pollychromatic

the world through rainbow eyes


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… and Hope and Charity

I feel very overwhelmed with this US presidential election year.

Usually politics concern me, but do not worry me. I watch and comment and get involved where it seems prudent or useful.

This year feels different. I see the hate speech and violence ramping up at Trump rallies. The machine that the GOP made using the Southern Strategy has been so successful that it created a vacancy that Trump stepped into seamlessly.

His charisma when people feel ill prepared, financially, to achieve and sustain basic life needs appeals to people. His charisma when people feel entirely Future Shocked also appeals to the masses.

I seem to be mostly surrounded by people who do not see the appeal of Donald Trump. Most of us have sat helpless and hopeless watching his effect grow.

Yesterday was Super Tuesday in my state of Georgia and I watched my state’s conservative Primary voters turn out to support Trump. My own feelings of hopelessness grew. I listened to Trump talking about ‘Making America Great Again’ and heard echoes of other similar historical promises made.

I woke up with my mind ruminating on this and spoke with a friend about it. How do we fix this? How can we fix a world where cutting one’s self off from others seems the safest solution, or the only viable solution.

The answer we finally came up with was charity. The world is broken, and the only way to go about fixing it is to directly apply ourselves.

People do not feel hopeless when there is hope. They do not feel helpless when they are helped or helping. They are not prone to the charismatic and empty promises of hatred that are simply an act of cutting one’s self off from compassion and empathy when they have been directly touched by compassion and empathy.

So the question of what to do is charity but the question of what charity is and how to do it remains.

Maimonides said acts of charity are:

  1. Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.
  2. Giving charity anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person (or public fund) which is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of charity with your money in a most impeccable fashion.
  3. Giving charity anonymously to a known recipient.
  4. Giving charity publicly to an unknown recipient.
  5. Giving charity before being asked.
  6. Giving charity after being asked.
  7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.
  8. Giving out of pity or sadness.

This seems like a reasonable accounting of the ways of doing charity. It even lists the ways that are imperfect, but still doing charity. Life is not perfect, and I am not perfect, so I can do this.

So I am going to dedicate myself to [at least] one act of charity a week. My friend agreed and we will hold each other accountable.

In this way I can help restore the world. No empty promises of making America great, but actual work toward humanity.

Join me?


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When Men Speak For Feminism

Malcolm X is sort of one of my guiding heroes. He has been since I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X in my teenage years. Stuff like that tends to affect you in those years.

He was really hardline about white people staying out of the fight for civil rights for people of color during his Black Muslim years. He told them that what they could do, if they wanted to help, is sit down and not get in the way.

He changed that stance after he left the Black Muslims after making his pilgrimage to Mecca. He still wasn’t sure how to effectively incorporate white people in the fight, but he said it was one of his biggest regrets that he had shut white people out. :/

I think about this a lot with regards to men in feminism.

I agree that the first thing an ally must do is listen. But I’m not sure what action is next after that. This isn’t a rebuttal, by the way. Just a pause. I’m genuinely lost here.

I feel like… like sometimes this part of the movement.. this part where we shout for only women’s voices to be heard… that sometimes it’s really damaging. I mean, that’s part of what has happened to Michfest (and I’m not going to argue about Michfest here, a google search about Michfest should inform you of the issues).

Some of the best voices for Feminism I know have been male. Some of the most damaging and violent, female. Some of the worst voices I know have been male, some of the best, female. It’s such a mixed bag.

I know we can all agree that shutting down female voices for male voices to speak up for women is nonsensical at best. I know we can all agree that Feminism is about empowering all humans.

I know that many of us agree that Feminism has done a poor job of representing, and creating a safe space for, women of color. I know that many of us agree that Feminism has done a poor job of representing, and creating a safe space for, trans women.

I know that this whole thing is nuanced and treacherous waters abound as far as the eye can see. If white cis women do such a generally poor job of making a movement that is inclusive and safe for women of color and trans women, mostly because their own experience is not that experience then why do we think that men are going to do such a bang up job of speaking up?

Let’s maybe internalize that, too. If you’re not feeling it when male voices speak up and over female voices in regards to Feminism?  Then maybe that feeling you have is some of why women of color and trans women often feel disenfranchised by mainstream white, cis, Feminism. Even when it claims to be inclusive of them. 

I don’t know a solution to all of this that leads me to where one of my personal heroes told me I need to go. If you think you do, speak up. Because, I tell you, when we’ve gotten to the point where protecting male voices speaking for Feminism is creating an atmosphere of violence for women speaking for Feminism? Things are going wrong.

This was written as a direct response to Parentwin’s excellent write up of the PolicyMic “#AllMenCan project.


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The Idiot’s Bus Trip

This is my mom’s story. She’s posted it before, but I asked her to lend it to me so I could post it here for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. She assented, and here it is as a guest post.

I wanted to post it because of this on the Daily Kos. What I had to say about that I’ll say here, as pre-amble to my mother’s story.

This is precisely why Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson speaking how he never saw black people talking about how bad they had it is infuriating.

Mr. Robertson, with no due respect, you are white. I don’t care how poor you were. I don’t care how shoulder-to-shoulder you felt you worked with black people before civil rights. They did not tell you of their experience because it wasn’t safe. Because you were and are white. Because by definition no matter how poor you were and how much you did the same work you had rights that the black people did not have, legally. You could kill a black man, or rape a black woman just because. Just fucking because. And nothing would happen to you. And everything would happen to them. And they knew it.

Dr. King did not just give a speech. He did not just march. He taught the black people that when they stood together they were free, because nobody can own your mind unless you let them.

The “hard” lesson I learned as a child about race relations? Never, not even once, use the word “boy” when referring to a black male. 

I did not understand why. I could not understand why. My parents simply told me to suck it up and to never do that.

I’ll take that over always say ma’am and sir, never look a white person in the eyes, always walk single file, never too many at once, head down and eyes on the ground, take off your hat, and the many, many, many, many other rules that black people had to follow to somehow superstitiously ward off the White Beserk that found them anyway. 

As a white person of that era, the worst that would happen if I screwed up? I’d make a person feel less than. I might, if I was especially unlucky, have a black person yell at me. A black man would never raise their fist to a white child. Certainly not a white girl child. That would be death. Even in the 70’s and 80’s.

So with that, with my recollection of what it meant to grow up slightly post-Civil Rights Era, here is my mother’s recollection of one of her experiences right in the midst of the Civil Rights Era.

The Idiot’s Bus Trip

I was going to tell this story at the end of my other bus stories about when I first learned how to ride a bus to go to junior high school. I was also remembering about the bus that took me to Oakland Technical High School for my ill-fated SAT tests when I was a junior in high school. I remember the many bus rides to the library on Estadillo Avenue (San Leandro, CA) and the blossoming of literary adventures and the world of escapism.

Somehow, this story is tied together with buses, libraries and God.

Let me introduce the God-thing first. While raising me, my mother would often try to debate various topics with me. She wanted to sort of try out ideas on me in a verbal way. One of her topics of choice was God and why he does not exist and why the Catholic Church is corrupt and bad for people, all through history.

Nowadays, you can find a lot of literature on this topic, but in the late 50s, it was verboten. My mother was anti-church and felt that anyone who said they had faith was close to sub-moronic and needing someone to lead them around, namely the church. She felt that the church had caused horrible harm historically and could cite many examples (to my complete boredom).

So, when it came time for me to start developing my own personality, and to do the nest kicking parental rebellion thing, I think I subconsciously picked the ‘God-thing’ to do the opposite of what my mother advocated.

Another flow of information was coming in to me from my library adventures. I came across the biography of Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain. It was a sort of mystery revelation for me — answering the question about why someone would choose to be a contemplative monk. I saw the historical thread that many not so dumb people had followed this life path, and I wanted to know why.

And the final flow of pressure was coming from Mrs. Warner, the woman next door. She had had four boys. She had homemaking and crafting skills that she had no daughter to teach. My grandmother also had these skills, except in one area – she was not good at knitting or crocheting. I mentioned this once to Mrs. Warner and she offered to teach me how to crochet and knit. Once Mrs. Warner had me in her living room, she asked me if I went to church. I told her no because my mother was divorced. Mrs. Warner offered to take me with her to Mass on Sundays, since I was baptized a Catholic.

So the next Sunday I rose early as the rest of the house slept, dressed and went with Mrs. Warner to church. Well, as they say, the ‘bells and the smells’ hooked me. I was curious about this religious thing that had almost 2000 years of history and tradition. I knew that it was the center of many people’s lives, with a large effect on cultural and political decision making both public and personal.

I decided to try on the belief structure and see if it fit me. It did. It filled a nice niche in my personality and cognitive processes. Having someone else “be responsible for the big things if I would be responsible for the little things in my life” was comforting.

Trouble was, I had to come home from church and face my mother and her lectures. Finally, I got through to her and we agreed that this would not be a topic of conversation between us any more as long as I kept it out of her house. No church people coming to her house. No priest coming to tell her she was living in sin.

To celebrate this small victory, Mrs. Warner gave me a missal. This is a combination prayer book and liturgical guide to the fifty-two weekly Sunday and Holy Day masses. I was not a full participant in the services since I had never received instructions for the sacraments. This added to the mysticalness of it all and added a touch of romantic longing. This missal was geared for the young woman and had about 60 pages of do’s and don’t’s. It was a general guide to how to stay a virgin, what were venial and mortal sins, and how to make a good confession.

I tried out that contemplative stuff laying face down on my darken bedroom floor for hours keeping an all night vigil. I felt very spiritual and holy afterwards.

My sophomore year of high school ended. The newspapers were full of the civil rights happenings in the South. I wanted to be on a bus going south to help register blacks to vote. I wanted to be a champion of good in the world, holding the torch of truth and love and righteousness.

The family budget was tight that summer, so instead of the usual Western Airline flight from Oakland to Burbank for my annual summer visit to my grandmother, I was going to take the bus. The Greyhound bus was a lower class mode of transportation in those days. The trip route was nine hours of driving down the central part of the state to Bakersfield and then through the Tehachipi Mountains into the Los Angeles basin to Burbank.

I packed up and put on my white gloves. Yes, girls and women wore hats and gloves when they were outside their home. I had my missal tucked into my white purse. Yes, girls and women used white purses, belts and shoes from Easter to Labor Day every year. I was wearing a blue gingham dress with a full crinoline half slip to make the bottom half of my dress stand out 20 inches from my legs. When I sat down, I had to tuck the dress tightly under my knees to keep it from raising up to my shoulder height.

There I was, a fourteen, soon to be fifteen year old, teen age girl, traveling alone on a Greyhound bus for 9 hours in June of 1960. I had made a solemn promise that I would not speak to any strangers, would not open my purse in public view, or would not display my wallet and it’s contents to anyone. I was a good girl and a holy virgin to boot. Watch out world.

Now comes the sad and stupid part. That whole bus trip, I made a black man uncomfortable and miserable in my rashness to show solidarity with the civil rights struggle.

Being a good little humble virtuous self-effacing girl, I waited to go into the bus until the last minute, so that others could pick and choose where they would sit. Finally, I was the last to board. The only seat available was at the back of the bus, next to the small little toilet compartment. Already sitting on the back bench seat was a 50ish greying black man in a suit with his hat on his knee.

I took the middle of the bench, tucked my skirt tight and pulled my missal out of my purse. I opened it up and read for nine hours. The black man could not move, he was pinned to the corner not daring to spread his legs. He sweated, twitched, moved his hat from one knee to another. Periodically the bus would stop for rest breaks, once in Fresno and once again in Bakersfield. Both places were typically sweltering with temperatures in the mid 90s. I was suffering from my traditional nausea and headache from the heat.

My eyes were killing me. Nice girls did not wear sunglasses in those days. We wore piles of deodorant and dress shields to cover our armpits and absorb our sweat. These dress shields were another sort of personal hair shirt. They were elastic things that hooked around and below your bra.

They had a shoulder strap and an arm strap. These straps were elastic and stretched easily. Over time, you ended up tying knots in the straps to take up the worn stretched elastic and to keep the straps from slipping down and into view below the cuff of your mid-arm dress sleeves.

So there I was, gloved, hatted, gingham dress, full skirt and dress shield straps that needed constant tending. My feet were swelling from the heat, my eyes were popping out of my head in pain and the smell from the toilet next to me was making me woozy.  So instead of getting off the bus at the rest stops. I sat in my seat. When people got on and off the bus at the stops, freeing up seats having overhead cool air vents, I did not move.

The black man sitting next to me did not move. I think he was petrified to talk to me and I would occasionally see the eyes of the bus driver flick over me and the man next to me. One time, the bus-driver actually came back and spoke to me. He told me that seats were available in the front of the bus. Those seats were cooler and would be more comfortable.

Oops, that was the wrong word to use. I was on an anti-comfort campaign. I was sacrificing and giving all my pain and discomfort to God to make up for the sins of all the bad people in the South.

I told the bus-driver I was fine and he shrugged his shoulders and turned away.

I made it to Burbank, the black man sitting next to me. Finally, when we stopped at the station, I turned and offered my hand to the man. Startled, he took my damp white gloved hand, we shook hands and I got up and left the poor man alone. I felt so righteous and good. And I was so sick from the heat. I slept for 3 days after I landed at my grandmother’s house.

Only years later, much wiser, I remember this incident. I cringe to realize it was an idiotic thing I did in the name of religion.  I, too, had my civil rights bus ride, but I did no good by it. I made a man fearful and uncomfortable for 9 hours. What a misdirected idiot I was.

In my old age, my religion has synthesized down to a simple sort of ripple philosophy — do no harm and do what you can to add a little beauty and kindness back into the world, just letting it ripple away with no expectation of return.


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Silence

A couple of things have all come together for me in the last month or two that have really shaken the way I feel about practicing advocacy.

First, I stumbled into a debate about Michfest, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. See, there’s been sort of a raging debate surrounding Michfest for years, but it’s really been gaining momentum lately. Because of what has happened in my own head, I feel hesitant to even outline what the issues are, but, I’ll try.

See, the Michfest founders have a policy that the only people that can be admitted to Michfest grounds are, as they put it, Womyn-born-womyn. For the purposes of their festival, transexuality, intersexuality, or being genderqueer are irrelevant. If you were born with a penis, it does not matter if you even don’t have it any longer, you are not welcome at Michfest. The other, strange side of that coin is that if you were born with a vagina, even if you no longer have it, you are welcome at Michfest.

People feel really strongly about this, too. With one side talking about the intrinsic realities of growing up female in a culture that subjectifies, objectifies and oppresses those who do, and the other side agreeing and saying, yes, and now you’re doing it to us who are also subjectified, objectified and oppressed.

It’s a heated subject.

I threw in my two cents in a crowd of aggressively queer identified, and many trans identified people.

It wasn’t until maybe the third or fourth time I replied that I realized my error.

This was not my playground, and I needed to sit down.

I identify as queer, but that identity is nearly meaningless in a world where I present as a hetero-married wife and mother. I am also cis  gendered.

As much as I have my own realities and truths about being queer, I rarely have to fight them because when the world looks at me, they see a woman with a man and their eyes pass on over. I don’t have to fight that fight every day. That’s a choice for me, and in a world where that simply isn’t a choice for many, I do not know the life or reality of someone who never had that choice.

I bowed out of that conversation, humbled.

I should clarify that I wasn’t hurt, but rather, I realized that my point of view was one that hinged on whimsy and philosophy. It was not my life at stake, my core sense of self was not on the line.

Exit Episode 1.

Enter Episode 2.

I had been hearing around about a guy who had a Facebook page for Feminists. Friends were warning others off of the page. There was a bunch of talk about banning, about deleted posts and comments, etc. I didn’t really know much about it, so I just went on my way.

Then my friend over at Parentwin wrote a piece outlining the whole thing. It was pretty stunning and you need to go read it.

I don’t even much want to go into it, because I’m not going to do as fair a job as Darlena did, but I’ll try to give you an outline like I did with the Michfest fiasco.

The Facebook page owner is a man who runs this Feminist group and does Feminist blogging. His page started with a team of moderators but as time has gone on, he has cut that team down to one and only one person, himself. He has banned and deleted comments and posts of those who critique or dissent. Now, we’re talking about people who are women, specifically, being silenced on feminist issues that they are giving their life experiences and beliefs on. Again, specifically being silenced by a man who is trying to shape a dialogue about feminism.

As I understand it, he believes his male voice of advocacy is more important than dissenting or critiquing female voices, and that he brings a legitimacy that women alone can not.

Which sort of makes me angry. While I am thankful for men who give advocacy to feminism, and I absolutely believe men can be feminists, when it comes to speaking up, please do not cover up our voices. Not even “for our own good.”

Exit Episode 2.

Episode 3 was more painful and personal, it was also sort of ongoing.

A few months ago one of my female friends had some random guy come up to her and command her to smile. She was in the middle of some task and not particularly angry nor happy. She was just not smiling. He told her to smile. She got annoyed. She shared that experience, and it unleashed a bunch of “ugh, yeah, that,” on her Facebook, and then I wanted to talk about it for a minute on my Facebook, and things got really weird, and really ugly.

Every woman bar two shared frustrations and experiences that were similar. We’re talking a huge list of women, too. We talked about our group experiences of our faces and emotions in no way being perceived as our personal property, but instead as communal property that had an obligation to be pleasant and happy.

One of the women who disagreed said that service people had an obligation to smile. The other came in and agreed that it wasn’t objectifying after her husband had insisted that to tell a woman to smile wasn’t a bad thing, and that we were just taking it wrong.

Let me back up that sentence again. A guy. He insisted that our shared, female experiences of routinely being told to smile was not the irritating thing that we all agreed, as women, it was, but that it instead was a pleasant way to cheer someone up.

He wasn’t the only one, either.

We insisted it wasn’t even about being cheered up. That many times we aren’t sad, we’re just focused, but that the constant insistence on looking pleasant was irritating at best and down right hostile at worst.

He told us our shared experience was simply not true.

And he had several other men there saying the same thing. I should also mention there was more than one man insisting that they found it irritating or hostile, also, not to back up and verify our feminine experience, but because I don’t want to discount them.

What was worse is that one of my closest friends also stepped in and then said much the same thing. He said we were taking it wrong. That our reception of this experience of having people regularly tell us to smile or cheer up was simply a matter of us not appreciating someone caring for us.

This is a person I respect more than I can even put into words. So, I didn’t simply banter back and forth on it. I stepped back and told him that this was probably the sort of conversation we should have in person, and that I was about to go out of town, so could he put it on hold?

He responded at length, and what felt like a bit of a slap in the face seemed somewhat cleared up, and I went on my vacation and didn’t think much more about it.

Only to find out later that my best friend and him had been quarreling mightily over it. She was extremely hurt with his position. For weeks, evidently, they had been hashing this out afterward. Again and again coming to it like a dog at a bone. With him saying you’re taking it wrong, and her saying you’re silencing me.

It got so heated, and is in fact still so heated, that I have advised her to seek mediation between the two of them in the matter. Them falling out over such a thing would be an arrow to my heart.

But it brings me back to advocacy. This man that is my respected and loved friend? He is a feminist. Truly a feminist. He was raised by a feminist. He’s been on ground zero of feminism since birth.

I don’t know the truth of their situation from both sides. I haven’t yet spoken to him about it, because I really do want to have that conversation in person.

So, I won’t call him out in particular.

What I will call out is all of us.

There is this thing, in advocacy, wherein we may attempt to advocate for someone.

It is of paramount importance that in advocating, we do not silence that someone. That in speaking for them we do not speak over them. That in trying to ease the oppression of others we do not participate in that oppression by adding our own.

It’s made me uneasy in my seat for weeks now, and a lot quieter. It’s a bit of a thing to consider and digest.

When making a space clear for others to speak, we must silence ourselves to hear the other.


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Dare

The hearings began today.

I’m having a hard time with the space between my cynicism and my optimism.

I don’t have anything eloquent or composed to say. Better writers than me are writing. Better speakers than me are speaking.

So, I’m not going to try to say anything unique or beautiful. I’m not going to try to change your mind if you somehow hold the strange position that anyone else’s love does anything but make the world a better place. I can’t imagine how difficult your world must be if you do believe that, really.

I’m not going to talk about those who once opposed marriage equality changing their minds once they realized that it was an issue that touched the people they loved. I’m not going to talk about whether that’s too little too late, or if it’s an evolution of thought that is needed, or even if it’s both.

I’m not going to talk about those I love who have had bigotry rule their life and choices.

I’m not going to talk about the double standards of people who have divorced their dying spouses so they could remarry quicker than their spouse could die who stand up and talk about sanctity of marriage and how they believe that someone else simply loving another person enough to want to share their whole life with them in any possible way threatens that sanctity.

I’m not going to talk about the separation of church and state that is such a valued treasure to my Constitution while others simultaneously talk about their valued treasure of the 2nd Amendment and how they believe we need more church in our state for the good of the public welfare.

I’m not going to talk about those who have been killed or killed themselves because our culture so hates all things queer.

I’m not going to talk about my own sexuality, and why I call myself queer.

I’m not going to talk about love.

I’m not even going to talk about hope.

I’m just going to do it.

I’m going to hope. I’m going to dream. I’m going to believe that it is possible that the world is changing. I’m going to dare.

Do you dare with me?