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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The Herd of Gazelles at the Bus Stop

Pi and Phi are 5 now. They attend Kindergarten (two different classes so they can both shine their stars individually as bright as possible). They both insisted that they are old enough to ride the bus to school, and because the bus is actually available to them now that they are in Kinder, I agreed. So they ride the bus to school every school day morning. 

I drop them off and watch them interact at the bus stop with the other kids. They’re the only Kinder kids in our little neighborhood, so mostly the big kids are leaving them alone and letting them run around like animals waiting for the bus. 

Run around they do, too. Every single day, they drop their packs in the bus shelter and then have races from one sign to the other. About 200 feet of a race they do over and over until the bus gets there. Squealing, rambunctious, and overall dorky. Phi runs with his hands clutched high to his sides, a bit like a T-Rex. A smile of pure happiness. His feet hit the ground with the strange, awkward, delicate gait so familiar to other parents who have children on the spectrum. Toes pointed down, still somewhat clompy somehow. Like an elephant doing ballet. So happy.

Pi’s arms are thrown back and her clomping hits whole foot down, her face also has the same smile. So happy. She is a gazelle. 

The other kids are mostly silent while Pi and Phi enact these daily races. Pi and Phi encircle them, run between them, around them, near them. You can see the other kids pull back, stare at them. I want to tell Pi and Phi to chill. Be cool. The kids are judging them. I keep my mouth shut. One kid does a mock tiptoe of Phi to his other friends, and they cover their mouths to smile behind their hands. They know better than to laugh where parents can see them. Phi doesn’t notice, just keeps running. Keeps being happy. 

I want to scream at these kids. You think it’s awesome that you can run better than him? Running is hard for him. He’s a different animal. You are gazelles, and he is an elephant. His squealing trumpet of glee comes from a differently shaped throat than your own. Is it such a point of pride that yours was shaped different? Do you work for hours to make your gazelle throat shape the sounds that all the other gazelles make? 

No he does not have grace. What he has, instead, is hard work. He has perseverance. Thank goodness that’s part of the package with Autism. The same thing that makes him line up puzzles for hours is what makes it possible for him to make words that others understand. He works past the point of wanting to stop. I am furiously proud of his words. 

I remember his testing, and them asking us for a list of his words. For a week we tried to put together even ten words that he said at the age of 18 months. Duck. Ball. … Umm.. Daddy? We struggled to find any words that he had actually said. Now, at age 5, his vocabulary is huge. He inherits the wide breadth of spoken word that his father and I use daily, and it shows. 

But the kids at the bus stop don’t see that he is a hard working elephant stuck in the land of the graceful gazelles. They see that he is not part of their herd. They close ranks. 

So he runs with Pi. Pi who doesn’t care, yet, about gazelles and elephants. All animals are different to her. She takes it in stride. 

I want the other kids at the bus stop to see what she sees. I want them to feel the pure joy that he feels. 

I’m proud of my mismatched animals, and so furious at the herd that closes them both out. I know that in their classes there are other mismatched animals, and they find them and befriend them. The herd at the bus stop is not their whole world of experience, but only a small window onto it. 

I also know that the herd at the bus stop is going to grow. That as they get bigger, it will become more and more evident how different they both are to the herds they encounter. Him for his everything, and her for her acceptance of these things and for her own differences. That the ruthlessness of peers will run their world for the next fifteen some odd years. There is not a thing I can do to change it. 

I know that they are going to spend their lives collecting their own herds of mismatched animals. I hope they do not spend too long trying to assimilate into herds that are not their own and do not accept them. I also feel sad for the limited scope of the herd of gazelles at the bus stop. They have not yet learned the value of the different animals. I hope they learn it someday. 


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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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Equal

I am a feminist.

I am a feminist because I have no choice. I was born a cis-gendered woman, and have lived my life as a woman happily. This makes me intimately aware of what women face on a daily and even hourly basis.

I like to hope that was I born a cis-gendered man, or a transwoman, or a transman, that I would still have found a home in feminism. I can’t know that I would have. I have evidence to support that I would; the fact that I am sensitive to other forms of oppression says that I would have. How do I know that I would be sensitive if I had not struggled with misogynistic oppression, though?

Or maybe it’s being born in the third generation of women in my family who were pioneers in feminism; women who were fearless in striding forward where ever they chose rather than what their culture chosen roles would be.

Maybe it’s the result of have 5 blood related aunts and absolutely no blood related uncles that makes my heart beat in a rhythm that is feminist at heart.

Or maybe it’s simply holding my son and daughter both together in my arms as newborn infants and seeing no difference for their future that I can discern simply by the happenstance of their genitalia, yet watching the changing way people address my daughter and son as their sex becomes a known quantity. They start to call her “pretty.” They start to call him “smart.”

Perhaps that is when feminism settled deep into my bones.

So when the question is posed to me, “what is feminism,” the only answer that I can reply with is that it is the simple belief that woman are equal to men.

And that’s it. Feminism is a statement that women are equal to men, and to correct inequality where it exists.

Both my daughter and my son deserve such a future.


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Little Hurt

I’m going to explain microaggression in a really quick, easy to comprehend way.

You might have a name that’s easy to mess up into something silly (Caroline turns into Carolyn). Or a name that alliterates funny (“hey there, sexy Sadie”). Or have been a cashier and heard “oh it didn’t ring up? So it’s free!” Or been a twin parent and been told a thousand times “double trouble!” (or one of the many other stupidities that people say). Or having your own, personal yogurt (or whatever) stolen from the communal fridge every week.

Or any number of the same, repetitive, daily or weekly little jibes. Usually from different people. Just, repeatedly pinging at you.

Some summation, or misinterpretation, or regular degradation. And it’s not that the one time it’s horrible. Or that it’s the worst thing. Or that the person who did it is trying to degrade you, or be a jerk. They think they’re being silly, or they didn’t really think at all.

It’s micro.

But, it’s aggressive.

And these start to add up. Until eventually, every time it happens, you feel attacked with the full force of all of them added together.

And that’s what it means to be an oppressed person, to have an entire system that routinely and regularly does this in a way that hits your career, and romances, and friendships. and the places you can go, and the places you aren’t going to have to explain why you’re there to near every single person that you encounter, and any of a number of other areas. And it’s a whole culture that agrees with those microaggressions, and tells you to shrug them off. To be a good sport. To get over it. That they didn’t mean it like that and that they were just joking, and god, can’t you take a joke?

And the reason you can’t take a joke is because it’s a joke you’ve heard for the last 20 years, and it wasn’t really all that funny the first 100 times, so it’s certainly not funny now, the 100,000th time.

And what it means to be a person of an oppressed group is to have all those experiences, all of those microaggressions, along with plain old regular aggressive aggressions, and even big ass in your face, you might die or go to the hospital aggressions, along with the majority of the people like you having these experiences.

So. Yeah. It is really a real thing. It’s not just a term that you’ve heard and don’t really think is all that relevant or real.


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The Feminist Oppression Vacuum

There’s this thing that happens in feminism and the culture of women that is like a mirror to what happens in the outside, predominately men controlled, culture. It’s what one would expect, but it’s still ugly.

Women oppress other women.

As one of my friends said, it’s never over the mundane or neutral stuff. Never over the brand of toilet paper a woman uses, or what car she drives.

Yes, I said. It’s always over stuff that men oppress women over. As though there is this oppression vacuum threat, and hey, if we remove the oppression of men, oh no! We must be sure you’ll make the right choices and oppress, coerce, or shock you into making them.

Then she said that yeah, except for menstrual issues.

To which I replied, well, naturally, it squicks men out. They want nothing to do with it, so why should a woman have to oppress another woman over it?

At which point my friend’s mind was blown.

See, I see women stepping on other women about their choices in careers, their choices in sexuality, their choices in clothes, their choices in having children or not, their choices in pregnancy, their choices in childbirth, their choices in how to feed their babies, their choices in how to care for their babies, their choices in who cares for their babies, their choices in educating their children, their choices in relationships, their choices in how they present their bodies. Their choices. Theirs.

Let me repeat those words again. Their choices. 

Like women are afraid that if other women aren’t being pushed by men to go in the direction that men have been pushing us, that some women might just go that way anyway.

Ladies? This shit has to end. We have to respect the choices that other women make. Even if their choices seem monumentally stupid. As long as those choices aren’t hurting other people, it’s theirs to make. I feel pretty libertarian about what “hurting” means, too.

Sorry, but it’s not hurting you for someone else to choose to wear revealing clothes, or be promiscuous, or bottle feed, or be a stay at home mom, or choose a c-section, or get cosmetic surgery, or get married, or wear make-up, or do burlesque, or to have a family of whatever size they choose, or wear high heels, or to make the opposite choices you’ve made, or make contradictory choices, or dumb choices, or or or or. These are choices.

We can’t call them choices if there isn’t more than one, and we can’t take the predominately male controlled culture to task for pushing their agenda when we turn around and then command the opposite agenda of our sisters, mothers, daughters and friends.

It’s a common thing to happen, too. When a group is oppressed, then the oppression is internalized. That internalized oppression cuts both ways. It goes against the grain and with it. Both ways are oppression, though.

Power, when removed, leaves a vacuum, and abuse has a tendency to seek it’s opposite end. I have no wish to exchange one oppression for another, no matter how well meaning it may seem to those wielding the oppression, the idea behind it is the same.

“You can’t make the right choice because you don’t have all the information, you aren’t smart enough, you haven’t been brought up right, you’re too hurt, too small, too weak. You don’t really know. So, here, I’ll provide you with the right choice. Look how magnanimous I am, there’s a few choices you can make that can be right in this area over here.  See how much more free you are? I’m doing this for your own good. Isn’t this really better?”

But it isn’t.

It has to stop. Don’t pass it on. Let the vacuum collapse. Let this be your catchphrase, “this worked for me. Your mileage may vary,” then stand back.

Or, I don’t know. You’re smart, though. I believe you can work out your own way to be good to people that isn’t pushing your choices on them as the one true way. It’s a big world, and experiences really do vary.

I trust you.