Love. And she brought it to him that very day and they sat across from one another at a small table and tasted every beer on tap as they talked, and talked, and talked.
Later that night they went back to the office from which he ran his “mighty publishing empire” and he played music for her and they resisted so many temptations as they listened and talked, their brains awash in love chemicals.
Over the next several weeks, the two met tentatively, as friends, as the man sorted out the life he’d neglected for far too long. And when the two were apart, the girl marveled at the string of coincidences and the seeming serendipity that had brought them together and kept reaffirming for them every step of the way that this was good and right and expected and deserved.
He moved house within a week and still kept the promise he’d made himself that until he was sure he was doing the right thing, the girl and the man would be just friends. Just friends who were falling ever more desperately in love by the day. They talked for hours at a time, stared into one another’s eyes, wondered whether the whole thing was some cosmic joke on them. They longed for their first kiss, and when the man finally gave in, they melted together in that kiss. They waited much longer to be together unclothed, but when that happened, the fireworks were spectacular.
And they loved, and they loved, and they loved.
[To be continued.]
Over the course of the evening the girl and the man continued the dance, spiraling in and away, engaging for a moment and then disengaging because the intensity was almost too much to bear. The girl found herself grinning like a fool, and saw that he was, too. She said his name to herself quietly, trying it on for size–not to wear it, but to learn what it might be like for that name to become familiar to her, cherished, like a comfortable sweater or a favorite book or the name of her true love.
As they moved together and apart, the girl and the man learned that though they were both away from home, they lived in the same town. That they lived in the same neighborhood. On the same street. Within four houses of one another. The sparred with words and glances and jibes and wondered at the magic of it all. Each one felt as though the Universe had reached down and shaken their little snow-globe into utter, ecstatic chaos. In the wee hours they said goodnight, embracing for the first time, him mumbling, “I hope to see you soon,” into her hair, her whispering, “Just try to avoid me,” into his neck.
The girl barely slept that night, and the next day the two sat down to their first meal together. The girl was nervous and giddy. The man ordered a salad and the girl ordered a hummus plate, but neither ate much. They talked about their favorite things (his favorite color: blue) and hobbies (she sculpted snails, among other things) and interests and how strange it was, this thing that seemed to be happening between them.
The man mentioned how, when one is away from home for a weekend, it can be a simple thing to get lost in a fantasy. The girl felt a little sad because she knew it was true–the odds were against this being anything as earth-shattering as it felt at that moment. Then the man said, “I sense reality here,” and the girl thought, “Who is this man who isn’t afraid to talk to me about feelings? Where has he been all these years? Can he be real?”
Then, “Please, let him be real.”
[To be continued.]