Sunday, April 24, 2016

Prince, grief policing, and THE TROOPS!!11!

Ever notice how every time a celebrity dies, after the initial wave of fans paying their respects in the media, there has to be a kneejerk reaction from conservatives with a war fetish demanding to know why we aren't paying just as much lip service to THE TROOPS®? Oh, sorry, I should probably explain who THE TROOPS are since you've likely never, ever heard of the 500 lb gorilla known as the US military. They're the reason you're living the carefree American dream in this utterly flawless utopia rich in freedom, Unobtainium and other powerful minerals. But beware, for if you stop talking about THE TROOPS for even a moment, they wither away in a forlorn husk and take your 100% daily value of FREEDOMS with them.

Prince, one of the most beloved icons in music history, passed away just a few days ago. It should come as no surprise to anyone with two brain cells to rub together that the loss of an artist with his prominence, public presence, and lasting impact on the industry would be deeply felt around the world and incite a proportionately public homage in his honor from fans and the media alike. And yet, time and time again, people the world over respond to these innocent displays of remembrance with complete and utter shock that the universe isn't spending that time cooking up another guilt trip about THE TROOPS. Here's a gem I saw just this morning:

How dare you ungrateful cretins stop talking about THE TROOPS for 5 minutes? You're not allowed to discuss anything else, EVER. I don't care what's going on out there. World War III? Zombie apocalypse? Boohoo, you know who else had to suffer? THE TROOPS!! Because conservatives repeatedly vote in hawkish politicians who are beholden to war profiteers, but they're still going to act like all of this is your fault.

You know what might be an even more appropriate way to honor the troops? Not endlessly sending them to die at the altar of American greed and meddling in the world's affairs. But no, that's far too much to ask because then we couldn't use these American men and women who they claim to care about and honor so much as political talking points about patriotism because FREEDOM ISN'T FREE, YOU SORRY INGRATES. And every time you talk about Prince instead of THE TROOPS, a baby bald eagle dies.

But hey, since policing how the world is allowed to feel about the loss of a major public figure is a thing now, why stop there? In fact, I think it wouldn't be tactless or inappropriate in the slightest to make a post right after Prince dies shitting on everyone mourning his loss for not ALSO mourning the loss of every person on the planet they've never met. No, that seriously is what the unfathomably stupid Facebook page Fsensitivity actually did:

Those two flawless top comments took them to task, which is the only redeeming quality of this mind-numbingly insipid post. Yeah, f sensitivity!... until you notice that the world isn't awash in grief every time anyone anywhere dies, then it's time to unleash the unchecked narcissism dressed up as a feigned concern for all of humanity.

While it's obviously tacky beyond description to shit on mourning people and make it about your own pet cause, I also fully recognize that that's not the fault of the actual members of the armed forces who are injured or killed. Those people should be honored for their sacrifices, and they are. But here's the deal: you cannot guilt the general public into a sense of genuine grief, loss, or sadness. You cannot order a group of people the size of Prince's fanbase to show an equal outpouring of grief for every service man or woman who dies. Aside from any questions of practicality, that's not how society or the human mind works. We naturally mourn and feel a sense of loss over things that we have experienced an immediate, personal, knowable connection to in our lives. For millions of fans, Prince's prolific body of work and larger than life persona accomplished exactly that. But all the somber memes of flag covered caskets in the world won't make that a relatable loss for me.

So why does this matter? Because the conservatives constantly sharing these memes ordering us to remember THE TROOPS (which I couldn't forget if I wanted to thanks to THE TROOPS being the centerpiece of this endless macabre guilt parade) don't seem to realize that they're not doing the armed forces any favors by representing them this way. Whenever the media says someone is brave, or someone has died, or anything ever (including Labor Day, which apparently is now about THE TROOPS), that is not your fucking cue to launch into another "TROOPS TROOPS TROOPS" conniption. Let people honor who they want, for god's sakes. And stop cheapening those service members' sacrifices by comparing their work to that of a movie star or pop singer. They are not and never will be the same. And if it bothers you so much that every dead serviceman doesn't get the media attention of a rock star, perhaps that is speaking to your secret understanding that talking about them won't bring them back, and maybe the troops would be better served by not being sent away to die in the first place.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Mad Max takes six shiny and chrome Oscars to Valhalla, Star Wars goes 0 for 5, Leo receives probably the only thing on Earth he couldn't just buy

The 2016 Academy Awards have concluded, and you know what that means! I snarkily dissect a show I didn't watch other than this clip of Gaga singing Til It Happens To You, because holy shit. I cried. But back to the movies because I need to have my entertainment preferences validated by an award show I guess!

Mad Max: Fury Road won 6 of its 10 Oscar nominations, which I am honestly unreservedly stoked about as I thought for sure the Star Wars hype machine would steamroll its way in, dominate every category and also somehow win a new category for Best Obvious Rehash Of A Superior Yet Still Overrated Film With Lightsabers In It. Yet somehow, the twin suns of Tatooine aligned, and that didn't happen at all. In fact, Star Wars: The Force Awakens finally differentiated itself from A New Hope by winning none of the five Oscar categories it was nominated for. Kylo Ren is throwing a Force Tantrum as we speak. You know what lost them the win? Not enough Death Stars... oh, sorry. "Starkiller Bases", withhold your nerd rage. What if they had blown up TWO this time? Totally different and not the least bit derivative. Oh well, there's always the next film where Kylo Ren can lightsaber Rey's foot off and announce "I am your COUSIN" in the most original, unpredictable, subversive performance ever. (Don't forget to pretend you're shocked when they inevitably reuse the most breathlessly lauded climactic reveal in cinematic history.)

In other news, Leonardo DiCaprio got his chunk of metal. At long last, our generation can breathe a collective sigh of relief, and he shall be wronged no more. The planet's most over-exaggerated first world problem of all time has been righted. When will the Academy stop slighting obscenely rich white A-list male actors, we cried to deaf ears since time immemorial? That day is today, my friends. Your time has come. Who knows? This could open the door to white male actors making even more than their female counterparts, and receiving an even higher percentage of the speaking roles in film than the 70% they already get. Dare to dream, trailblazers!

Anyway, if I were good at making animated gifs, this is where I would take a clip of the moment in Force Awakens when Kylo Ren tries to summon Luke's lightsaber, but replace the lightsaber with an Oscar, and instead of it going to Rey, make it fly past her and land in the clip of Fury Road when Max goes to shake Furiosa's hand. Except he has the Oscar in his hand and he puts it in her hand as they nod knowingly. Sorry I had to explain all that. Is there anything worse than READING a joke you could have just watched? It's how I feel when someone describes the entirety of a funny YouTube video instead of just playing the clip. Ugh. Never do that.

Please accept this as a consolation prize: (a statement also made to the Star Wars team as they received their gift bags full of $900 toilet dispensers)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Making progress is more important than making friends in a post-MLK world

It's been over a year since I last shared my thoughts on this blog. In that broad span of time, I've been exploring different forms of social media in an effort to find my voice, to varying degrees of success. I became a lot more active on Facebook, seeking out communities and leaders with strong values and a commitment to activism, and also remembered that Twitter exists. But more importantly, I had the opportunity to hone my beliefs regarding progressive values and social justice. Especially the titular aphorism of this post: my beliefs will grow and evolve over time, and that is to be expected, but if there is one guiding philosophy that has always pulled me in the right direction, it's that showing up and speaking out against income inequality, sexism, xenophobia, racism, LGBT-phobia, and misogyny are worth risking friendships over. Martin Luther King, Jr. was nothing if not a courageous leader in the face of incredible adversity. How can I honor a commitment to equality so unwavering that he sacrificed his life for it? Today, on the holiday we share in his remembrance, I can start by using whatever privilege I have to speak out every chance I get. Not just when it's convenient or directed towards like-minded friends and family. In fact, the ones who least want to hear it are the ones who need to the most.

I've known many people who deal with confrontation by just opting out and avoiding it entirely. The backlash from clashing ideals, or even the perceived possibility of the slightest disagreement, is so overwhelming that they would rather take up no strong opinion on anything than risk upsetting anyone around them. Some will go so far out of their way to avoid a possible conflict that they would rather move away than confront an individual where they live. I've seen it happen multiple times. This sets a dangerous precedent of unhealthy responses to conflict. Everyone will face opposite opinions or desires from those around them at some point; that much is inevitable. To respond to it by folding at the first sign of antagonism doesn't help anyone in the long run. If anything, it lets them know you can be strong-armed into giving up just by showing up and saying "nah". Bullies thrive on inaction, which is why they so strongly encourage it and hold it up as some kind of moral ideal for everyone else but themselves. As long as you keep "taking the high road" of completely ignoring them, they can get away with whatever they wish.

This approach of instant surrender is great for people who have bought into the lie that you have to be friends and get along with absolutely everyone, that total neutrality and going full Switzerland is the most optimal path of least resistance, that if you stand up for yourself and others who are being bullied then you're "just as bad as the bully", that if you speak out against clear injustice then you're just being "negative" and "bashing everyone", that problems are solved by ignoring them, or that "keeping the peace" is more important than constructively working out your issues. Characterizing valid criticism as "hating" is a fantastic way for immature, defensive people to shut down discussion. And considering how effective it is in a society where so many believe that being perceived as positive and likable takes precedence over anything else (including the advancement of social justice, let alone their own personal desires), there's little wonder as to why "naysayer", "hater", "bitter", and "negative Nancy" are invariably the chosen reprimands for anyone who has the audacity not to be euphorically happy with everything all the time.

If this sounds like I have it all figured out, or I never face any kind of pressure to fold, that is most assuredly not the case. I am on the receiving end of more silencing attempts now than at any point in my politically apathetic, people-pleasing past. I have had my freedom of speech directly attacked and suppressed (as in actual freedom of speech taken away in court by a judge, not the internet's version where I'm being persecuted because someone disagreed with my incredibly widespread opinion one time). The difference is that I recognize these tactics for what they are, and refuse to be manipulated by them. They're not going to stop me from speaking my truth and supporting marginalized, vulnerable groups of people; they only strengthen my resolve.

I fully acknowledge that speaking out can be easier said than done. It's a lot harder not to buckle under pressure from your own friends and relatives than it is to ignore random trolls on the internet. They know this and that's why they double down on the regressive crap when they're called out on it. Recently I challenged one of my boyfriend's relatives on Facebook to answer for a link he posted on Facebook supporting Trump's horrifically xenophobic suggestion of banning all Muslims from entering the US, including existing American citizens. I didn't use personal attacks or call anyone names; I pointed out what I perceived to be a seriously disturbing and unconstitutional attitude towards fellow human beings. He responded by unfriending me without a word, and then venting his complaints about me and my obnoxious opinions later that day all over a completely unrelated FB post made by my boyfriend's sister-in-law. This was a clear attempt to pull rank, publicly beg for sympathy, diminish my standing in the eyes of his extended family, and get more of the relatives to gang up against me. And that's not even close to the most aggressive, angry response I've received from someone in my own circle of friends on Facebook. I've been called every name a progressive has ever heard when they speak up on behalf of themselves or others (libtard, SJW, manhater, whiner, reverse racist/sexist, self-hater), and every four-letter word an uppity FEEEEMALE can be demeaned with. I've seen former coworkers and classmates I'd known for years quietly decide to unfriend me because I spoke out about social justice issues. And most the time there wasn't even an argument with that person or any kind of direct confrontation with them. I was conveying some variation of the outrageous notion that women are people, or cops aren't all flawless gods, or rape and racism still happen, so clearly I needed to be eliminated from the social zeitgeist.

I hope that doesn't sound like I'm complaining. Far from it. I've said many times before, and will reiterate again, that my progressive values and support for social justice are not only important guiding philosophies in my life, but the most revealing friend filter imaginable. Before becoming politically active and vocal, I didn't know which of my guy friends I can talk to about women's issues, or who among my social circles understands that police brutality is not negated by #notAllCops, or how many of my friends out there realize that "other people have it worse!" is a ridiculous derailing and minimizing technique which is employed by enemies of social justice to deter progress. I do now. And for those who have cut me off, unfriended me, or deleted my number -- I say to you, unequivocally, IT WAS WORTH IT. I am glad it happened. Why would I want to be friends with people who are so vehemently opposed to feminism and equality that they push me out of their lives over it? Or "friends" who care so little about injustice that they'd rather breathlessly defend their own egos than give a damn about my lived experiences by acknowledging that they happened and are a problem? By all means, take your leave. "You cannot, sir, take from me any thing that I will more willingly part withal." - Hamlet, super troll and master of the ultimate burn.

Now I suppose someone will say "But what about when LIBRULS delete all the people they disagree with?!" Well, what about it? I don't subscribe to the erroneous notion that everyone is entitled to their opinion. There's no way I can know or regulate what's going on in your head, and clearly you can believe anything you want. But the second you feel the need to commit your racism, sexism, and bigotry to digital history forever by sharing it online, I don't have to agree with it or support it. I don't want to see that garbage in my newsfeed, or listen to it at a family gathering. Seeing it happen and standing idly by, doing nothing, is enabling it to continue. We can argue all day about what Martin Luther King, Jr. would have thought of the world today, but his stance on this much was clear. In the words of Desmond Tutu, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." I've recently seen several friends take a stand against Islamophobia, homophobia, and bigotry among their own circles, respectfully asking those who partake in this hatred to avail themselves of the exit, and I'm incredibly proud of them for that. It takes a lot to stand up against the pushy conservative relatives and long-time friends who just don't get it. Hate is easier than love, every time.

Still, drawing that line in the sand is a big step, and not one everyone is ready for. What else can we do? Since the goal is to shut you up... don't. Keep showing up, keep pushing, keep sharing. Challenge the hate when you see it, if you can. Give yourself some distance when it feels like too much. No one person can call out every injustice or right every wrong. There are many occasions where I had to click "stop receiving notifications" and call it a wash for my own well-being. It's emotionally draining and incredibly disheartening at times to take on the task of changing one mind, even the mind of a close friend, and not manage to get that point across. Here are some more passive ways to support just causes while building yourself up to a more active role:

- Like and follow progressive organizations and leaders on your social media platform of choice. I highly recommend Shaun King, Tim Wise, Matt McGorry, The Raw Story, MoveOn, FactCheck, Black Lives Matter, Bernie Sanders, US Uncut, Exposing Men's Rights Activism, Addicting Info, Jezebel, and Laci Green.

- Whenever you like or comment on a public post on FB, it goes into the newsfeed of anyone who follows you. "Liking" public posts is therefore an easy way to disseminate and support useful information without the perceived "aggression" of a direct share to your timeline. Some people like to interpret direct shares as invitations to argue because "you put yourself out there". Which is fine if people can engage in civil conversation, and if you have the energy for it, but when you don't, passive sharing works better.

- Not really feeling the desire or capacity to engage with trolls? Liking a post or commenting via "reply" to an existing comment on a post means you won't be bombarded with hundreds of notifications of replies; only notifications of likes. I've had days where multiple comments of mine on a post attracted hundreds of responses that same day. It can be overwhelming, so navigate FB accordingly.

- Don't want to say a whole lot, or not feeling eloquent? No worries. Not every link you share needs to be accompanied by a profound dissertation or breakdown of its content, as much as I enjoy those. Feel free to "post without comment". If people can't attack the facts of the issue they sometimes like to satisfy themselves by attacking whatever opinions you've attached to it. Declining to comment denies that.

- Practice solidarity. In times when I felt belittled and talked over, it meant a lot to have any supporting voices at all chime in and speak up. None of us can do it all on our own. Even if all I can do is "like" every single comment I support in a thread I have nothing else to contribute to, I will do that.

- Please don't talk over a marginalized group. Being an ally means not negating their experiences or telling them how to feel about what has happened. Allow them to lead the discussion. Listen more than you speak.

- When someone says you hurt them, acknowledge that. Talk with them and see if there was a misunderstanding or something that needs to be resolved. Just whatever you do, don't ignore it. Especially if the person is speaking about an experience you do not share -- their race, religion, income, etc. Yes, there are a lot of sensitive flowers in the liberal world. Honestly, there are times I want to take all of tumblr and LITERALLY throw it in the LITERAL trash. Just be mindful and realize we all make mistakes and have blind spots. Remember that there was a time you didn't know what you do now. I had to unlearn years of harmful ideas too.

And if you're still feeling the flak after taking these measures to guard your own sanity? It sucks, and it happens. Vocal opposition to things that matter and challenge the status quo is loud and swift. Just know that there are plenty of people out there who do support you. When you take a stand for equality and social justice, you are positioning yourself on the right side of history. After that, let the chips fall where they may. If all the crappy people you know want to reveal their true nature as a Sith Lord and call you an SJW, so much the better. Would you want to return to the blissful ignorance of not knowing what they were really about? Martin Luther King, Jr. was a quintessential Super Social Justice Mage. I can't think of many better compliments than being compared to someone of his stature.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

I Was A Teenage Conservative

Feminist, outspoken, childfree CHALSEE? A teenage conservative, you say? It can't be!


20-year old me on September 6, 2003, on the day I was baptized. In that pool. Let the chlorine wash away your sins and get up your nose. There are sins in there.

Spooky, scary!

Over the past couple years, I've emerged from political apathy and come to accept and embrace the fact that I was no longer the conservative (or increasingly moderate) Christian I saw myself as from about age 12 to age 30. By that I mean I now pay attention to political issues and even voted for the first time in my life, on anything, ever, in 2014. A little embarrassing perhaps seeing as I spent my entire existence up to that point convinced that voting was pointless, ineffective, and therefore futile to engage in, but I guess also a good thing in that I didn't leave a Republican voting record in my wake. Yay?

Unfortunately it took some major personal trauma to shake me out of the bubble of privilege I'd been comfortably occupying up to that point and develop some understanding and empathy for people hailing from different walks of life. But 18 years of trying and failing to live up to whatever gilded Christian ideal I (and others) had set up for myself, in a misguided endeavor to be righteous and pure and a super beacon of holiness or whatever the hell I was going for, was never going to be traded away easily. And as a person who currently tries to advocate for progressive and feminist issues, I try to remember where the other side is coming from, because I can't just pretend I didn't spend a giant chunk of my life in that exact same mental space. And it's a surprisingly difficult cognitive dissonance nightmare sometimes. More on that later.

So how did all of that come about? Becoming a follower of 7 lb 5 oz baby Jesus, and then pulling some big ol' take-backsies. There and Back Again, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Most people guessed I was simply raised in a Christian family. Yeah, no. I wasn't instilled with any particular religious beliefs, or lack thereof, growing up. Was never hauled to church or given a family Bible, purity ring, or chastity belt and accompanying crushing guilt/shame accessory. If anything, going to church was the most rebellious thing I ever did as a child, because my parents didn't really approve, if that gives you an idea of how lame I was. I just decided, somewhere in the mix of bullying and frustration of junior high, that I didn't want to be like the other kids who gave me endless flak for being a natural born "prude", "goody two-shoes", "teacher's pet" and whatever other projections of rage you're subjected to when you excel at school and don't act like a huge asshole to teachers and other authority figures. Yes, I hated kids when I myself was a kid. Being a prude never earned me any popularity points among my peers, but I scored black belt teacher's pet status on the regular. Oh, you thought you were a teacher's pet? Check this action out:

In my junior high health class, we had gone through several teachers, replacement teachers, and replacements for those teachers, because the entire class thought it was hilarious to be intentionally difficult, not follow directions, and harass the teacher to the point of actual tears as much as possible every day. Except for dorklord 14-year old me, of course. And I wasn't spared their wrath either, being called anorexic ten times a day as per usual at that point in my life (when the teacher put on a video about eating disorders, one kid just turned around, stared at me and guffawed), and finding myself laughed at by other girls because I was the only one in the class who didn't bully and make fun of the socially awkward homeschooled kid. "Do you LIKE him?!", they'd ask me incredulously, predictably mistaking my politeness for flirting and just generally being offended by my insufferable niceness. I couldn't possibly tell you why the entire class wasn't given detention or sent to the office and/or directly to hell; my only real goal in junior high health was to talk as little as possible so as not to draw attention to myself. Anyway, I got this cool note from the teacher for basically not being a big fat turd.

So my natural predilection for prudery (I wasn't into underage drinking or getting teen pregnant so any faint hopes of being cool were dashed), combined with my inability to rationalize how the universe could have come from nothing (see: appeal to complexity), made Christianity appealing to my beleaguered child brain. Not only that, but finally, here was a group of people who didn't say I was wrong or weird for not going full raspberry-blowing heathen. In fact, they said it was great to not be a jerk, to not imbibe of the libations or do the sexing. Also, Jesus said to accept everyone, so they pretty much couldn't give me the regular nerd-shun treatment. Ha! Suck on that.

And so began my journey with the Lord, and that is why you see only one set of footprints, for it was then that Jesus went to the beach while I was all up on his shoulders like SPRIIING BREEEAAAK (Amen). But where did it all go wrong? Lots of little things accumulated over time, which weren't enough individually to make Miss Truebeliever stray from the righteous path of righteousness. But treated as a whole, it was the straw that broke the camel's back so it couldn't go through the eye of a needle anymore, as the saying goes (gross).

Like when I attended a girls' youth group in college at the tender age of 18. One of the girls was married, and mentioned this frequently. "Ohhh, you're already maaaaarriiiieeed," the other girls swooned. "You're so luuuuucky." Yes, fresh out of high school she had already checked off the grandest achievement of all for any God-fearing female. Nevermind the fact that younger age at first marriage is consistently correlated with higher divorce rates. The good Lord ordained that thou shalt cleave to thy wife rather than burn in lust, and these ladies had, uh... cleavage on the brain. Even at 18 and in a relationship at the time, everyone's utter awe and marvel at this alleged miraculous feat evoked some subconscious internal eye-rolling.

Then there was my women's Bible study group. For a while I attended a Bible study at some lady's house with several other ladies a couple years into college. I don't remember much about the whole experience other than I fell asleep during our meetings at least once, and one time when everyone was discussing what books they were reading, the host posed this query: "I always forget. Is fiction the one that's NOT true?" Wowee wow wow, and you're the leader of this group? After hearing that I couldn't bring myself to attend women's Bible study at her house ever again. And trust me, the sad reality of a Bible study leader not being able to tell fiction from non-fiction wasn't lost on me.

And who could forget the, oh I don't know, raging homophobia, procreation worship, abortion hatred, proud ignorance of science, utterly fragile sensibilities, and all the other cringe-inducing attitudes I regularly encountered at church and among Christ's loving followers. Even though I hated almost everything about the actual teachings of Christianity for quite some time, all the average believer needed to accept it was "because God said so", like a lazy parent who can't be bothered to answer their kid's 500 questions -- and mostly because they don't even have a good answer; they just want you to act a certain way and shut the hell up about it. After sitting in church and thinking "What on earth am I even doing here?", one day I left and never came back.

Prayer is a truly bizarre concept as well, looking back. Be sure to pray about everything, and the Bible says that God will answer your prayers. Except for when he doesn't, but God works in mysterious ways, or something. And pray by yourself so you don't show off, like Matthew 6:6 tells you. But then act like celebrities and athletes are heroes for thanking God as loudly and publicly as possible for everything they get. Here's a really cool back-and-forth that happened: "I prayed about it, and I think God wants me to do this." "Well I prayed about it, and I think God wants you to do the opposite of that." That shit's enough to make anyone ragequit their religion. In all my years of trying to be a Level 100 Super Christian, I really didn't feel any connection to the divine or feel like any prayers were answered. Which is probably because there wasn't and they weren't. Occam's Razor, you say? No dummy, PRAY HARDER.

But perhaps the most obnoxious issue of all came in the form of something I like to call "out-pruding". Which is when other Christians try to make you feel bad about your current level of prudishness, and suggest that if you were a better Christian you would try way harder to be an even bigger prude. Given that at this time, I never swore, never drank, never smoked or did any drugs whatsoever, and decided I was going to wait until marriage, I thought I had this prude business down. How could you possibly complain about someone who never did anything traditionally considered "naughty", I reasoned? I had checked off every prude column to the nth degree, and nobody but nobody could out-prude me. LOL WRONG!

You see, in the Christian world, I encountered plenty of people who always thought that no matter what you're doing, you're not doing enough. You go to church? You should be tithing more money to the church. You don't do sex things with your boyfriend? You shouldn't even hug your boyfriend in front of other people. Or be in a room alone together. You don't swear, aren't violent, and don't sleep around? You had better not even watch movies with swearing, violence, or sex in them. All of these and more were actual complaints I received from my ever helpful then-boyfriend and his relentlessly judgmental family. Nothing like the endless love of the Lord.

I never dated a Christian again. Which was also in no small part because even self-identifying "Christian" men regularly rolled their eyes at my above-and-beyond prude level. Even among supposed fellow Christians I was the fucking weirdo who couldn't do anything right, apparently.

These days, I have toned down my prudish tendencies. I started swearing so I could sing more songs at karaoke with f-words in them (weeee!), and it felt goddamn amazing. I no longer believe it's even remotely wrong to be living in a "den of iniquity" (lolol) with your partner before marriage. At this point, I don't think legal marriage is even necessary at all. And given all that... I am STILL the biggest freaking prude my age that I know. To this day, I have never consumed alcohol, smoked or done drugs. If I really wanted to endlessly scrutinize others the way I was put under a microscope for all those years, I could sit here feeling super smug about out-pruding everyone around me, appoint myself to the ranks of the Fun Police and tell everyone how wrong they are for watching any movie with a rating higher than PG, having a beer now and then, or smoking some weeds. But I don't, because engaging in various allegedly horrific behaviors I was warned against in hushed tones has not destroyed my life. At all. And it's also none of my business what other people do, unless they specifically request my opinion about something they would like help with.

But I'm sure the problem was that 18 years of being failed by my beliefs wasn't enough. If I had read more Bibley stuff, donated more money to the church so they could spend more time indoctrinating people with outdated, impractical admonitions, or stopped hugging my boyfriend like a brazen hussy, things would've worked out. Pray for me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Radical self-care, or how to lose friends and alienate people

2013 was rife with physical and emotional challenges for me. After struggling to manage endometriosis pain, a major violation of trust, and half a year of ensuing depression, I worked to find solutions as best I could, resorting to medical treatment and ultimately surgery to try to prevent the worst kind of pain I'd dealt with up to this point from recurring in the future. During that time I encountered a great deal of psychological and physical trauma, and have found various ways of coping with the resulting anger and pain. In addition to all the usual self-care practices that everyone recommends (good diet, activity, R&R, and confiding in trusted friends), I took to writing for what I felt was a controlled and positive release of my feelings on various subjects. I would also voraciously consume online articles about my depression and its causes, as well as partake in online support forums, often on a daily basis. It's an ongoing process; I was and currently am still hashing out my wants, needs, and boundaries every day.

I realize that while it felt like a positive experience for me, a lot of what I write comes across in a characteristically negative or angry tone, because I've received plenty of feedback stating as much. And it comes across that way because I have what I feel is justified residual anger about those experiences. It sounds angry because it is angry. I haven't tried to disguise it, nor should I feel I have to. Then occasionally I retreat from online interaction on subjects that are important to me, or I don't feel particularly bloggy for weeks on end, because discussing these topics is emotionally exhausting and sometimes I need to step back and regroup. But that doesn't make it any less important or necessary for me to sort through those feelings in writing. I take breaks when I start to feel overwhelmed, which is what self-care is about.

What I feel the need to communicate lately is that the net result of bringing those issues to light was positive for me. I'm not just trying to piss people off with polarizing content, nor do I expect to change the universe. I write and discuss my issues because I personally benefit from it. If other people get something out of it, that is 12 kinds of wonderful, but it's also not my primary goal. When other people tell me I'm being too negative, I would like to emphasize that what you construe as negativity, I believe is healthy skepticism and a compulsion to educate others about the various conditions I've faced. I say "compulsion" rather than "desire" because it won't be ignored. In order to avoid negative situations, I need to ensure my feelings and boundaries are clearly communicated at all times. If that's a little crunchier than some are used to dealing with from me, it's intentional. And again, the overall result has been positive.

Living life suppressing my feelings, internalizing anger, and overlooking slights caused or perpetuated a lot of problems in my life. I suppose I tend to adopt extreme and somewhat cynical scorched earth policies as a direct reaction. But when people say I need to be less negative or keep it all to myself, I must object, because that's exactly how those problems started. When I feel disrespected, slighted, or hurt, I don't sit on it anymore. I advocate for myself and others where possible, and take whatever action is required to resolve the problem immediately. Adopting a cynical attitude may have upset older friends who aren't accustomed to seeing me so outspoken. However, it hasn't pushed everyone away as they suggested it would. Being cynical and skeptical attracts like-minded cynics and skeptics, and repels those who cannot accept a female (or a version of myself) with strong boundaries and unwavering stipulations of mutual respect. This can only be a positive thing for me. So far, the results have accomplished exactly what I set out to do for myself when I decided to engage in radical self-care: my needs no longer go untended, and people who disrespect me are no longer in my life (or even gain a foothold to start with), which was the entire point.

Today I read back through a lot of my writing. Some of it I feel more or less strongly about. My opinions, however harsh and seemingly uncompromising, are evolving and I am always trying to learn more about what is the best way to create an atmosphere of happiness and respect in all of my relationships, while also maintaining my integrity and pursuing my goals. Regardless, I voiced a lot of hard line feelings and personal changes, such as stating that I wasn't dating anymore (for my own reasons, namely to protect myself directly after an extremely trying year). Everything I said at that time was true, and as far as I'm concerned, since all my dating profiles stayed deleted and I never tried or expected to meet anyone for romantic purposes, I stuck with it. I spent the next half a year sorting through my feelings, trying to determine what I was capable of accepting in my life in the way of male companionship.

Ultimately I decided that exactly as long as my boundaries were honored and I felt respected at all times, I could actually manage to accept affection. By raising my standards and refusing to spend time with anyone who insults me, makes me cry, is dishonest, or doesn't improve my life in every way, I accomplished what everyone told me my negativity ensured I couldn't have. I had created a series of walls and hurdles so challenging that all the unsuitables and ne'er-do-wells took a quick once over, muttered "nevermind" and hastily retreated. You would have to be the most patient, caring, genuine and overall impressive dude in the galaxy to make that cut. And why would I want less than that to begin with?

These days, I pay extremely close attention to how I feel about my interactions with friends. Some of my new boundaries have drawn people in, and others felt pushed away or have grown noticeably distant. It's unfortunate but absolutely imperative for my own happiness and health that I continue down this path. I immediately address anything that doesn't feel right and embrace the things that do, even if that meant allegedly contradicting my previous proclamations and dialing back my Nuclear Winter approach to the concept of love and companionship. For the first time in my life, I am more interested in meeting my needs than in what others will think or how it will look. I am engaging in radical self-care and I hope that those in my life who've known me for some time will recognize how much I've grown from it. I've already reaped the benefits in my life and am enjoying them every day. My snark and ragey venting sessions may not sound inviting all the time but every step has been crucial for my progress and I wouldn't take it back. My life is changing these days, often strangely but always positively. Hope you'll still be there when I'm exactly where I want to be.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Men, women, cats, and especially non-feminists all need feminism.

Which is worse: a man who states outright he is not a feminist, as if not supporting women's rights is just another viable opinion like enjoying sports, or a man who lies about being a feminist in a pathetically transparent attempt to score points with womenfolk?

Trick question! You're both trash and you go in the fucking trash can.

And as for the women who smugly assert they "don't need feminism". Brava, ladies. Way to use that freedom of speech that you now get to take for granted because of the hard-won efforts of your ancestors and use it to collectively shit on all your sisters still suffering from human rights violations worldwide. Victims of rape and domestic violence (and yes, women are disproportionately more often on the receiving end of this type of violence), child brides, women cut off from needed reproductive health care, women who aren't allowed to go out in public or drive a car unaccompanied, women being paid 77 cents on the dollar -- they all need feminism. Even if you just so happen to be extravagantly privileged enough to think you specifically don't, they do. "Women Against Feminism"? Could there be a more self-undermining philosophy? I mean besides taking back some jerk after he dumps you.

It's 2014. Just being kind of racist isn't an option. Just not liking LGBT people isn't an option. And just not giving a damn about an entire gender unless they're subservient supermodels bringing you your slippers and a brandy isn't an option.

"But I do give a damn! I just don't like the word feminism." Or insert other generic male auto-response here. I guarantee every objection you have to feminism has been asked and answered. 1000 times (probably in the last 10 minutes alone by increasingly frustrated women on Facebook who shouldn't have to spend their time regurgitating readily available information). The answers are out there if one would care to avail themselves of The Google. So essentially, there is no excuse. Cool, glad we've got that out of the way then.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The three biggest lies about love we need to stop spreading and believing

Everyone and their mom has a theory about what love looks like and how one should go about acquiring it. Especially their mom, because "you're not getting any younger and what about that nice boy at the farmer's market? I could totally set you up." Unfortunately, the majority of what passes for "wisdom" on love strikes me as irresponsible, incredibly harmful and counterproductive. You'll probably recognize these because most of us have heard them (or maybe helped spread them around) at some point in our lives. I've had wave after wave of the following useless rhetoric crash over me in the wake of every breakup or extended stint of singleness I've ever had. But breaking down what these suggestions are really saying reveals they simply do not hold up and actually prolong people's suffering instead of ending it. Following this advice has never brought me anywhere I wanted to be. Doing the exact opposite of these recommendations and throwing out everything I'd been told about romantic endeavors was the only thing that actually helped me.

Also, because misinterpreting my writing as a series of misandrist manifestos appears to be some people's favorite pastimes, let me clarify that this is not an anti-dating, anti-men, or anti-love post in any way, shape, or form. The only thing I'm actually railing against is the kind of needless pain that these widely accepted yet wholly misguided dating practices encourage. If healthy, fulfilling, and lasting love is possible, it won't be found by adhering to any of these hippy-dippy principles.

1. Love hurts. Love is a struggle. Love is endless pain, fighting, and sacrifice, and if you give up or walk away when the going gets rough, you're just a quitter and that's why you don't have someone.


For many people, love (and for many of those, parenting) is the primary focus, goal, and sign of success in life. However, a disturbing amount of those people treat both love and parenting as opportunities to go through life as a martyr. I'm sure we all know that person who talks about their significant other or their children with phrases like this:

"Look at how much I've given up for you."
"The more I suffer, the more it shows I really care."
"It's whatever they want that matters. It's not all about ME."
"I'll take them back no matter how much they make me cry, because that's what love is."
"Everybody breaks up and makes up. If they keep coming back it means they truly love me."

See that? See how they try to make martyrdom and endless (deliberate and chosen) sacrifice actually sound preferable to having relationships that are just stable, happy and mutually fulfilling? Or project their own crappy experience onto the universe and pretend that's what everyone does (as if that makes it OK)? Why would anyone do such a thing or continue accepting that kind of misery in their lives?

Several reasons, more than likely. It makes them feel important and wanted, because they believe that bad attention is better than no attention. They think it makes them look noble and long-suffering, like champions of forgiveness. They might be a narcissist and get off on making people feel guilty by showcasing how much they've gone through or given up for that person. Maybe they've invested many years with this individual and feel like it's too late to back out now (sunk cost fallacy gets its hooks in everyone at some point). Or they mistakenly believe that constant, long-term acceptance of pain and mistreatment is what loyalty looks like. And they've bought into the lie that their own single precious life is about everyone else on the planet except them.

I'm not going to assert that every close relationship should be free of disagreements or occasional issues. Even the most compatible couple in the world won't see eye to eye on 100% of situations all the time. But I will absolutely, unequivocally posit that this ridiculous notion that love is an endless parade of pain and melodrama is exactly why people return to and remain in abusive, lackluster, and miserable relationships longer than they should (which, ideally, is not at all). People come forward suffering and hurting, and here's Facebook ready with a giant stamp of approval. "Good work. If it hurts, you're exactly where you should be. After all, love is pain and sacrifice. OBEY MY DOG!"

I also refuse to accept that any relationship is worth crying over. "That's totally unrealistic!" Maybe with that attitude. Believe what you will, but tolerating horrible treatment from men who made me cry and were careless with my feelings didn't do me any favors. It didn't demonstrate my commitment or make them want to treat me better; it only let them know they could take me for granted and I'd just sit there and take it. I have nothing to show for it but anger and regret. My life only started getting better the moment I decided I would not waste another second of my time with any man who tries to normalize or justify the pain they inflicted.

People who are hurting shouldn't be shamed for making their health and happiness a priority and walking away from someone who constantly hurts them, nor do they need to be applauded for going back to the same jerkass who made them feel like garbage and dumped them a couple weeks ago. Facebook has a tendency to award +500 likes and a million congrats to every relationship merger, and respond with wailing and gnashing of teeth whenever one is torn asunder, no matter what the circumstances. Pay attention to what's really happening and don't blindly support or decry either of these events unless it's truly in that person's best interest and they're not just jumping back on the bullshit carousel. As Trent Shelton says, "Love doesn't hurt. It heals."

"But she was drunk!" "But he's changed!" Nah, not buying it. It doesn't matter if "they didn't do it on purpose". It doesn't matter if "they're the best I've ever had". That's not good enough. The bottom line is that they allowed you to be extremely hurt, and if you're still being hurt on a regular basis, that person does not know how to love you (and if it were me they'd be gone the first time because I have a zero tolerance policy on this shit anymore).

They may say those words and they may even genuinely mean them. But they don't know what it means to treat someone with respect and guard their feelings. Love doesn't hit you, ignore your feelings, yell at you, deceive you, cheat on you, manipulate you into doing things you don't want to do, take you for granted, and it sure as hell does not break up with you for being who you are and always were. People who love you should hurt you the least, not the most. Otherwise, what's the point? Do you really believe you were put on this planet to spend your life miserable so someone else can be happy? And if they're so happy, why are they still making you feel terrible all the time? Saying "love is pain" is just a cover-up lie we delude ourselves with to make a lousy relationship easier to cope with.

Lana Del Rey cops to receiving this backwards advice herself, and has a sound response for readers in this interview with Complex. Love is supposed to improve your life and make it more enjoyable. It's not supposed to feel like work, or worse yet, some deranged war of attrition where the goal is to be the biggest loser who's sacrificed the most, hurt the most, overlooked the most. Sure, a lot of people live their life that way. I can only assume they've never known any better and honestly believe this is just how relationships work. And some people will go their entire lives never meeting someone who knows how to treat them with respect, truthfulness and dignity. That doesn't mean it's better than nothing. Which leads me to the next BS bullet point that won't die...

2. Settling for something is better than dying alone.

This is a real book. Do you feel inspired yet?

I almost can't believe that people really recommend this, but they apparently write entire self-help books advocating that people stop holding out for what they really want, and it's not like I haven't been on the receiving end of this utterly deflating poop nugget of wisdom myself.

I say deflating because when people said "stop being so picky", all I heard is "you're not as great as you think you are and you can't attract your actual ideal man." Well then. With this vote of confidence I will boldly march forth into the dating world, apologize for being so terribly insufficient, and fawn over the pathetic scraps thrown my way since it's all I deserve.

But some people really are too picky, I hear you protesting in italicized print. Well, of course they are. Not denying that. There are endless hordes of people who have no realistic concept whatsoever of what they bring to the table and what they could reasonably expect of a mate that wasn't ordered from a love pillow or RealDoll catalog. See: Nice Guys®, delusional optimists, and this classic neckbeard staple of the internet:

Now, let it be known that I spent the vast majority of my life with extremely low self-esteem. I thought I was physically unattractive and too much of a quirky eccentric to attract much of anyone because that's what I was told by the opposite sex; as such I thought I should be grateful for just about any attention I got. In the past few years I've made significant progress in improving the way I see myself by making positive steps to change the things that made me insecure, and be proud of the quirks that define who I am. Because of taking those steps, I can look in the mirror and finally say that I am truly happy with who I am, not the fake-happy I told myself I was when someone would take a shot at my looks or my lifestyle (when really I let it get to me and made me feel excluded and unwanted).

HAVING SAID THAT. Not once did I ever say, "I demand a millionaire supermodel astrophysicist and nothing less will do," which is definitely over-reaching. Not once did I even suggest, "I want someone who'll pay for everything all the time so I never have to work again," which some women actually pursue without a hint of irony. All I ever dared to request was that I wanted someone who was my equal. I felt it was entirely fair and within reason to only ask for things that I myself could bring to the table: sense of humor, financial solvency, and other qualities that others have recognized in me so I'm relatively sure they're not a figment of my imagination. Yet time and time again I was woefully informed that this was just way too much to ask. They would occasionally try to temper this revelation by saying that the problem was just that I'm clearly so awesome that there was just no one out there who could get on my level and actually meet my expectations. But the intended takeaway was the same: lower your standards or die alone, sweetheart. Up to you.

It is not productive to tell someone to settle for less than they're worth. It is not helpful or encouraging to say "You're SO fantastic. You're the absolute best. That's why I think you should end up with some schlub who isn't what you had in mind at all." By definition, you cannot be passionate about anything you settled for. You cannot feel genuinely fulfilled by it. Yeah, it might satisfy some temporary emotional or physical need, act as a stopgap relationship to fend off your nosy relatives, and give you a warm body to binge watch Orange Is The New Black with on Netflix. But every second you waste with someone you know you're settling for is a second you aren't spending being available and open to someone who actually possesses the qualities you'd go crazy for if you ever gave yourself a chance to find them.

And before anyone accuses me of thinking I'm above settling, I'm not. It's what I did my entire life from 1982-2013. That's a lot of goddamn settling. And the reason my life played out like a giant game of Settlers of Catan was that other people, or myself, kept telling me I wasn't good enough. And I believed it. You're too ugly, too skinny, too nerdy, too opinionated, too intimidating, too feminist, too prudish, too nontraditional, too whatever-the-fuck. Why would I believe I was worthy of passionate and meaningful love, or believe that it was even possible, with all that noise coming at me at the speed of bullshit? Talk about setting someone up to fail.

If someone wants a great relationship, can't find one, and you genuinely think they're a wonderful person deserving of love who has plenty to offer, just say that. Stop there. Don't tell them they're being picky by expecting someone exactly as great as they are. Don't add credence to this deranged cult of settling, motivated by some paranoid fear of loneliness or not passing on one's genes. There are fates much worse than dying alone. Like explaining to your kids one day that you ended up with their father because you read a book called "Settling For Mr. Good Enough".


3. You have to keep looking, put yourself out there, and never give up on finding someone.

Fun fact I'm gonna let you in on. You don't have to do anything. You can give up on whatever you want, for as long or as short as you want. Lord knows I did! And it was spectacular!

In the middle of last year, I decided I was done trying to date anymore. All dating profiles were taken down. Any man who requested my number or asked to take me out was flatly rejected. When my friends asked to set me up with their friends, they were met with a resounding "no thanks". Then when my friends said I can't give up on trying to find someone, I was puzzled and rather bemused, as I clearly had already done that. This was not a pending decision. Are you suggesting I'm a Timelord?

And this is the part where you might think I'm going to try to pawn off that other sad chestnut: "IT HAPPENS WHEN YOU STOP LOOKING." I'm not going to patronize anyone with that crap. Maybe it will. Usually it doesn't. Fact is, there are simply no guarantees in life and they're just saying that to get your hopes up, because spreading false hope is a thing some people think needs to happen. People said that to me when I became single at age 23, and that was followed by a seven year single streak. Seven YEARS. I stopped looking for a dog's age and absolutely nothing of lasting romantic import happened at all. Staying single even after you stop looking is a definite possibility and there's nothing wrong with that.

The cool thing for me was this time around when I stopped trying, something better than I've ever known came to me anyway. So everyone who told me I could never give up on dating or that I needed to go out of my way to try to find someone was wrong. And I'm glad it happened that way. I always hated singles mixers and set-up dates anyway. It all felt so contrived. Everyone knew the pretense and there was nothing happenstance or organic about it, really. "What brings you here?" "Oh, just wondering if you're someone I'd like to have relations with. And you?" "The same! Imagine that."

What I did by refusing to participate in the shitty dating world I've grown so wearily familiar with was doing what was right for me. I didn't want to wake up every morning to another slew of misspelled love (or hate) letters from trolls and illiterates on OKCupid. I didn't want to feel like it was my duty to go out every night and advertise myself to men whose approval I couldn't care less about at that point in my life. And the more people told me I was wrong or tried to change my mind, the more I dug in my heels and reveled in my freedom and self-determination. Dating was a non-issue to me and I ignored it for as long as worked for me. It's what made me the most comfortable based on my emotional and psychological needs at that point and I don't regret it in the slightest.

The reality is that my self-imposed dating exile filtered out any guys presenting themselves as "friends" who really only wanted to see what they could get out of me with the usual minimal effort (spoiler alert: nothing). The only guys who stuck around in my life were those who could handle a woman being intentionally single (horror of horrors!) for her own purposes and for as long as she felt it served those purposes. The not so great friends called me a manhater and lambasted me for not being flattered by shitty, unwanted male advances. The real friends stood by me and let me know they enjoyed my company even if there wasn't something else in it for them (be it validation of their own relationship, or any potential datey-stuff with me). Either way I made myself exactly as vulnerable as I wanted to (not very) and learned exactly what I needed to know about all of my male friends.


I'm not saying there is a universal formula that will work for everyone. And I'm sure there are plenty of couples out there who would love nothing more than to fling a pitchfork through my blackened heart for suggesting their relationship sucks because they make each other cry sometimes. Hey, if that's what you want, only you can choose to accept it. No one can tell you if you're happy or if it's worth it. We all have to decide for ourselves if that's a worthwhile use of our time. All I know after many years of buying into the crappy love lies I've dissected here is it's not for me and it's not what I'd want for anyone I care about. And after all, love is all you need. Just kidding, that's stupid. You need money and cats, yes, but love is optional. No one needs love just to exist, but whatever you choose to accept and define as love, I hope it's at least something that brings more good to your life than bad.