Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Yes, rape can scar you for life.

*Trigger warning: Rape*

For some reason, despite saying that I'm boycotting Reddit - I still visit the site.  There are some subreddits that are truly a fantastic resource, especially for learning San Francisco places to go and eat, and talking about video games.  However, there are plenty of comments that just make me want to rage out.  One in particular was in response to a women's post about how she was raped at 14 and that it scarred her for life.  A commenter responded with a statement about how being raped is something you should get over, because it's not like you were murdered or anything.  The response was disgusting, victim-blaming, shaming, and completely ridiculous.  But, it made me think.

When I was in my early 20's, I went to a house party at a friend's house.  I remember we had all consumed a little bit of alcohol, and I went off into a room by myself to play the piano.  I was enjoying sitting on the bench and playing music for myself, because I didn't own a piano myself and I loved to play.  An older friend of a friend walked into the room and closed the door behind him, then came up and sat next to me on the bench and put his arm around me.  I wasn't comfortable with this because I didn't know the guy, so I slid off the bench and stood up.  I remember him reacting defensively, as if I was accusing him of doing something wrong.  I awkwardly said something like "I'm going to go get a drink" in order to make an excuse to leave the room.  This man rushed after me and pushed me up against the wall next to the door.  He stared at me, with the most cold and empty eyes I have ever seen. I said "let me go, please.  I'm not interested in this" and tried to move away, but he pushed my shoulders back and kept blocking me from reaching the doorway. 

He pushed up against me and leaned in for a kiss, and I dodged him by turning my head away.  He pulled back and held me by the shoulders at arm's reach and just stared at me.  Those eyes, gray and penetrating, just looked right into my soul.  I ducked and spun and managed to get out of the room.  My heart was racing, I felt cold and numb and my head was pounding with this unrecognizable sound.  I ran out into the main room where a group of around 15 were lounging and having fun.  I walked over and stood next to the friend who was hosting the party.  The older man was on the opposite side of the room, sipping a drink and continuing to stare at me.  I whispered to my friend that I wanted to talk to him, and he slipped out the patio door with me and I told him what happened.  He told me to stay there, then went inside and promptly kicked the guy out of his party.  I had never been more shaken yet relieved.

I will never forget those eyes.  I wasn't raped, but I was lucky.  I was alone in an empty room with a man who was drunk who was obviously interested in forcing things upon me.  The door was closed and there was loud music going on in the main room, so no one would have heard.  I had no reason to fear going into the room to play piano, because I thought I knew everyone at the party and trusted their judgement on who was invited. Sometimes, I still see those eyes.  When I make eye contact with people, I sometimes flash back to that moment where I felt truly powerless and helpless.  A scar is a lasting impression, a moment that leaves a mark on you.  I know that if a 'near miss' like this had the potential to stick with me for so long and affect me negatively, causing me to feel those emotions all over again, that if someone was actually raped the emotional damage and baggage would quite literally last a lifetime.  When you have a moment of pure fear, where you feel helpless, alone, in true danger, when you are left exposed, where you can't escape, it gives you a feeling that you will continue to feel again and again for your lifetime.  Long after any physical pain is gone, emotional scarring exists to remind you of that moment for the rest of your life.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Becoming a doula and midwife

Over the past couple of years I have been a lot more inspired to participate in the feminist community, both through starting this blog and The Border House, and wanting to volunteer to help women.  5 years ago, I was in a rigorous nursing school program with the intention of becoming a Certified Nurse-Midwife.  I love babies and the idea of helping bring new life into the world and assisting women during one of the most trying times of their lives was so appealing to me.  I ended up leaving nursing school and moving to San Diego to work on video games for a living and gave up those aspirations in exchange for working on my hobby.  I also wasn't thrilled about having to go through all basic nursing training in order to deliver babies. 

Fast forward to now.  I've found out that you can become a Licensed Midwife in California by going to a 3 year program that costs around $10,000.  You can deliver babies and make your life all about supporting women and families.  And I don't have to jump right into it...for $365 I can attend a 3 day seminar in San Francisco that allows me to become a certified doula.  A doula doesn't physically deliver the baby, but assists the mothers by giving them massages, relaxing them, talking to them throughout the birth process, and helping them after their newborn is born with lactation and feeding, caring for their new baby, and balancing their changed lives.  I can be a doula on a volunteer basis for organizations, or I could start my own side business.

The idea of becoming a doula and eventually a midwife is that I feel that I can really change lives and bring a unique perspective.  I know that I would want to specialize in a more radical doula approach, focusing on natural home births and experiences for non-traditional families.  I would love to help gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender families bring their new children into the world without judgement.  I would like to volunteer to offer doula and midwife services to low-income families. I would like to offer full-spectrum care, including providing doula services to women going through abortions and adoption processes.  

Working on video games is incredibly fun and can be rewarding, but at the end of the day it doesn't make me feel satisfied.  For some reason, I've been wanting more.  I want to make a real impact and be important to people on an individual level.  When I was a nursing assistant in a Women's Oncology unit at a hospital, my favorite part of the job was sitting and talking to the patients, getting to know them, and helping them out emotionally.  I was told time and time again that I am reassuring to be around, and that I will make a good nurse.  I don't regret leaving my nursing program, but I do sometimes regret getting out of the business of helping people directly.  That was rewarding and amazing work that made me feel whole.  Exhausted, but whole.

I'm interested in hearing about more feminists who have gotten into birth work.  I know of Radical Doula and she is amazingly inspirational...are there any other great bloggers out there who talk about their experiences?


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Feminism and marriage

Marriage is one of those feminist issues that I struggle with.  I find my views around it to be very mixed and confusing and I'm not sure how to navigate my thoughts around it.

On one hand, I think it's absolutely ridiculous that marriage is considered a religious institution based on morals and faiths yet is all but required to get federal benefits.  I absolutely hate the fact that I can partake in it while same sex couples cannot. I feel that it is very privileged of me to want to get married when others cannot, and at one point I considered boycotting the entire institution until everyone could be a part of it.

But on the other hand, I love my partner and I want to be bonded with him forever legally. I want to have tax benefits with him, I want to be considered his 'spouse'. I find myself selfishly wishing that we weren't "boyfriend and girlfriend" because it feels so juvenile, but that I could refer to him as my husband or my fiance. It's all very silly, and I know it.  But is there something inherently wrong with wanting to be married? I think not. I certainly don't see it as passing ownership of myself from my dad to my new husband, and I don't see it as being an oppressive relationship between my partner and I.  

I know many wonderful feminists who are happily married in both gay and straight marriages. Does that mean that they're validating this unfair institution?  I don't think so. I know that it's a very privileged thing that my partner and I can get married, but I also know that it's privileged that I have a maid service. I know that is privileged that I make almost 6 figures per year in one of the most fun industries around.

So yeah, my thoughts aren't clear on marriage enough to write a post that is actually informative.  I guess I'm just interested in hearing some thoughts an opinions about how you reconcile marriage with your feminism.  Thoughts?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent is a debut novel by Veronica Roth, and I picked it up after seeing lots of buzz surrounding it on Goodreads.  It's a dystopian young adult fiction based in an alternate Chicago setting and featuring a teenage female protagonist as she struggles to find her identity in a wartorn world with rigid societal roles.  Sound familiar?

Divergent is very much a spiritual throwback to The Hunger Games trilogy, which is a series that I devoured as rapidly as possible.  It's so close in spirit and feel to The Hunger Games that it almost feels like a ripoff in places.  I've recently found out that it too has been picked up for a potential motion picture, so clearly these types of books are flying off the shelves.  Divergent is also more than reminiscent of the Harry Potter world, with the members of its society taking assessment tests to see which 'clan' (read: house) they will join.  These clans are very much similar to the houses in Harry Potter.  The Dauntless might as well be Slytherin.  It's basically the Reaping meets the Sorting Hat.

The protagonist of the story (Beatrice, or Tris) is likable enough, though not a spectacularly deep character.  Other than her current struggles within the Dauntless society she finds herself in, we don't know much about her likes and interests.  Aside from her family ties and her romantic interests, of course.  Did she have close friends other than her brother before the assessment tests?  Did she have any hobbies?  The entire book becomes a whirlwind of mental and physical training and at times I find that Tris's thoughts and motives are predictable and shallow.  I found her much less frustrating than Katniss Everdeen though, and connected with her in a stronger fashion.

The pacing of the book is odd, spending tons of time on and going into detail about the assessment testing and the training that Tris goes through, before whipping into the real conflict 75% through the book.  Clearly Divergent is preparing us for the second book in the series, which I will eagerly read to see how certain conflicts and relationships are resolved.

My biggest issue with this book (and also with The Hunger Games and Twilight) is in the way the teenage girl protagonists interact with their love interests.  In Divergent, Tris is completely mindblown and baffled by the fact that Four has taken an interest in her.  Though she is brave, strong, and the top of her class in assessments, she is completely timid and self-loathing when it comes to her interactions with Four.  She puts herself down, basically calls herself ugly, and can't believe that a guy like Four would be interested in her.  The fact that she tosses aside her achievements and her personality and only thinks about her appearance when talking with Four sets a bad example about the confidence a young woman should have in herself.  I found her budding relationship with Four to be far less annoying than Katniss and her relationships with Peeta and Gale, but just once I'd love to see a more confident young woman interacting with the male characters in these books.  It's frustrating to see such strong and powerful young women in these fantasy/dystopian novels who can kill people, save the world, win wars, and outsmart anyone yet they are still portrayed as weak girls when it comes to being interested in boys.

All in all, I did enjoy Divergent.  I read it in 3 days total and found myself turning the pages long after I intended to go to bed.  I will be reading the next book in the series to see how it plays out.  I think Veronica Roth is a very accessible reader with a knack for making battles engaging and interesting, and this is a great first effort by her. It's worth picking up if you enjoyed The Hunger Games and wish there was more of it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hateful comments about Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars

All of my friends are liberal supporters of LGBT people, so sometimes I forget just how hateful and uneducated many people in the world are about understanding and compassion towards transgender individuals.  The latest freakout about Chaz Bono (Sonny and Cher's FTM son) on ABC's Dancing with the Stars is an example of just how much education the rest of the world really needs.

According to this article on Jezebel, supporters of DwtS have taken to posting on the ABC message boards about how disgusted they are with the network for including a transgender person on the show.  They claim that it is destroying the family nature of the show, that it is flaunting 'confused people' in their face, showing too much 'homosexual lust' and destroying Christian values.  The comments are hateful and judgmental, considering trans people to be freaks and outcasts who shouldn't be depicted as normal.  It's a sad look into the reality that many people see to be true.

All of these comments are exactly why Chaz Bono should be on the show.  Despite the fact that he isn't truly a 'star' for anything other than being the child of Sonny and Cher, Chaz is proving to be a great representative for the FTM community, a population that is all but invisible in the public eye. Showing that his gender identity will have absolutely nothing to do with his performance on the show or his dancing, and that he certainly isn't 'flaunting' anything simply by just being himself.  He is an opportunity to teach young people about the female-to-male transition (if parents choose to do so) and shows that transgender individuals are people.

I don't watch DwtS and I'm not going to start now, but I'm happy that ABC are giving Chaz Bono a chance to raise awareness about trans men. We clearly have a LOT of work to do in raising tolerance and acceptance for transgender people, and comments like these make me realize how far off we really are.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Oh, you're not gay? On my invisible pansexuality

My sexuality is fluid and I consider myself pansexual. I am still queer-identified though I have been in a straight appearing relationship with a man for almost four years. Outwardly, we look straight and people make the assumption that I am straight. I wear a rainbow colored bracelet around my wrist for a few reasons -- mostly because I just like rainbow colors, but also because I enjoy having the solidarity with my queer identity. It's like wearing a wedding ring to signal that you're married, I wear my rainbow bracelet to show that I'm queer. It doesn't make me love my boyfriend any less or wish I was dating anyone else. I just really don't care about gender, that's not why I love him.

I was getting my hair done in the Mission area of San Francisco last week, and I was casually making awkward conversation with my stylist to pass the time. I mentioned my boyfriend in passing, and she interrupted me and said "Wait, your boyfriend? I thought you were gay!" and pointed to my bracelet. I replied with, "I'm queer, but yes, I have a boyfriend." She kind of stayed quiet after that and I could see her kind of pondering how that could be possible. It was complete blindness to the concept of a bisexual orientation (or the possibility that I or my partner are transgender). Even though I don't consider myself bi, sometimes I will tell people that I'm bi just to save the inevitable conversation where I explain to them what pansexuality is. I should take the time to educate people, but it can be kind of awkward when I don't know the person.

This is just one example about how queer identities that aren't strictly same-sex can be stigmatized or erased. If other people see me walking down the street with Mr. Boyfriend, they assume we're straight. There is no possible way I could have a boyfriend and be anything BUT straight. Bisexuality isn't really seen as a queer identity, it's just something that you do while drunk. It's not really a Big Deal(tm) that people don't see me as queer when we're together -- being pansexual isn't something I necessarily want everyone to see in passing while they walk by. But assumptions like the one at the hair salon happen all the time. I've had it mentioned in gay clubs before - "why are you here? You're straight!" or from other gay people - "You wouldn't understand because you're straight."

Sometimes, wearing that bracelet helps other LGBT people know they can connect with me. At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this year, I was wearing my bracelet. Someone in the game industry who I didn't know walked up to me and asked if I was going to go to the LGBT Game Developers roundtable. I didn't even know that mixer existed, and if this person hadn't spotted my rainbow bracelet and saw me as a potential attendee, I wouldn't have gone to what was a very interesting event. I've struck up conversation with people at coffee shops about local queer-geared events. Sometimes having my visible 'proof' has been a good way to meet people and find conversation about similar interests.

I own up to my privilege. I know that I'm a middle class white cis woman who is able bodied (at least for now) and has had a lot of opportunities that others don't have. But people can be privileged in some regards and marginalized in others. I don't think it's fair that I have to answer to straight privilege when I am not straight. This is why there should be more careful discussions around privilege when it's not necessarily clear how people themselves are marginalized. I don't know people's income levels, their sexuality, or their mental health status just by looking at them. We love to bucket people into clearly divided groups based on affordances, but we should be mindful that we're not making assumptions about people based on our own stereotypical preconceived notions of what marginalized people look like.

Adventures in Minnesota

I am in Minnesota for a whole week, and it's been a rather eye-opening experience.  I was born and raised here for 23 years and I am an only child, so when I come home to visit it is just to spend a bit of time with my parents and the few friends that I have kept in contact with since moving to California four years ago.  This visit was carefully scheduled to coincide with the MN State Fair, a food extravaganza unlike any other.  It's pretty ridiculous how much fried food this fair has.  If you think your fair compares, you really have no idea. The MN State Fair is absolutely enormous. 

While here, I've been noticing just how much I don't fit in here.  Not just within the state culture, but also within my own family.  My mom and dad are both very much consumed by alcoholism.  Their only hobbies include drinking - such as going to the bar with their friends, going to car shows, and playing darts/beanbags at bars.  They both come home from work and begin drinking immediately and continue until bedtime, knocking back 6 beers each easily, sometimes more.  My mom becomes incoherent and insufferable while she's drunk to the point where I don't want to be anywhere near her.  Before I moved away, this was a major source of contention between us.  She always feels like I am judging her, and I always feel like she puts her addictions ahead of her family.  It's hard to tell who she really is anymore -- the alcoholism and her escalating and untreated mental health issues have consumed her and drowned out the personality that I used to know.  And my dad, well, he's always been a conservative white dude.  Since being here three days he has railed against fat people, against blacks, against people who ride bicycles, and against poor people.  He's only 50 too, so it's not like he's an 80 year old man stuck in his ways.

I can't deny that I have changed.  Since moving to CA, I found feminism, grew up a lot and became independent, started to become a fierce ally for LGBT issues, realized that I am pansexual, and started to live the diversity of culture.  While I'm here, I feel like I don't fit in.  I notice just how white the MN State Fair is and what a monoculture it is. Minneapolis was recently heralded for beating out San Francisco as the gayest city in the United States, but there is a definite divide between the two Twin Cities.  St. Paul is a more conservative and traditional city, and of course it's where my parents live.

I really love California.  It's not perfect, and it's certainly a hell of a lot more expensive, but I feel like it's worth it just for the diversity and the culture that is missing here in Minnesota.  I have 4 more days to try to get along with my parents.  I hope I make it!