On Privilege and Luck

[Content Note: rape, abuse, physical and emotional violence, homophobia, fatphobia]

Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a right to talk about certain things. The intersection of identities where I live (bisexual/pansexual/queer, fat, cisgender, female, white, upper-middle class, spiritual atheist, and so on) gives me certain insights into those identities. But I sometimes feel like I shouldn’t talk about certain things.

For the purpose of this post, I want to define what I mean by luck. A lot of people see luck as a positive force in the world, some even see it as some divine gift. When I use the word “luck” in this essay, I’m talking about statistical probability. It’s statistically improbable for certain things to happen, and when those things happen, they’re usually labeled as luck, either good or bad. When I say I’m lucky, I mean that I’ve been the recipient of statistically improbable things or statuses. I don’t mean that I have a gift, or that some invisible being has favored me, or that I’ve done anything worthy of praise. I simply mean that the odds have been in my favor.

So I’m one of the lucky women who’s made it to 30 years old without experiencing sexual assault. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a right to talk about sexual assault, because I don’t know what it’s like. I have a pretty good imagination, and reading the accounts of survivors or seeing graphic depictions of it in the media gives me some idea, but I don’t really know. And it’s not like I’ve done anything to prevent it, really. I’ve just been lucky. I never went out of my way to avoid being assaulted, I never worried about what I was wearing or whether I should walk alone at night (although walking alone at night does make me a teeny bit nervous, because I’m a woman). I’ve never worried about the men I’ve dated trying to force me. Some of this is probably a result of my physical size, but since large and powerful women have also been raped, I don’t want to say that’s the reason because that discounts their experiences. It isn’t because I’m fat, because fat women have been raped. The simple fact is, I’ve been lucky. And sometimes I feel guilty about it.

How fucked up is that, that I feel guilty about not being raped or otherwise sexually assaulted? I know that no rape survivor would ever want me to feel guilty. What does it say about our culture, that when I was younger I actually thought the reason no one had tried to rape me was because I wasn’t attractive enough (I know that’s not true now, but younger me was a product of our culture, as much as anyone else is)? What does it say about our society that I actually wished men would give me negative attention, because it was better than no attention? Once I actually encountered verbal abuse and catcalling, I was disabused of those ideas pretty damn quickly, but as a young woman who’d never experienced any of it, I bought into the idea that a man verbally assaulting me was a compliment, and envied girls who dealt with it! And that’s just proof of how immensely fucked up rape culture is.

I feel guilty about past me’s thoughts too. I know it isn’t her fault, because she was raised to believe she was undesirable, and that catcalling and other forms of verbal abuse were compliments. But I feel like I can’t talk about other women’s sexual abuse because of that, because I felt that way. Isn’t it great how many modes of silencing are built into this fucked-up culture of ours?

Today on another blog I follow, I encountered the term “invisible queer” and it was exactly what I am, too. I identify as bisexual or pansexual (depending on the audience and whether they know that there aren’t just two genders), but I’ve only dated a very few people in my life, and all of them were cisgender and male. Despite the fact that I’ve never dated a woman, trans* person, or genderqueer person, I know I’m attracted to people of all sexualities and gender identities, so bi or pan fits me. But I often feel like I don’t fit into the queer community, because I didn’t deal with a lot of pain or stigma related to coming out. I’ve never dealt with someone giving me a death glare because I held hands with or kissed a same-sex partner. The worst I’ve had to deal with was some clueless questions (like “but which gender do you like better” or “if you had to choose just one gender, which one would it be” or “do you have twice as much sex”). When I came out at 16, my best friends said “is that all? We thought maybe you were sick or moving away, when you told us you had something big to tell us!” My mom said “as long as you’re happy” and my dad said “I think you’re too young to know that yet” (not an ideal response, but not openly hateful, and he’s never said anything homophobic to me before or since). Even in queer settings, most people just assume I’m a straight ally (which is frustrating when I’m looking to meet people t0 date). So I often feel like I don’t have a right to talk about issues facing the LGBTQIA+ community, because have I really dealt with most of those issues? I remember a group of LGBT classmates and I talking in college, telling our coming-out stories. One person said their parents acted like they’d died. One said their father threatened to kick them out, and their mother cried for days. Another person’s family did kick them out, but they luckily had a friend whose family took them in. I just sat there, listening, feeling grossly out of place with my accepting family who acted like it was no big deal.

I’ve dealt with casual homophobia a few times, like when I got a super short faux-hawk haircut and a coworker asked me if I was a lesbian (she acted so suspicious about it too, like “I thought you were a decent person but now you look like that”). I vaguely recall saying something like “why would it matter?” and then she never talked to me again (she was in another department so I didn’t talk to her normally, we just walked by each other sometimes in the building). But I’ve never been physically threatened for being bi. I’ve never felt afraid of violence in a real sense, just mildly nervous because the possibility exists. I have straight-passing privilege, after all, so I’ve rarely been made to feel afraid.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve the privilege and luck I’ve had in my life. I feel like there are so many people who are braver, smarter, kinder, more loving, more deserving, who’ve had horrible things happen to them. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Violence doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t bypass people who are better, it doesn’t leave the brave and kind and smart people alone just because they’re brave and kind and smart. Sometimes violence even seeks out the people who are kindest, bravest, smartest, because it wants them to suffer.

I don’t think I had a specific point to make with this post. I just needed to say something, because I feel so sad and angry about what happened in Orlando, and I feel guilty that I’m alive and physically unharmed when over 100 people are dead or injured. I’ve been so, so lucky in my life, when so many other people haven’t been. And somehow that feels wrong. I wish it didn’t. I wish that my state of being was the statistically probable one, that only a few people ever dealt with violence and abuse and rape (or none at all).

I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the chest, but I can’t pull the knife out. It hurts. It hurts.

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It Could Be Me

Last night, there was a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. Today, my friends are sharing their stunned responses to this tragedy. A lot of people don’t know what to say, and I can’t blame them. But I do have a few things to say.

Not. One. More.

I am 3o years old. I remember Columbine. I remember Sandy Hook. I remember Virginia Tech, and Fort Hood, and so many, many others. I remember last year when a young man killed several people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. I remember the horror, the helplessness. I remember the anger, so much anger, at all the lives lost. And I remember the frustration, every goddamn time, when people would try to start a dialogue about gun control, and they would be shouted down. Even though the crimes just keep getting worse and worse. Even though more and more people die from guns. Even though the very simple things that are called for (harder background checks, licensing, closing manufacturing loopholes) are things that most sensible gun owners agree should happen.

I am shaking with rage and sorrow as I write this. I may not have known anyone who was killed in Orlando, but I know the LGBT community. I’m part of it, I have many friends who are part of it, and we are all full of rage and sorrow because we live every day knowing that our lives are less valued, our chances of rape and death are much higher, because of who we are.

And I have something in particular to say to my family and friends, the ones who might be saddened by this, but will forget in a week or so, move on with their lives, because thank goodness, it wasn’t anyone they knew.

I’m someone you know. And I could be next. I’m a bisexual woman who believes in equality and has friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, so on. I could have been in that club. I could’ve been there for a fun night with my friends, for dancing and drinks, and I could’ve walked in and never walked out again. It could be me whose phone keeps ringing and ringing as the rescue workers walk through the club through the cacophony of desperate people trying to reach their loved ones. It could be me whose voice you never hear again. It could be me who’s lying in a morgue, marked as “Jane Doe” because in all the chaos I dropped my wallet and they haven’t had time to figure out who I am yet.

Don’t turn away. Don’t stop reading. You need to know this. Those of you who might not have known my sexuality, who might not have thought about it, who might not have considered that it could be me. I want you to think very, very hard about that. About what it would feel like, to not know if I was okay, to wait hours in agony, trying to tell yourself that maybe I’m out of town, or maybe I lost my phone, or maybe this or maybe that because you don’t want to believe that I could be dead. To find out from my mom or brothers that I was killed, violently. I want you to think about how you’d feel. I want you to think about it. Because it could be me. Because of who I am, because of what I do, because I’m a bisexual woman living in the United States, I could be killed. It could be me.

We can’t let this continue. We can’t.

Flying While Fat – American Airlines, 5/23/16

[Content Note: fat-shaming, anxiety]

This past weekend, I flew down to San Antonio, Texas, to attend the wedding of a friend. This friend was one of my fellow graduate teaching assistants the past two years, and I also get along really well with her now-husband, so I was really happy to be able to be there for them on their special day.

Flying is a very nerve-wracking experience for me. I try to avoid it if at all possible, not because I have any real fear of the act itself (on the contrary, I find planes fascinating and enjoy the feeling of weightlessness during take-off), but because I’m a fat woman who’s also 6′ tall.

Planes are not designed for me. In fact, the people who make planes basically refuse to believe I exist, or at least that I’m a person they want as a customer. This ranges from the extreme fat-shaming of Southwest Airlines (which will force you to pay for a second seat if you don’t fit into one) to the limited accommodation of JetBlue (which, despite having seats a few inches wider than most, still flies to and from only a few places, very few of them places I ever go). It doesn’t help that the majority of my weight is carried in my middle, with a pronounced belly and a very large butt, making it very difficult for me to sit in “normal-sized” chairs if they have arms, and requiring me to use a seat belt extender on every plane I go on. The seat belt extender is important, because it also prevents me from sitting in Exit Row seats, which most people know as the Tall People Preferred seats. However, according to most airlines, being fat is a disability. You see, people who are disabled aren’t allowed to sit in Exit Row seats, because anyone who sits in them has to be capable of opening the emergency door and inflating the slide, both of which require a certain amount of physical strength. But people who require seat belt extenders are automatically banned from Exit Row seats, because we obviously wouldn’t have the physical strength to open the door. Does anyone else smell something fishy here? I mean, it’s also true that children aren’t allowed in Exit Row seats (something that was also a problem for me as a kid, because at 12 I was already 5’8” and thus uncomfortable in normal coach seats), but I’ve seen short and skinny (read: not muscular) women sit in them with nary a peep from the flight attendants, perhaps because there’s almost always a big tall man in the row who could open the door for her. Do they think that my fatness will cause me to block the door like an over-inflated balloon when the regular people go to try and open it? I don’t fucking know, but it’s frustrating as hell.

When I have flown overseas, I’ve always borrowed money from family so I can buy a business-class ticket. This has nothing to do with being hoity-toity and everything to do with knowing that my sanity limit for sitting in a coach seat is a few hours at best. On a flight that lasts 8 hours, I need to be able to move. Even business-class seats hardly fit me, and I still need a seat belt extender, but I’m not crammed in like a sardine, and I especially am not seated next to a person who might glare at me because I edge into their space, even with the arm down. Since I’ve been overseas a grand total of three times (three round-trip tickets), and my family isn’t poor, this was a sustainable practice. But it’s not something I can do regularly, so when I booked my flights to Texas, I bought a coach seat through American Airlines.

I was really lucky on Friday with my two flights. The first one I was able to pull up the arm on the aisle side (I paid extra to reserve aisle seats on all four flights), and none of the flight attendants noticed or commented on it. On the second and longer flight, there was no one in the middle seat in my row, so I was able to spread my legs and pull up the arm to sit comfortably (although my legs still started to ache about an hour in). No one gave me disapproving looks or sighed when they saw I was seated next to them. I didn’t have to squeeze into too-small seats and be miserable. It was an ideal situation and a lucky break.

The wedding on Saturday was lovely, despite not knowing anyone aside from a few other friends from our university. The bride was radiant and beautiful and the speeches were funny and heartfelt. It was outdoors so I was a bit warm, but otherwise it was a lovely experience and I cried copiously (I cry very easily when I feel deep emotions). I was really glad I went and got to be part of the experience.

On Sunday I hung out with one of our mutual friends, as the newlyweds and our other friends had left that morning already. We had intended to do some exploring, but it was very hot so I ended up going back to my air-conditioned hotel while he did his own exploring, and we met back up for dinner at a really delicious Mexican restaurant (real Mexican, not Tex-Mex).

My flight on Monday didn’t leave until the afternoon, so I slept in until 10 am, got ready, checked out a bit after 11, went to a little breakfast place nearby to eat, then went to the airport several hours early to wait for my flight. The first leg was short and uneventful, I once again had an empty middle seat and was able to sit comfortably. The second leg was, unfortunately, a very bad experience. When I got to my seat, the row was full and it was clear that the guy next to me wasn’t going to pull the arm up. I managed to squeeze myself into the seat by sitting entirely on my right butt-cheek, with my legs slanted so my left heel jutted out into the aisle slightly. I asked the nearby flight attendant for the necessary seat belt extender, and she looked critically at my seat and said “are you going to be comfortable like that?” I grinned wryly and said “well, it’s life”, thinking maybe she had a solution, as flight attendants sometimes do. She then said “yes, but you aren’t going to be able to fly like that. You might have to make other arrangements” and she walked away. I sat petrified. I knew that I could be thrown off the plane simply for not fitting in the seat. I knew I could be refused service, even though I had bought a ticket and checked my bag at the gate. We were in Dallas, TX, and any other arrangements would require extra time and money that I simply couldn’t afford. I sat and waited for the hammer to drop, trying in vain to squeeze myself tighter, make my very large body smaller, just so I could suffer the two hour flight to get home. The flight attendant came back and said she might be able to pull the aisle arm up (which I had already tried and failed to do). I half-stood and she pulled it up and I looked at her with naked gratitude and said “thank you”.

I wish that was the end of the story. I wish I could say I had an uneventful rest of the flight. Instead, a few minutes later, a male flight attendant came back and told me that I would have to have the inside arm down for takeoff. I and the guy next to me looked confused, as it was down. The attendant called back to toward the female attendant I’d been so stupidly grateful to. “I thought you said there was a problem?” She pointed at the aisle and he realized that arm was the one that was raised. He said “I’m sorry, both have to be down for takeoff.” He said it loudly, so everyone around me turned to look. I smiled with embarrassment and pulled it down with a sharp jerk, cutting into my side. He nodded in approval and left. That was when I started to cry, silent, angry tears. The plane hadn’t even left the terminal, so I put my airplane mode back off and posted an angry status to Facebook about how humiliated I felt, typing through my tears. The people around me had quickly looked away after he left, but the damage had already been done. Everyone knew I was A Problem. My body wasn’t okay, and I didn’t deserve to be treated with respect.

The female flight attendant who’d acted so helpful before came and whispered “it’ll only be for takeoff, then I’ll come pull the arm back up for you”. I choked out a thanks, but I was so angry at her. She may have just been doing her job, as she saw it, but I’ve flown enough times and known enough sympathetic (and non-sympathetic) flight attendants to know, that she could’ve said nothing and it would’ve been fine. My fat body protruding half an inch into the aisle wasn’t going to throw the entire plane off balance. I’m practiced at the art of leaning out of the way in tight spaces, which I did every time someone or something came down the aisle for the rest of the flight. All I wanted was to go home with my dignity intact. But on top of alerting everyone that my body was A Problem, she spent the rest of the flight acting like she’d done me a huge favor by lifting that arm, instead of just being a decent human being. I spent the rest of the flight trying to read my Kindle, alternating between wanting to pretend I wasn’t there and being unable to concentrate on the book because I was so angry. It was only a few hours, but they felt like eternity. By the time the plane landed, all I wanted was to get off and try to forget it happened. It was almost 11 at night, I still had to get my luggage, then find my car and drive the hour home from the airport. I was stiff and I had bruises on my sides from where the arms cut into me. I was so relieved and tired by the time I got home at 1 am that I  fell into my bed and slept, after spared some time to cuddle my kitties, who had a lot to tell me about me being gone.

I live in a world that will not let me forget that my body is A Problem. Most of the time, I can protect myself from the worst of it. It’s pretty rare to be mooed or oinked at in the street, although it does happen. I’m not well-known enough online to draw the amount of hatred that most fat women bloggers do. I don’t go out to eat often, and I almost never go clothes shopping. When I do go out in public, I try to only go with friends, so the ever-present voice in my head is drowned out from telling me that everyone is looking, everyone is judging, everyone is watching you and disapproving of your fatness (and if you think that that voice is lying to me or overreacting, you’re only partially right).

Flying is one of the few times I actually feel endangered by fat shaming. Not of assault or physical violence, but a very real danger of being refused service, despite my existing reservation and money spent. A danger of being extorted, of experiencing both financial and emotional difficulties because of my body.

The reason for this is so I’ll feel ashamed of my fat body. So I’ll try my best to change it, through surgery, or dieting, or disordered eating, or exercise, or pills, because my body is the problem and it needs to be fixed.

What I actually feel is angry. Angry at the companies who shame me for not fitting in their tiny seats that were never meant to accommodate my body. Angry at the people who treat me like shit because they might have to sit next to me, rather than taking the airlines to task for making the seats too small in the first place. Angry at the country I live in for its complete lack of affordable alternatives to flying. Angry at the idea that I should feel ashamed simply because my body isn’t average. Angry at every single micro-aggression and simple injustice that I have to deal with every single goddamn time I try to say I deserve to be treated like a human being. And most of all, I’m angry that every time I remember this trip, this wonderful chance I had to watch two people I care about joined in marriage, I will also remember this anger and humiliation.

And this is what it’s like, flying while fat. This isn’t the first experience like this I’ve had. It won’t be that last, either. But I will be damned if I feel ashamed of myself just because I’m expected to. I’m going to stay angry, and keep yelling at the indignity of it, and hope that someday in the future, I can look back and say “isn’t it nice that things aren’t like that anymore”.

What Being an Ally Means to Me

[Content Note: discussion of transphobia, homophobia, racism, sexism, emotional and physical violence]

One of the greatest blessings of being active in social justice circles is getting to know so many wonderfully diverse people. I remember when I started college, I only knew a few gay people and one trans* woman. Although I got to know many gay men over the course of my Bachelor’s studies, I didn’t meet any other trans* people until I came to Grad school. And although I’d learned about asexual and genderqueer people from the social justice blogs I followed online, I didn’t meet anyone in person who identified as either of those things until I joined the cast of my university’s Vagina Monologues.

The most beautiful thing about meeting people from all these different groups, to me, is the biological diversity. I don’t necessarily mean race, although that certainly intersects with all these various identities too, I mean things like height, weight, bone structure, arm length, eye color and width, curly vs. straight hair, and so on and so on. Although I’m not a scientist, one of the things I love most about humanity is how different we can be from each other. I, at 6′ and 400+ lbs, represent the extreme of two spectrums, height and weight. There are women I know who are 5’2” and skinny, and we’re part of the same species. We couldn’t look more different, and yet we share 99% of our genetic makeup. What an amazing world we live in, where someone like me and sometime like you can both exist and be human together!

 
But there is a flip side to this beautiful diversity. And it is an ugly flip. Where people are erased and marginalized, even within their own groups, because they don’t fit the “ideal”. I am pushed to the margins of womanhood because I am too tall, too fat. I am pushed to the margins of LGBT culture because “bisexuality isn’t real” or “you’re too femme to be butch, but too butch to be femme”. LGBT people of color are pushed to the margins because “homosexuality is a white man’s disease”. Trans* women are pushed to the margins of womanhood because “you’re not a real woman” or “you don’t pass”. Genderqueer people are pushed to the margins of both LGBT and straight culture because “there are only two genders”. Asexual people are pushed to the margins because “sexual desire is normal, what’s wrong with you?”. Trans* people are pushed to the margins of LGB culture because “trans* isn’t a sexuality”.

The basic deal is that for every single group, there’s people who aren’t acknowledged as being in that group. And this is where people have to struggle to change things, because the idea of “us vs. them” isn’t a new one. In fact, it’s an extremely old one, that evolved in us over millions of years, and is very strongly-rooted in our cultural DNA. But one of the things that we, as modern human being, have to acknowledge is that our society, our culture, has evolved much faster than we have. Where we have this primitive brain telling us “that person is different from us, shun them” we must say to ourselves “no, I am smarter than that”. And the beautiful thing about the human brain is that is adapts. If you force yourself to analyze your thinking patterns and work to change them, over time, they will change. So the burden, for all of us, is to do this. Not just accept the ways we’ve been taught, not to just accept the status quo, but to be aware and to question things, to learn about others and accept them for their differences.

Of course, I have a lot of privilege here. White privilege, cis privilege, economic privilege, educational privilege, straight-passing privilege, and so on. When I look at a black woman or a trans* woman or a lesbian woman, I don’t feel fear, because I know they aren’t likely to hurt me. But they don’t have that guarantee from me. They have no idea if I, a white, cis, straight-passing woman, will hurt them. They don’t know if I will yell at them, accuse them of stealing, assault them in the bathroom, spread rumors about them, commit acts of emotional or physical violence against them, simply for being who they are.

One of the first acts that I, as an ally, am obligated to do, is to show that I am a safe person. When a genderqueer person meets me and says “my preferred pronouns are ‘they, them, their’ “, it is now my responsibility to correctly use those terms when referring to that person. If I forget or fail, it is my responsibility to apologize and try to do better (and not a long-winded self-flagellation, just a “sorry, I meant they” is just fine for most people). If I meet trans* woman who is not “out” as trans, it is my responsibility to NOT say “this is my trans* friend, X!” because I could be putting her in very real danger. If I meet a black woman and she brings up cultural appropriation of black culture by white people, it is my responsibility to NOT try to play “devil’s advocate” or say “but why does that even matter, there are bigger issues”.

But here’s the key thing, for all you allies or potential allies out there. Even if I do all these things to show I am a safe person, a marginalized person is still not obligated to trust me. Practicing all the little things that protect marginalized people doesn’t make me automatically awesome. And every marginalized person gets to assess whether they will engage with me on that level. If I meet a trans* person who then says “sorry, I don’t trust you”, I can feel disappointed and even hurt, but I do not get to be angry and demand they trust me. I do not get to feel butthurt because they didn’t give me a cookie for being Such A Good Ally. If a black woman says “I do not have the energy to deal with a white person who is trying way too damn hard to be a good ally” then that is every bit her right. And again, I can feel hurt or disappointed (because I have a right to my own emotions), but I do not get to try and explain to her why she’s wrong for protecting herself, or go on a rant on social media about how I try so hard to be nice to “those people” and they always shun me. Because those things don’t make me an ally, they make me an asshole.

I don’t write about social justice issues because I want praise from other marginalized groups. I write about them because they’re important. I write about them because they effect me, and my friends and family. I write about them because it is fucking exhausting to live in a culture that sees me as less-than because of my weight or my sexuality. I write about them because for as exhausted as I am, I know there are people who are exponentially more exhausted by all this shit. And I am not always a good ally. I say stupid, shitty things sometimes. I get mad sometimes when I’m called out on it. But I’m trying. And that’s good enough for most people, and everyone else gets to decide whether it’s good enough for them. And if not, they have that right.

This essay wasn’t written because I want all my friends to give me cookies. It was written because I want people to stop being assholes. If you are a real ally, you don’t get to go on a Netflix comedy special and complain about “all that dang terminology they want us to memorize all the time” (ahem). You don’t get to complain when someone calls you out for saying or doing something shitty. If you want to really be an ally, you will shut the fuck up and you will listen. You will listen when people are kind enough and good enough to explain to you why you’re wrong. You will listen when people say “this hurts me, because”. You will listen when people gift you the stories of their lives, of their struggles as part of a marginalized group. You will listen and you will resolve to do better. Because that’s what a real ally does. It isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being kind. For people who spend so much of their lives defending themselves from physical, emotional, and mental violence, kindness is a gift. So be kind, and listen when someone says “you hurt me”. It’s the fucking least we can do.

Making Your Voice Heard

[CN: homophobia, sexism, racism, physical assault, rape culture, rape jokes, ageism, ableism]

It all started with a tweet.

The BGCrushes twitter account is a student-run account for people to submit anonymous comments about their local crushes at our university, Bowling Green State University. Most of the tweets range from sweetly shy to super racy, but this one was obviously outside the norm for the account. Over the next few days, responses became increasingly heated. Some people saw it as an attack on Greek Life (sororities and fraternities, for those outside the US), and vehemently defended their brothers and sisters. Others saw it as an opportunity to call for change and discuss the problems in our community. Some saw it as a chance to make tasteless rape jokes and slurs.

I first heard about what happened when some friends of mine started posting about it on Facebook, as I’m not very active on Twitter these days. These were undergrads who I’d met while doing the Vagina Monologues earlier in the semester, and they’re mostly women of color and sorority/fraternity members, and some of them are LGBTQ. They were appalled that this had happened, and about the response. They called for their fellow Greeks to take the perpetrators to task, to seek out the ugliness in their ranks and make it clear that such behavior was not indicative of what Greek Life stood for.

Unfortunately, the police and university response was lukewarm, at best. They shared a website and said “if anyone has any information, please contact us” and left it at that. The administration said they couldn’t do anything. And we, the students, decided that wasn’t good enough.

On Friday, April 29th, a group of us met for a rally in front of the student union. The leaders of the student organizations gave passionate speeches about how they didn’t feel safe, as students, as people of color, as LGBTQ individuals. They talked about how they wanted their university to be better, to be a safer, more welcoming place to everyone. The local independent media came and took pictures and interviewed several of the speakers. After they opened up the floor to everyone, I went up and spoke as well, even though I was so emotional I was afraid I would cry. When I was finished I was shaky and light-headed from the emotions and the response. We stood together and we shouted “BG Be Better!”.

I don’t remember specifically what I said when I spoke to the group. I remember saying “I am a bisexual fat woman” and “this is not an attack on any group, this is a call to action”. But the part that was most important to me was when I talked about how we can all do something.

That was, truthfully, the very first rally I’ve ever been to. My social anxiety makes it very difficult for me to go out in public and put myself in any perceived danger, even when I feel strongly about something. I did it this time because I knew that I would know most of the people there, and that there was a pretty low chance of violence (there was no violence, everyone was very civil, although it probably helped that there were a couple police officers standing by just in case). Even though I felt really good afterward, proud of myself for doing something, I also felt extremely affected, emotionally. I spent most of the rest of the day feeling emotionally raw and exposed. I don’t know if I’ll be able to participate in anything like that in the future, just because it was a very taxing experience.

But even for people like me, who have anxiety, who are afraid, there are things we can do. We can talk about our experiences, and share stories about the experiences of others. We can call out our friends and family when they say or do bigoted things. We can push back against the narratives and stereotypes that hurt marginalized people. We can share articles and memes that point out how bigotry hurts people. We can blog, and we can comment on blogs. We can write emails to our representatives, and sign petitions. We can talk to a suicidal trans teen and tell them it gets better. We can support our friends half a continent away and tell them we love and support them, even if their family doesn’t. We can donate to people and causes that help others. Any and all of the above options are valid, and they help.

There’s always been the stereotype of the “armchair liberal” or “armchair activist”. This is a person who literally sits in their armchair and complains about injustice, but never gets up and does anything about it. This ableist and ageist stereotype hurts people who really can’t go out and join in protests or go to rallies. Right now, in the internet age, it’s so much easier for people to be activists from their armchairs. Rallies and protests are super important, but for those of us who can’t attend for one reason or another, there are things we can do.

For me, the most important take-away from this experience is that anyone can help. My favorite blog, Shakesville, uses the term “teaspooning”. It originated when the main writer of the blog, Melissa McEwan, wrote “All I ever do is try to empty the sea with this teaspoon; all I can do is keep trying to empty the sea with this teaspoon.” It refers to the fact that often, the work of social justice feels overwhelming and heart-breakingly difficult, like trying to empty the sea with a teaspoon. But for me, teaspooning has taken on an additional connotation. If one person is trying to empty the sea with a teaspoon, it’s an overwhelming endeavor that will take an eternity to accomplish. But if ten million people started emptying the sea with teaspoons, suddenly the task would seem a little more doable.

So pick up your teaspoon. Start doing what you can. Every teaspoon you empty is one that someone else doesn’t have to. Because we truly are in this together, so make your voice heard.

What Intersectional Feminism means to me

[Content Note: transphobia, racism, sexism, economic disparity)

So on my first post, I was asked to define “intersectional feminism”. The definition of the term “intersectionality” is: “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” What that means, basically, is that what social category a person has does not exist in a vacuum. For instance, I am a white, female, cisgender, fat person. While I have privilege in the forms of being white (race) and cisgender (the opposite of transgender), I am marginalized in the forms of being female (gender identity) and fat (body type). Intersectionality is how those various social categories interact with each other, and how that affects my life and the lives of others.

So what does that have to do with feminism? Feminism is a historical movement that advocates for the equality of women. But the main tenets of historical feminism focus primarily on white, straight, cisgender, economically privileged women. Intersectional feminism is the idea that feminism shouldn’t be restricted by any other social category. The needs and focuses of black women are different than the needs and focuses of white women, just as the needs and focuses of economically disadvantaged women are different than the needs and focuses of economically privileged women, and the needs and focuses of trans* women are different than the needs and focuses of cis women. There are feminists who believe that no trans* woman belongs in a space marked as being for women (they are known as TERFs, or Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists). There are white feminists who downplay or ignore the needs of women of color. There are economically privileged feminists who ignore the needs of economically disadvantaged women.

Intersectionality aims to simultaneously embrace and highlight these differences. I have cisgender privilege, but I acknowledge trans* women as women, because I respect their autonomy, and I recognize that their needs are not the same as my needs. I also expect women who have thin privilege (i.e. women whose bodies conform to the socially accepted ideal) to listen and acknowledge me when I point out problems that I have related to having a fat body and the fat hatred and body shaming I deal with as a result of that. Intersectional feminism means that I believe every woman has a right to be equal, and that every woman has different needs based on her own social categories. As an intersectional feminist, it is my job to validate all women in their lived experiences, advocate for them when they need me to, and push back against anyone who says otherwise.

One of the most important aspects of social justice, to me, is to be patient. No one expects anyone to get it right all the time. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes over the years since I first became involved in the social justice community. I’m a very sensitive person, and it took me a while to learn that someone calling me on my mistakes wasn’t a personal attack. And if you’re really serious about being intersectional, do your research. Chances are, if you see someone using a term or expressing an identity you’re not familiar with, there’s already some information out there about that term or identity. The only wrong way is to not even try.

Some further reading, for anyone who’s interested:

Carrying Feminism (comic)

Why Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional (article with pictures)

Welcome to “Sehnsucht und Fernweh”

My name is Chelsea and this is my new blog. I’ve had a lot of blogs over the years, but I took some time off from blogging the last few years, I’m trying to ease back into it. To start I’ll probably be writing about whatever pops into my head, or daily life things, or so on. I have a wide variety of interests and I’m not very well organized, so I can’t promise this will turn into any specific kind of blog eventually, so while you’re welcome to come along for the ride, please don’t expect too much right away.

The title of the blog comes from German, which I am finishing up M.A. in right now, and thus obviously have some pretty strong connections to. “Sehnsucht” and “Fernweh” are two words that can be difficult to translate into English, because the concepts behind them aren’t easy to explain. “Sehnsucht” is a longing or yearning, usually for something you’ve never experienced, or even for something that you have no idea what it is. “Fernweh” is a little easier, it means the longing for a far-away place, the opposite of being homesick. We sometimes use the term “wanderlust” in English (which, funnily enough, also comes from German), and it’s usually meant as a strong desire to travel, but it has deeper connotations than that in German.

So why did I choose these two words? Well, for one thing, M.A. in German. For another, I often feel those things. I feel emotions very deeply, and I often feel a sense of longing, and I’m not always sure for what. I also often feel like I need to “get away”, go someplace I’ve never been, or revisit someplace I haven’t been in a while. My family moved around a lot when I was growing up and only one of them is in the town I usually think of as my hometown anymore (not in the same house), so I don’t have a particular place I call “home” from my childhood, which contributes to the feeling of wanting to move, I think. At 30, I’ve been moving between crappy apartments for the better part of a decade, first in college and then the period between my undergrad and grad school, and now in grad school as well, and while some of them were better than others, I don’t know that any of them really felt like home. Hopefully once I graduate I’ll find my place, at least that’s the plan.

A little more personal info about me. I’m 6′ tall (1.82 meters), Caucasian, fat, brown hair and eyes, pansexual, cisgender, able-bodied. I have two older brothers, they’re both married and one of them just recently welcomed a son, so I have a cute nephew. Both my parents are alive but no longer married to each other, one is remarried and the other is not. All of us are animal people, there are a grand total of 5 dogs and at least 7 cats between us (I forget exactly how many cats my oldest brother has). There’s more family on top of that, but I’m trying to keep it simple right now. I personally have two of the aforementioned cats, Sen (boy) and Delilah (girl). There was a third cat, Kočka, until yesterday, but that’s too raw to talk about yet. I enjoy writing and reading, although I’ve had little time for either outside of school work the last few years. I also like video games, knitting, singing and listening to music, baking, eating good food and sometimes drinking good alcohol. I’m a passionate intersectional feminist, and I will probably sometimes write about social justice things on this blog, because they are really important to me. I always welcome being called out if I say anything that’s offensive to a marginalized person, because I do have plenty of privilege and sometimes go off half-cocked. I have anxiety and depression and have had them for pretty much my entire adult life (plus parts of high school), so this blog may sometimes be an outlet for those thoughts and feelings as well. I will try to make sure I put Content Notes on any posts that need them, but if I miss something feel free to let me know. Comments are moderated by me, so even though you can feel free to post whatever you want, I will decide whether anyone else ever sees it.

Because I have some grieving to do and because I might not be able to think of anything to blog about this weekend otherwise, please feel free to ask me questions in the comments, and I will answer them to the best of my ability in another blog post.