Trigger warning: rape, rape apologism, and all associated awfulness.
For some of us, it’s been obvious—and ignored by the mainstream—for far too long: Donald J. Trump is rape culture incarnate. His overt misogyny and objectification of women, and the fact that he has a well-documented history of abusing women both verbally and physically, meant that many of us, while disgusted, were not even surprised to hear the GOP candidate bragging to Billy Bush that he forces himself on women he thinks are attractive and they “let him” because he’s a powerful man. My local weekly, The Stranger, recently wrote that Rape Culture is Running for President. I couldn’t agree more.
When anti-feminist men tell us (feminists) that rape culture doesn’t exist, they invoke the following “facts”: 1. Everyone knows rape is wrong. 2. No one treats rape as acceptable, and 3. We jail rapists. The facts of this election should prove the existence of rape culture to these folks beyond the shadow of a doubt by illustrating that points 1 and 2 above are simply not true, and the facts of reality tell us that point 3 is a fantasy. The facts should put it all to rest, but they won’t. And yet, I’m going to break it down anyway because it’s been eating my brain from the inside out.
1. Everyone Knows Rape is Wrong
Rape and sexual assault are certainly things most people would tell you are “wrong” were you to walk up to them on the street and ask them what they thought of these things using the exact words “rape” and “sexual assault.” But studies and recent events have shown that consent is a cloudy issue, that many believe women owe men sex in return for dinner and drinks, and that people who coerce others into sex or fail to obtain consent before engaging in sexual acts or use the bodies of drunk or unconscious people do not always believe what they are doing is wrong and are happy to soak up validation from those who cloud the issue by talking about what the victim wore, drank, or did before or after the event. In other words, when rapists hear the people around them blaming victims and making excuses for perpetrators and laughing at rape jokes, they eat that shit up. And many (if not most) are serial perpetrators, like the GOP candidate for president, if you choose to believe the dozen or so women who have come forward since the Trump Tapes revelation—y’know, the guy who brags about assaulting women to men like Billy Bush, who laugh and egg him on by pimping women for hugs. So give all this some thought the next time you assume that “everyone knows rape is wrong.”
2. No One Treats Rape As Acceptable
Contrary to the ubiquitous Twitter and Facebook apologism from anti-feminists and probably rapists, most voters surveyed said they believe Donald Trump is guilty of most or all of the acts of which women have accused him.
Forty-two percent of Republican voters and 35 percent of Trump’s own supporters think the accusations are probably true. Men and women are about equally likely to think so. -AP
If you’ve been paying attention to the polls, you know that too many of these same voters (68% of Republicans, according to the survey above) are willing to vote for him regardless because he’s not Hillary Clinton or maybe because they think he’s “pro-life.” These people have signaled their willingness to vote for a serial predator for president.
For leader of the free world.
That is the very definition of accepting rape and sexual assault.
No one treats rape and sexual assault as acceptable except the people who believe Roman Polanski and Woody Allen raped children but are willing to work with them and watch their films anyway. No one treats rape and sexual assault as acceptable except the people who ignore the Jane Does of the world while lamenting the impacts of rape accusations and convictions on rapists. No one treats rape and sexual assault as acceptable except the people who believe Donald Trump is a serial predator and are willing to vote for him for President of these United States of America regardless.
3. We Jail Rapists
No, we don’t. Statistics tell us that only 3% of rapists ever do jail time. Most rapes are not reported and among those that are, most are never investigated much less prosecuted (in the best cases this happens because rape is notoriously hard to prove in court unless there are witnesses or evidence of violence, and often even then). The Bureau of Justice Statistics believes at least 200,000 rapes went unreported between 2006 and 2010, and I can tell you from experience and from my discussions with and readings of dozens of other survivors that many of us are victims of multiple assaults and many of us do not bother reporting most of them. It’s just not worth what we go through when we report, and if you’re like me and you reported and endured that painful process twice with zero justice both times, why would you choose to go through it again?
I chose not to. And when I was a child, my parents chose not to put me through the trauma that would have resulted from the incidents of abuse I told them about. And there are many I didn’t. When I do the math, that’s a hell of a lot of predators out there walking free doing what they do to other victims who in turn must make their choices, endure the scrutiny and shame, stay silent, or simply find other ways to work through it. We are legion and no, society does not punish those who harm us.
This is a good time to mention that if you think you don’t know anyone who is a survivor of sexual assault, you are very likely wrong and should examine the possible reasons why the survivors in your life haven’t trusted you with this information.
Oh, and though Donald Trump was, until Friday, facing a civil charge that he raped a 13-year-old girl, his accuser has dropped her case after receiving death threats resulting from an announced—and later cancelled—press conference where she planned to finally break her anonymity. Despite over a dozen accusers, he will never see the inside of a jail cell or very likely any legal consequences.
Of course, not all of Trump’s supporters believe his accusers. Some of them have questions. Why did these women wait to come forward? Why speak right before an election? The timing seems “off.” Another tenet of rape culture: assuming the victim is lying if they don’t behave the way we’ve been taught victims behave. But really, let’s look at this question.
Imagine a person has harmed you in some major way (please take a moment to apply this to your experience, if you will), and imagine that this is a person with power over you. Now imagine this guy goes on TV and says he does stuff like that all the time. Brags about it. Laughs about it. You feel vindicated! LOOK! He’s admitting to the world that he’s exactly the person you knew he was!
Then a couple of days later, he goes on TV again and says he never did it. It never happened. Not even once. Not even the time he did it to you.
Now imagine he makes this statement during a presidential debate. Imagine that after getting caught admitting what he did, he now lies about it on national television in a presidential debate. Imagine that he might become your president. Imagine that you never felt like you had any power in the situation (maybe you even felt unsafe speaking up), but now people are talking about it, other people he wronged are coming forward, and maybe someone will listen.
Now ask yourself. What the hell would you do?
Listen. False rape allegations are rare (and did you know that if a victim withdraws their statement due to coercion by police or others or because they’re afraid or for any other reason, that incident goes into the “false” or “unfounded” column, i.e. the 2-10% of “false” rape allegations?) and they generally don’t occur in clusters. (In fact, I’d be very interested to know about any cases where a large number of victims accused a perpetrator and that perpetrator was cleared and the accusers proved liars, but I don’t think there are any.) But that brings us to another tenet of rape culture: the fact that when women are the victims of rape and sexual assault and they give sworn testimony regarding what happened to them, it is not seen by society in general as “evidence” even though it legally is exactly that. So it doesn’t matter if one accuser comes forward or 12 (Trump) or 20 (Jian Gomeshi) or 60 (Bill Cosby), too many will never see that as “evidence” that a crime was committed and will cite “absolutely no evidence” as their reason for dismissing a clear pattern of abuse on the part of a powerful man. Women are simply not seen as credible witnesses to our own experiences.
Listen. There are thousands if not millions of people out there who have been abused by rich, powerful men and who have not seen justice and never will because they’ll never have a safe situation in which to come forward and expect the kind of legal and emotional support one needs to get through something like that. In a case like this, when a victim does overcome the fear and break her silence, and then another one, the damn breaks, just like with Cosby and Gomeshi. That’s why it’s happening now, just before an election. Because this man who is running for president is happy to lie about anything and everything including something he’s already admitted to: the fact that he feels entitled to sexually assault women and has successfully avoided consequences because of his position of power.
As a survivor of multiple sexual assaults who did not see justice even once despite reporting twice, I know how hard justice is to come by. I know that most rapists walk free while victims suffer the consequences. I know the toll that rape culture—the culture that calls Trump’s bragging about sexual assault “locker room talk”—takes on us. As a victim who was not believed when it mattered, it’s frankly heartbreaking to see people behaving as though these women are lying and just in it for some kind of glory. Trust me, there is no glory in being the woman who “cried rape.” These women have made targets of themselves, and one of them has already left the country because of the death threats she received. I believe them, and I believe Donald Trump is a serial predator.
Donald Trump’s history of sexually abusing women has brought this subject to the forefront of the national conversation and for that, I’m grateful. He will walk away with whatever power he has left after this election and his sycophants will continue to believe that he’s innocent while those who held their noses and voted for a man they knew in their hearts to be a serial assaulter of women will have shown us that some people don’t actually understand that rape and sexual assault are wrong; indeed, a large percentage of people in this country treat it as acceptable.
Donald J. Trump is the Rape Culture Candidate—proof that rape culture is alive and thriving in the United States of America.
Note: As is often the case, this post has undergone some post-publication edits for clarity.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Why I Won’t Publish Your Comments About False Rape Accusations (Rethink the Rant)
Most Believe Allegations About Trump and Women (AP/GfKPoll)
An Unbelievable Story of Rape (Propublica)
I Am A False Rape Allegation Statistic (The Orbit)
Lots of Men Don’t Think Rape is Rape (NY Mag)
Not All Men, But These Ones (Make Me a Sammich)
A Brief History (the Bad Parts Version) (Make Me a Sammich)
Trigger Warning for the many ways we experience violence at the hands of (not all) men, including CSA, SA, rape, VAWG.
I saw a quote a while back that hit home for me. I can’t find it now, but it went something like this:
The issue is not that all men are violent. The issue is that nearly all women have experienced violence at the hands of men.
The sad but true fact is that while not all men are violent, men do commit violence against women and non-binary people (and other men—in fact, according to the FBI, most violent crimes are committed by men).
I have told parts of my story before here and there. And I suspect that I will do so again. In this case, I’m reprising my tale now in order to join others who have shared their litanies of violence as a counter to the superfluous yet oh-so-ubiquitous cries of “not all men.” Because FFS, dudes. Enough already.
“Not all men” is a derailing tactic and serves literally no other purpose than to focus attention away from male violence and center it on the man decrying the unfairness of it all.
When people who are not men say “men do this,” we’re reporting that our experience is that enough men do this that it stands out that men do this. The fact that men do this contributes to an overall feeling of oppression. Men do engage in behaviors that perpetuate patriarchy. Men do engage in behaviors that perpetuate sexism and misogyny. Men do these things without even thinking about them because the men who came before them did it and because too often no one does so much as turn away in disapproval when it happens.
Not all men did these things to me, but these men did.
The man who sucked my tongue, fondled my genitals, and taught me to give him a blow job when I was three.
The man who was my uncle by marriage and came in my mouth when I was six, then spent hours trying to get into my underwear as we camped out in the yard.
The man who fondled my nipples when I was seven or eight during a nighttime hide-and-go-seek game at my cousin’s house.
The man who flexed his exposed erection at me and my friend when we were 9 via the leg of his shorts.
The man—a trusted family friend—who gave me music lessons when I was 9 and performed oral sex on me while my parents weren’t home.
The man who used a finger cot to make his penis small enough to fit inside me when I was 10. Who also gave me a cigar tube to practice with at home.
The man who pulled his truck over as I walked down the street, opened his door, stepped out naked and masturbated while staring at me.
The 14-year-old boy who violently raped me when I was 12 and smoking weed with him in a fort behind my neighbor’s house.
The man who had sex with me in his van knowing that I was a 12-year-old rape victim (but probably not really believing that second part).
The boys and men who repeatedly “pantsed” me over my loud objections and ridiculed me when I was angry.
The two men who took turns raping me while I was passed out drunk at my first kegger when I was 14.
The many, many men—adults—who gave me alcohol and drugs and got their rocks off on me when I was a troubled teen.
The man who exposed his genitals to me in a grocery store parking lot when I was 16.
The man who spent a drunken night trying to coerce me into sleeping with him when I was 16.
The man who raped me when I was 16 because I said no after a night of partying with him and his friend.
The man who attempted to grab me on a dark street as I rode my bike to a friend’s house, 16 and pregnant, and only stopped because I scared him with my primal and guttural GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME.
The man who beat the shit out of me in front of my 2-year-old for leaving a party when I was 18.
The man who decided that the fact that I was unconscious on his sofa meant he could go ahead and rape me.
The man who thought because we were friends and had been sexual in the past, it was ok to straddle my drunken body and ejaculate on my chest after I said no to sex.
The many men who have wished me harm here on my blog and on social media.
How many men is enough? How many men must commit violence upon my person before it’s ok if I just say “men did this”?
Men did these things. Not all men. But enough of them that this list is not even complete. Men did these things. And every time some dude Kool-Aid-Mans into a thread where people who are not men discuss male violence to declare that not all men did these things, the only thing he makes clear is that he is utterly ignorant and unwilling to listen to people who are not just like him.
Not all men. Just dozens of men in my case. Hundreds if you count my circle of friends and relatives. Thousands if you count their friends and the people they love.
And that’s enough.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Related on MMAS:
- A Brief History (the Bad Parts Version)
- #IStandWithDylan: My Story of Childhood Sexual Abuse
- I Am Jane Doe
- The Time My “Friend” Sexually Assaulted Me
Trigger warning for discussion of rape and sexual assault.
I met A in the early 1990s at a science fiction convention. I’d seen him around and…damn. The man was fine. When we finally came together, sex was a forgone conclusion. We spent a wild weekend together, and I fell in love with him. And he broke my heart, and I basically moved on. Except that almost every time I saw A after that, we ended up having sex. A was…persuasive. But he didn’t have to try very hard—I had a thing for him for years.
In 2000 or so, I went out drinking in my neighborhood, went back to a guy’s apartment to smoke some pot, and woke up on his couch with his penis inside me. I only remembered feeling really woozy and telling him I needed to lie down on his couch. I don’t know if he drugged me or if I was just really drunk, but I never consented to sex. The next day I IM’d with A about it, and he made excuses for the guy. “Maybe he was just really drunk and didn’t know what he was doing,” he said, or something very like it.
Fast forward to the late aughts, and I’m in A’s town on business. He’s happily married, and I’m in what I believe at the time is the relationship I’ve waited my whole life for. A & I make plans to get together and have a drink at my hotel. There is—in my mind and probably in his—no question of sex. We are committed to our partners. It seriously never enters my thoughts.
I have several Martinis and somehow end up in his car on the freeway. A says something about a bar he wants to take me to, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to vomit, so he takes me back to my hotel.
Most of what came after is blurry. There is a good chance I stripped my clothes off the moment we got to my room, as I was drunk and with someone I trusted, and when I’m drunk and on my way to bed, my clothes end up all over the house. I remember getting into bed, under the covers, and I remember him lying on the bed saying things like, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” I remember laughing and saying, “No.” I remember that I had no intention of cheating on my boyfriend. I remember that I kissed A at one point and my boyfriend’s face popped into my head and I was like, “Whoa, no!” A continued trying to talk me into having sex with him and I continued to decline.
I remember that speaking was becoming really difficult. I remember A climbing on top of me, on top of the covers, as I tried to form words or even coherent thoughts. I remember that he masturbated on my chest and that I had absolutely no say in the matter. I remember that I got up and washed it off.
I remember that the next day when he picked me up to drive me to the airport, he asked me if I was angry with him. I could tell he felt like shit, but what exactly he felt like shit about, I still don’t know. I think I said something about being angry with myself (and I was—I blamed myself and told no one for years), but then I said something that made him defensive, because his next words were, “Come on, now, you were complicit…”
I was complicit in exactly one thing: I kissed him.
I know he felt “bad” about what he’d done—I just don’t think he knows that what he did was sexual assault. Because I kissed him. Because I took my clothes off. Because of our history. Even though I said no.
I understand that not everyone who commits sexual assault thinks of himself (or herself) as a sex offender. I understand that people make really bad decisions under the influence of alcohol that they might not make otherwise. But neither of these things changes the fact that sexual contact must be consensual or it is sexual assault. It doesn’t matter what someone does before the “no.” If you don’t hear an emphatic “yes,” or “do it,” or “fuck me,” etc., you are simply not cleared for take-off.
That was the end of my friendship with A. It took me a couple of years to remember that it was he who had made excuses for the man who raped me all those years ago. And then I realized that when a man makes excuses for another man’s bad behavior, there’s a good chance he’s defending his own. I was probably not the first woman to get drunk with A and end up being assaulted.
I just hope like hell that I’m the last.
Related on MMAS:
- A Brief History (the Bad Parts Version)
- I Didn’t Know It Was Sexual Assault
- #IStandWithDylan – My Story of Childhood Sexual Abuse
- 10 Things Rape is Not
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
NOTE: Charlotte Clymer is a trans woman. This article was written several years before she transitioned.
Ugh. I’ve been working on this post on and off for weeks, but have been so disgusted and discouraged (and clinically depressed, as it happens), it’s been really challenging to get it finished and put it out there. It’s not the sort of thing I like having to write about, and I think some part of me was hoping that the person who sparked it would address the issues and somehow make it less necessary, but alas, that was wishful (one might even say “magical,”) thinking. Also, I recently learned that this whole thing came out a whole lot longer ago than I thought and some of us just missed it. See my apology toward the end.
Perhaps you’ve heard the analogy of the “missing stair.” It refers to a phenomenon wherein women warn one another about predators and other creeps in their social group because the social group is unwilling to oust said creep, makes excuses for him, or doesn’t even realize that the fact that he’s a creep is a problem to be solved. “But he’s a nice guy,” they’ll say, and list all of his good qualities, ignoring the fact that he’s at best an annoyance and at worst a danger to the women in the group.
In feminism, a missing stair can take many forms, as the author of the “missing stair” piece points out. Today I want to talk about one particular form: that of the faux feminist ally.
It recently (for some of us) came to light that a man who calls himself a feminist ally (and who many of us believed to be one) has behaved in ways and harbors attitudes that are decidedly un-ally-like. This is a person who, at first glance, seems like the perfect ally. He says all the right things, and he says them often. He just seems to “get it.” I mean, how many guys get it like this guy does? Wow. Everybody loves this guy.
Everyone, that is, except those who have already discovered that there’s more than one side to him. Or, perhaps more accurately, that there’s just one side, and it’s cleverly hidden under a fluffy sheep’s skin.
This guy is accused of silencing women on his once very popular (now defunct) feminist Facebook page as a matter of daily business. He has been accused of a number of things I’m not going to go into here, but suffice to say accusations abound. And the fact that there are so many accusations is an important piece of data. Perhaps emboldened by others speaking out, people seemed to flock to Twitter to share their stories, and many had screenshots to back them up. Put it all together, and the picture is not pretty.
And then there are the things he has admitted to: He has admitted to sending a very ugly message to a woman who criticized the way he ran his page. He has admitted that he used that page to meet women. He has freely—and one might even say proudly—admitted that his interest in feminism is at least partly based in “self-interest.” And I don’t mean in the way that feminism is good for everyone. No, this guy wants to be a professional feminist.
While dozens loudly criticized his behavior in a recent Twitter campaign to bring it to light, the dude in question ignored them and tweeted this quote:
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt
Numerous people attempted to engage him and from what I can tell, he responded to very few (many were apparently blocked). His feminist Facebook page disappeared after folks who tried him there got the same treatment. The Twitter hashtag calling him out is still active after several weeks. So yeah, people have been talking.
But I believe when Mrs. Roosevelt said the words above, she was talking about gossip—e.g., whose car was parked in the neighbor’s driveway—and gossip is not what has been happening here. It is not “gossip” that this dude berated a woman and used his privilege to mock her for using the word “privilege.” It is not “gossip” that he called her an “idiot” for expressing her views on how he ran his page. It is not “gossip” that he has expressed a desire to make a “career” of being a prominent male feminist and that he estimates he’s about “80 percent” dedicated to the cause, with the other 20% being about him. These are all things he has said and admitted to, and reducing these criticisms to gossip indicates that he does not take them—or his critics—seriously in the least.
No, gossip is not what has been happening. Here’s what has: People have been talking about what it means that a self-styled male “feminist” does these things and continues to have a speaking spot at a major feminist rally, a platform in major publications, and a place in a movement that is meant to empower women and everyone else who isn’t a straight cis white man.
Some of us are disappointed and sickened that a man who said all the right things and really should have known better has privileged himself above women; that someone who talks so often about following women leaders thinks that what the feminist movement needs is a man who berates, verbally abuses, and silences women (and probably others), who disagree with him, insists on an apology from a Black woman who confronts his racism, thinks what we need is a man to lead us.
Some of us are angry that this person who ought to know better so often uses the word “vagina” (even as he verbally abused a woman who dared question him) in ways that ignore and even erase trans people from the equation; that someone who claims to be an expert on feminism can be so clueless about intersectionality.
Some of us are shaking our heads in disbelief and even embarrassment that we didn’t see through this facade sooner; that we didn’t take a clue from how much space this man takes up in feminist discussions—from how often he talks about himself and the good deeds he does on behalf of feminism; that we held him up as an example of what an ally looks like.
Some of us are disgusted that (though he vaguely laments his tone) this dude not only stands by the things he said to one woman he abused—which, for one thing, firmly privileged him above her in all things feminist—but fully admits that feminism is an ambition for him and that much of what he does (i.e., posting on social media) is to promote himself as a feminist “leader.”
Some are relieved that a thing they’ve known for some time is finally coming to light; that the experiences they’ve been trying to talk about for months or even years are finally validated by public disclosure of this harmful behavior.
Some of us are wondering how we can—how we should—help prevent others from falling prey to a “feminist leader” who believes it’s ok to privilege himself above women and verbally abuse them when he thinks they’re wrong. We’re wondering if the right thing to do is to name names, join in the pile-on, and drum this guy out of feminism before he can do more harm, or to quietly remind people that allies who promote themselves* as allies seldom are and thereby avoid making targets of ourselves. Because make no mistake, not only is this dude willing to verbally abuse and shame people who disagree, this “ally” has allies who have made it their business to chime in and “explain” to women who speak out about this that they are everything that is wrong with feminism. And in an ironic twist, the MRAs have joined in to support this dude and to gleefully accuse us of eating our own. And frankly? Most of us get enough of their crap on a daily basis.
Some of us are developing a better understanding of why some of our sisters have been so suspicious of men who claim to be feminists.
I have long believed that men not only can but should identify as feminists or at least feminist allies, because I believe that men have to be part of tearing down the systems that benefit them and oppress everyone else or it just won’t happen. But a man who strives to become a professional feminist is taking the concept of dominating feminist spaces to a whole new level. Men who use the feminist movement to further their own ambitions do so at our expense, which means that instead of helping us to tear down these oppressive systems, they are using feminism to benefit from them, which is pretty fucking sick if you think about it.
And men who set out to use feminism as a launchpad for, say, a talk show career ignore the fact that (as others have said before me) for us, feminism is not an ambition. It is our lives. It’s not something we do to promote ourselves—it’s what we do in response to oppression. I don’t believe that men who strive to become “professional feminists” are in it for the right reasons—not to any degree that makes a difference. And quite frankly, it is my firm belief that if anyone gets paid to do feminism, it should absolutely not be a straight cis white man. Period. (Update: Clymer has announced that he is gender non-conforming.)
That’s one big difference between guys like this and real feminist allies. Good allies understand that it’s not appropriate for men to presume to lead the movement. They get that it’s not their place to teach women about feminism any more than it would be a straight person’s place to teach gay people about LGBT issues. (What might be more appropriate would be for men to teach other men about feminism, assuming they actually know what they’re talking about and won’t do more harm than good, like this guy would.) Good male allies understand that their place is at the back of the room. Men who want to be allies need to study the behavior of failed allies and learn how not to be That Guy. Because That Guy is not only not an ally, he has the potential to do harm to our movement from within, not least by silencing people who already have a hard enough time being heard.
That Guy, these guys—men who use feminism for their own gains and do harm in the process—are the “missing stairs” of feminism. They look perfectly safe (in fact, they can look so safe that they’re practically begging you to step on them) but they will break your ankle just the same. And it will hurt, if only because you trusted them and they turned out to be just like every other entitled straight white dude on the planet.
I think we do have a duty to warn one another about these missing stairs. And then we have to work to fix the staircase. We have to raise up the voices of the marginalized and privilege them above these men and we have to deny these men access to leadership positions. Because for us, this isn’t a thing we do to make a name for ourselves. It’s what we do to live an authentic life and make our world better for our sisters and daughters and for boys and men and for everyone everywhere on the gender spectrum.
And yes, talking about this means talking about people who place themselves in our spaces.
For my own part, and to get around to the real reason I felt like I needed to write about this, I want to apologize for every instance in which I touted That Guy as a feminist ally, be it a Follow Friday on Twitter or a gushing share of a pithy feminist post on my Facebook page or the inclusion of his photo on my blog as an example of how men can do good in feminism. In doing these things, I helped give him credibility—I helped him perpetuate this image of himself as the perfect male feminist when what he turned out to be is the perfect faux ally.
Here are a few things I learned from this experience. It all seems so clear to me now.
- When a straight, white man takes up more space in feminist conversations than most women, he may be in it for the wrong reasons.
- When 99% of his Facebook posts are about the Good Feminist Deeds he did today, he may be in it for the wrong reasons.
- When he is called out on bad behavior toward women and ignores his critics (many of whom are the very women making the accusations), posting passive-aggressive quotes instead of responding to criticism, he may be in it for the wrong reasons.
And from my own personal experience (because friends have urged me to share), when an “ally” solicits donations to his feminist charity event in return for pluggin your blog on his feminist network, then never seems to get around to it despite multiple promises, you might be tempted to let him off the hook because “he’s such a good guy; he does so much good” and “he must be so overwhelmed, poor bunny,” but when you find out that this behavior is part of a larger pattern of promoting himself as a great ally but actually being an awful one, you realize that you’ve been had** and…wait for it…he may be in it for the wrong reasons.
Now, because I held him up as an example of a good ally on more than one occasion and he turned out to be a missing stair (and because I don’t think I could look myself in the mirror if I didn’t), I’m going to say the thing that needs to be said out loud:
Charles Clymer can call himself a feminist if he wants to, but I do not believe he is an ally to feminism, and I’m sorry I ever helped promote him as such. In fact, I believe that he displays the same behaviors and attitudes of some of the worst MRA fuckwads who show up here and on my social media feeds to tell me I’m doing feminism wrong, except he’s way more dangerous because he does so in the name of feminism and at the expense of the people he claims to uplift and empower. He has expressed a wish that people would have come to him personally about all this, but he blocked those people. Also, if you have a strong stomach, you can see what happens to women who challenge Charles and I highly recommend you check out the discussion on Twitter for additional data. As for me, I sincerely hope he finds a different career aspiration for the sake of all the people who daily continue to be taken in by his words, knowing nothing of his bad behavior or his continued unwillingness to address it in any meaningful way. And if he really wants to be a feminist ally and not part of the problem, I hope he goes back to feminism school and also how not to be a complete jackass school.
I further apologize to anyone upset by this news (however, if you’re angry that I named names, I don’t know what to tell you—I’m doing what I think is right). For me, finding out about this felt like getting punched in the gut. I felt (still feel) sick and betrayed and sad and angry because not only did I trust this guy, I told other people they should trust him (again, sorry), and his actions show that he is not worthy of that trust. Ultimately, I hope my writing this helps you avoid not just this particular faux feminist ally but also others still out there saying all the right things while doing all the wrong ones behind the scenes. I know I will be less trusting in the future (I already am), and that’s sad, but it’s a difficult thing we’re doing and we have to protect ourselves. There’s an old saying about friends and enemas that applies here.
I guess I’ll just leave it at that.
*In fact, one big takeaway for me from #YourSlipIsShowing (a recent campaign launched by Black women to out fake “feminist” Twitter accounts) was the louder and more often it quacks, the less likely it is to be a duck.
**I don’t regret my donation in the slightest, as it went toward providing abortion access (I had already donated once before he made the promo offer). Also, I don’t think he set out to defraud me, just that he was far too busy promoting himself as a great feminist ally (and silencing women who disagree) to actually be one even in such a small way as this.
Note: I have made some post-publication tweaks for clarity and inclusivity.
Update #1: (9/26/14): The National Women’s Political Caucus has announced that they will present Charles Clymer with their “Good Guy Award” at their EMMA awards ceremony in October. I have emailed them to explain why this is not a good idea. Please consider doing the same. [Update to update: Victory!]
- When Bad Allies Get “Good Guy” Awards (Make Me a Sammich)
- So You Want to Be a Male Feminist? Maybe Don’t. (NY Mag)
- When we call bad guys good (Feministing)
- Clyming the Walls of Feminism: A Critical Look at the Feminist Problem Part I (parentwin)
- Men and Feminism (The Belle Jar)
- Blaming and Disbelieving Victims: Charles Clymer’s Toxic Feminism (Evil Feminist from Space)
- More than the Message (Model View Culture)
- Notes on Charles Clymer (theblackunic0rn)
PSA: Trolls who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
This is formal notice that I’m evicting you from my life. I’m utterly and completely over you. Your privilege allows you more platforms than anyone and ensures that your voice is always heard first and foremost. It lets you be pretty much anywhere you want anytime you want. But the one place you can’t be is in my face or in my life any fucking more because it’s my face and my life and I’m sick of hearing from you.
I’ve written about splaining and been splained at. I’ve written about privilege and been devil’s advocated at or simply ridiculed. I’ve talked about sexism and racism and been reverse-sexismed and reverse-racismed at. I’ve written about sexual assault and been gaslighted. I’ve attempted to talk about issues that affect me and other women and been barraged with comments from you, ESWDs, telling me how wrong I am (because what a woman really needs is for a man to tell her she doesn’t know what she’s experienced or what issues affect her life). You insist on our time, energy, and attention even when we make it clear we don’t want to engage and then you act as though the fact that we don’t want to engage with you means we don’t have the courage of our convictions (i.e., we’re full of shit). I’ve pointed out that it’s ALMOST ALWAYS you who does these things and asked you to please stop, and when I do, you show up in force to tell me I’m being divisive and women do it too and that I’ll draw more flies with honey.
Here’s the thing: I don’t care what you think anymore. I’m not interested in your opinions because you’re not interested in mine, which is clear from the way you talk at and down to me, make proclamations tied to bullshit conclusions, and generally behave as though you’re the teacher and I’m the student. I’m sick of you thinking that every post you disagree with on social media is an engraved invitation and that the rest of us are just waiting to be enlightened by you. I’m not interested in your opinions because you seem completely unwilling to learn about the role you play and how you can stop making things worse and I’m tired of giving you the benefit of the doubt.
I am an opinionated woman and I speak my mind, so you may be wondering how what I do is different from what you do. The difference as I see it is that I don’t walk through life believing that everyone is entitled to my opinion on every subject even if they aren’t talking to or about me. I don’t believe that my opinion is so important that I must inflict it on other people and their friends at every opportunity. Because I was not raised in a culture that taught me that I am the most important person in the social hierarchy. (In fact, the same culture that taught you to be brash and opinionated taught me that I’m supposed to use honey and draw flies.) And because I wasn’t, it actually occurs to me that my opinion might not be required at all times—that other people might just want to be able to talk without someone disagreeing with them about every fucking thing. That people less privileged than I might like to have a conversation about how they see the world without me butting in to tell them how I see it differently because it turns out, it’s not about me.
I’ll tell you what I’d like to be able to do: talk about privilege without you showing up to wave yours around like a fucking flag you don’t even realize you’re holding. The problem is that even when we point it out to you, you still can’t see it. In fact, you absolutely refuse to see it even as you brandish it at us like a club. You refuse to see how that club you’re armed with creates a power differential that can’t be ignored. So you continue to ignore it and say things like “women do it too” and “stop making everything about race.” You become the perfect illustration of the problem that is you.
But here’s the thing: I know that not all straight white dudes are ESWDs. Many straight white dudes have learned that their privilege is something to be aware of and that awareness allows them to navigate the world without walking all over everyone else. And that gives me hope for you—each and every one of you—that one day you’ll pull your head out of that warm, wet place you keep it and realize that what you have been is part of the problem.
It’s the E that’s holding you back, ESWD: that sense of entitlement that is part and parcel of your privilege and your biggest weakness because it blinds you and keeps you from challenging yourself to truly do better by your fellow humans. Right now, you’re an Entitled Straight White Dude waving your flag and knocking shit over, and as long as you’re doing that I have no use for you. But you can choose to shed that E and join the ranks of regular straight white dudes who are out there working to make things better for everyone who isn’t a straight white dude, and if you do that…
Well, if you do that, I’ll be rooting for you.
- If You’re Arguing With Me Chances Are You’re a Dude (makemeasammich)
- I’m Tired of All the Damned Splaining So Check Your Privilege Please (makemeasammich)
Note to straight white dudes offended by this post: Is that your shoe?
PSA: Trolls who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
In 1991, Anita Hill captured my country’s attention when she testified before congress that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her supervisor. I was in my late 20s at the time, and I remember how brave she seemed, but the power dynamics were frankly lost on me at that point. In fact, they were lost on a lot of people. Prior to Ms. Hill’s testimony, we weren’t even talking about sexual harassment in the workplace as a nation. Like so many societal ills, it was a silent current running through our culture, accepted as just “the way things are.” Anita Hill changed that.
Now, watching the trailer for the upcoming documentary ANITA, I look at the sea of white, male faces that confronted her (literally) as she testified, and I have a far better sense of just how much courage that must have taken as a woman and especially as a Woman of Color. She spoke a hard truth to the most powerful men in her country and made herself a target not only for politicians but for racists and comedians and anyone else with an axe to grind against a Black woman who dared talk about how powerful men treat women who are subordinate to them. She did so with a grace I know I couldn’t muster in similar circumstances, and I am in awe of her. I expect I’ll be even more in awe after seeing this film.
Watch the trailer:
Yeah, this looks really, really good.
I’ve worked on Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!) campaigns before and hoped at one time to start a Seattle WAM! chapter. Life got in the way and I have had to take a step back from my activism until further notice, but I’m still kicking, and when Jaclyn Friedman asked me if I’d help WAM! get people out to a local ANITA screening I was happy to oblige. But I don’t want to stop there.
Initial screenings are taking place in March and April in select cities (see below). Based on ticket sales for those screenings, distributors for the film will decide how many cities will get the film and for how long. WAM! wants to get as many people as possible out to these screenings to ensure that the film gets wide distribution and in doing so, send a message to Hollywood that “woman-helmed films about women are a good investment.”
I think this is a worthy endeavor—don’t you? I’m hoping you’ll help me get the word out so these initial screenings are as successful as they can be. And BONUS: WAM! has arranged for discounted tickets (see links below)!
Just past the 22 year anniversary, Freida Mock revisits one of the most controversial watershed events of the past century, the Anita Hill – Clarence Thomas hearings, the weekend of shocking television that made Anita Hill a household name and smashed the door open on the issues of sexual harassment and gender equality.
Attend a Screening
Screenings are happening in the following cities (courtesy of WAM!—follow links for discounted tix!):
MARCH 21 – 23, 2014
- NEW YORK, NY – ANGELIKA FILM CENTER: On sale now at a special WAM! price, and featuring a post-film Q&A with Anita Hill herself. Click here for tickets before they sell out!
- BERKELEY, CA – SHATTUCK CINEMAS 10: On sale now at a special WAM! price, and featuring a post-film talkback hosted by Equal Rights Advocates. Click here for tickets before they sell out!
- LOS ANGELES, CA – LAEMMLE ROYAL THEATRE: On sale now at a special WAM! price, and featuring a post-film happy hour and film chat with fellow WAM!mers. Click here for tickets before they sell out!
APRIL 4 – 6, 2014
- BOSTON, MA – KENDALL SQUARE CINEMAS: On sale now at a special WAM! price, and featuring a post-film Q&A with Anita Hill herself. Click here for tickets before they sell out!
- WASHINGTON, DC – E-STREET CINEMAS: On sale now at a special WAM! price, and featuring a post-film Q&A with director Freida Mock herself.. Click here for tickets before they sell out!
- SEATTLE, WA – SUNDANCE CINEMAS SEATTLE: On sale now at a special WAM! price, and featuring a post-film happy hour and film chat with fellow WAM!mers. Click here for tickets before they sell out!
- CHICAGO, IL – RIVER EAST 21: Email us ASAP to help make a Chicago WAM! screening happen
- ATLANTA, GA – REGAL TARA CINEMAS 4: Email us ASAP to help make an Atlanta WAM! screening happen
Help Make ANITA a Success!
Watch the trailer. Spread the word about this film, these screenings (and discounted tix!), and our goal to turn out as many movie-goers as we can. If you live in one of the above cities, attend a screening! Any screening! And if you live in one of the above cities and would like to help ensure the success of ANITA in your city, or if your city is not listed and you’d like to bring a screening to your area, email WAM! and let them know.
Let’s send that message to Hollywood so more films like this one get made and seen.
I’m tired. So tired of all the splaining and the related derailing and domination of conversations about issues facing less privileged people by those who have more privilege in our society.
I have written about mansplaining before. Many men (who seem not to have read past the headline) get their feelings hurt by this because they automatically assume it applies to all men. If you do not engage in mansplaining, it does not apply to you. The same goes for what I have to say here: if the shoe fits, wear it.
All of us sit somewhere on a scale of privilege. Some are more privileged, some less. My wish is that when someone from a lower rung on the ladder of privilege speaks out about an issue that affects them, everyone above them on the ladder would take the opportunity to listen and learn and allow room for that voice to be heard. Too often what I see instead is the people from higher on the ladder jumping in to splain to the people on lower rungs why their perspectives are flawed. I see threads about women derailed and dominated by men. I see threads about People of Color derailed and dominated by white people. And it’s not cool.
I am tired of being splained and watching other people get splained. I’m tired of women never being able to speak out about an issue that affects them without half a dozen men jumping in to splain “it’s not just women” or telling us how wrong we are when we try to talk about our lived experiences and how we feel about them. I’m tired of seeing People of Color speaking out about their lived experiences and issues affect them only to have white people splain that “it’s not just Black people” and “that’s not racist.” I’m tired of straightsplainging and cissplaining. I’m tired of abandoning threads I started because even when I say I’m done arguing, the splainers keep on splaining (often becoming more and more condescending as the discussion “progresses”). I’m tired of dealing with people who are more interested in having their opinions heard and being right than in sitting back and listening to people whose lives and challenges are different from theirs and maybe learning something.
You know what? When people less privileged than you are use their voices to talk about an issue they face, it really doesn’t matter whether the issue also affects you. The point is that it affects the less privileged group to a (chances are much) greater degree, and they are trying to talk about that, and it is not helpful or wanted for you to splain that you were once poor or that you got sexually harassed one time so it’s not just them. In fact, when you do that, you take up room in the conversation that really ought to be reserved for other voices in the less privileged group who want to discuss the issue. What would be helpful would be for you to listen and learn about how other people experience the world—other people who do not benefit from the privileges you enjoy—and the challenges *they* face. Consider whether your opinion is required on every topic on which you feel tempted to comment, or whether you are simply exercising your privilege when you and people like you end up dominating a conversation that wasn’t about you in the first place. Consider how your privilege allows you to feel comfortable doing that.
Your privilege means that your voice carries more weight in almost every situation. Do you really have to chime in on every single thread on which you have an opinion? Must your voice be heard, possibly at the expense of others? Want to talk about an issue that affects you? Maybe go start your own conversation rather than taking over one a person on a lower rung of privilege is trying to have.
If this pisses you off, then maybe ask yourself why, and consider whether you’re actually willing to allow less privileged people to talk about issues facing them without splaining how it’s “not just X” or how their perspectives are flawed. Consider whether you are willing to make room for voices that carry less weight in our society. If you’re not willing consider these things, then you are not being an ally to those less privileged than you are.
I’m tired of all the damned splaining. And I’m about to start culling my social media feeds to reduce the amount of it I have to deal with in my life. I have already revised my comment policy here to reflect the fact that I’m not nearly as tolerant of various flavors of bullshit as I once was. This is one of my least favorite flavors because people who do this are often unaware of what they’re doing and consider themselves to be allies, which means that people like me end up wasting a lot of time and precious energy trying to help them understand. False allies are worse than trolls because at least they seem like they have good intentions, but what they end up doing is sucking all your energy as you try to engage them when ultimately, they can’t see past their own privilege to actually listen. They end up dominating conversations instead of learning. And the less privileged end up leaving these conversations because we’re tired of arguing with people who have no intention of hearing us, and so our voices we are effectively silenced. False allies are people who think of themselves as “progressive” but behave in ways that become part of the problem.
If you want to be an ally, learn how to be a good one. If you want to argue about this, go argue with someone else. And please stop splaining.
Because I’m so fucking tired of it.
PSA: Trolls who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
- If You’re Arguing With Me, Chances Are You’re a Dude (makmeasammich.org)
- Dear Entitled Straight White Dudes (makemeasammich.org)
- Managing Privilege (robot hugs)
- How to Avoid Whitesplaining Away Your Racism (lizzness.com)
- Mansplaining 101: How to Discuss Politics and Feminism Without Acting Like a Jackass (policymic)
- On Whitesplaining, Mansplaining, And Why The Majority NEVER Gets To Tell Minorities What Is Offensive (What a Witch)
- What is Whitesplaining? (fusion.net)
- A Cultural History of Mansplaining (The Atlantic)
- Whitesplained and Mansplained (Bina Shah)
- #497: On “keeping the peace” with an unlikeable mansplainer (captainawkward.com)
- Men who explain things (Los Angeles Times)
Trigger warning for discussion of rape and rape culture.
My friend Anne Thériault of The Belle Jar wrote a post a few days ago about an incident at University of Ottawa wherein several male members of student leadership gathered to chat about Anne Marie Roy, president of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. Ms. Roy had apparently beaten a dude for the office, and these dudes were not happy. They went on for several screens talking about how someone should “punish her with their shaft,” speculating about what venereal diseases she might have, and offering to buy beers for a guy who says he’s going to “fuck her in the ass” on someone’s desk. You’ll find the whole disgusting mess over on The Belle Jar. Here’s an excerpt from Anne’s article, which you should go read right now.
Someone punish her with their shaft. Someone punish her with their shaft. This is the type of thing that’s said about women in positions of power – not a critique of their policies, but a threat of sexual violence. Not a comment on how they do their job, but graphic fantasies about how they should be sexually degraded. Nothing about their intelligence or capability, just a string of jokes about how riddled with venereal disease they are. This is misogyny, pure and simple. This is slut-shaming. This is rape culture.
As I’m sure you can imagine, Anne was immediately subjected to verbal abuse of the sort women who dare to speak out on the Internet will be familiar with. But then Anne Marie Roy received a cease-and-desist letter. From CTV News in Canada:
The letter — which identifies the four participants as Michel Fournier-Simard, Alexandre Giroux, Alexandre Larochelle and Robert-Marc Tremblay — threatened legal action against Roy if she did not “destroy” her copy of the online conversation and stop sharing it with others.
It wasn’t long before Anne Thériault received a similar letter. These individuals have now withdrawn their threats with regard to Ms. Roy. Anne is still waiting to learn whether she will be sued for her blog post.
Every single day, women are silenced when they try to speak out about rape culture. Every day we are told that “it’s not rape culture” or “it’s just how guys are,” which sound to me like conflicting statements. Why are guys just “like that”? Duh, because of rape culture, which Matthew G. P. Coe defines thusly in his follow-up at the Good Men Project:
Rape culture is the gradual normalisation, through, for example, jokes, commentary, and apologia, of the exertion of one person’s will over another, through the use of coerced or forced sex acts, such that such exertions become acceptable or justifiable as either hypothetical or practical actions.
Every time a conversation like the one Anne Marie Roy and Anne Thériault have helped bring to light takes place, it reinforces this culture of rape as acceptable. It reinforces a culture that treats women as objects, as products for men’s consumption, as sex toys, as less than human. And it reinforces a culture where women remain silent when things like this happen. Or as Anne says,
If these men face no consequences for their actions – indeed, if they are able to press charges against Roy for publicly addressing their comments – what are the students going to learn from this? They’ll learn that rape is a joke, that women can be terrorized into silence, and that it’s useless, maybe even dangerous, to speak up. Are these the lessons that we want our student leaders to be instilling in the heads of seventeen and eighteen year old kids?
I’d like to ask each of you to think about how you can help shine a light on this bullshit and show the world that we will not be silent. As for me, I’m looking forward to my cease-and-desist letter. Oh! I probably won’t get one unless I include at least part of the conversation, so here you go, bros:
And here’s my call to action:
Join me by writing your own post, reblogging/sharing Anne’s post or this one or Matt Coe’s or all of them, and tweeting on #UofOrapeculture. Let’s shine a frakking Klieg light on these assholes.
Update: All four members of student leadership involved in this conversation have resigned their positions. (I missed this article previously. Apologies.) No word on whether legal actions will continue.
- Rape Culture at the University of Iowa (The Belle Jar)
- So What IS Rape Culture, If Not This? (The Good Men Project)
- Rape Culture: It starts in private (The Scrawn)
- On Unlearning Rape Culture (matness)
- In Defense of Belle Jar: Sitting In The World’s Largest Pub (Cupcakes and Hoodies)
- police chiefs, board adminstrators, rape fantasties and speaking up… how the university of ottawa just dug their grave… (marois & moi)
- Sexually Violent Conversation Between Student Officials Posted Online (UofO’s Fulcrum)
- Pat Marquis Resigns from SFUO (Fulcrum)
Today will be a crying day. I can’t always tell when I wake up, but when I wake up and burst into tears and cry until snot runs down my face, that’s a sure sign. Last night I fell asleep acknowledging that there’s a part of me still waiting for her baby to come back, and this morning I dreamed that I followed you and your girlfriend around like K did when we were first together, trying to give you gifts and be affectionate while you mostly ignored me.
Waking up my first thought as the tears came was “But I don’t want to.” I’m still trying to work out what that means. Don’t want to be over you? Don’t want to walk away like I did at the end of my dream? None of this makes sense because what I want more than almost anything in the world is to not feel anything where you’re concerned. Anger protected me for a lot of last year but as it subsided—as my brain started forgetting to hate you—I began to remember who you used to be to me: not a villain but the man I loved.
You’ve done a lot of crappy things. First there is the original betrayal—it seems so wrong that I can sum it up in three words like that when a) it went on for so long and piled betrayal upon betrayal and b) it has left me more broken than anything that came before including rapes and beatings I wasn’t sure I’d survive. Telling me over and over again via email about your new love and your bullshit philosophical “types of love” and how I fit into this one box over here, but that one didn’t really count, and your wishes for multiple lovers in the future and your hope that she would accept that, as though that information could possibly help me heal. Then ignoring me on our anniversary after I told you how hard just the days leading up to it were and how I dreaded it. Then promising to leave me alone about the house for six months and then sic’ing your lawyers on me after only three. These are the bigger ones, but once in a while I realize that some part of me still feels that your worst crime was not loving me—not loving us—enough to stay and try to fix it. The absolute worst thing about this for me is that you don’t love me.
For the past 14 months I have been in a state of illness. For several weeks I could barely get off the couch. It was four months before I felt ready to move back to our bedroom and since I did, I’ve barely left it. I am unable to earn a living because depression keeps me from working more than a few hours a day for a few weeks at a time (which means I can get through a book editing project, but a full-time job feels out of the question). I am fighting a constant, uphill battle just to get back to the level of depression I occupied when you were still here. For the past six months I have been largely unable to blog. It’s like I’ve run out of things to say and confidence in my ability to say them.
J told me that you said your actions were hurtful. They weren’t just hurtful—they were harmful. Nothing in my life has ever left me this broken. She said you mourn the loss of your friend. My first thought, and what I said to her, was this:
“He killed his friend. And he killed mine. I will never, ever be the same person I was when I met him. I will never start a relationship with that trust. 8 years ago today I met the man who would murder the person I was that day.”
I know you’ve read things I’ve written before and come away thinking that I hated you. I have tried to, but I don’t. The honest truth—and the most excruciating thing I have to accept on days like this—is that I still love you. And accepting that, it takes everything I have not to hate myself. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned this past year it’s to be gentle with me because I have been on the edge and I know what it feels like to want to slip over and lose myself. I can’t let that happen.
Now you see where I still am 14 months after you left and a year and ten days after we last spoke. I am still crying over you. I am still dreaming about you. I am still waiting for you to come back to me. And I am still agonizing over all of these things and trying not to despise myself. The best thing my anger did was to protect me from that hope and I really wish I still had it. Since I don’t, I’m just trying to get through the time it will take for the hope and love to fade away. I really thought a year would be enough.
I painted this for you back in the early days. For me it expressed what I thought was happening between us: something so big and important that it threatened to burst out of the confines of this mortal existence.
Now I realize that it was big and important, just not in the way I thought. Now I see the flaws in a painting I once thought beautiful and I look for meaning in them. Where is the line that shows you falling out of love? Where is the one that predicts your betrayal? Which lines represent not love but pain? Which ones are the signs I should have seen that would have allowed me to prevent us from falling apart?
So, this is the state of things. These are some of the things you need to know before you make any attempt at another apology. I wish I could tell you everything. I wish that I could make you experience what I have experienced this past year. I want you to know what it is to be the one left behind instead of the one always leaving and leaving destroyed lives behind you. I wish I could communicate the sadness I’ve felt watching friends and even my family members choose to remain in contact with you even when they know how much it hurts me. I want you to feel what I have felt and know the pain that your choices—and complete lack of empathy for me—have caused. And I want to understand, I think, but maybe I don’t because every time you’ve tried to explain you’ve only caused me more pain. What I really want is for things to be ok, and on days like this it’s hard to believe they ever will be again.
Guest Post by Fran Stewart
Fran surprised me with another wonderful post today in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance. Enjoy. ~Rosie (TDoR 2013)
My name’s Fran Stewart, and I’m a transgender woman. “Transgender” is an intensely personal term, and it means different things to everyone who uses it. To me, it means that I was born with a body that didn’t make sense to my mind, and now I live in a body that fits me much better into the world. You might well know a transgender person and not be aware it. We’ve learned over the years that it’s wiser to keep it to ourselves.
I am out. Though I want the world to treat me as the woman I am, to simply BE a woman, I tell my secret.
I am out because I’m a storyteller, and some of my best stories happened when I was (or thought I was) a boy. Heck, some of the real gems happened while I was transitioning! The words come easily to me.
I’m out because it’s funny! When you get your leg hair caught in an Epilady, you can either laugh or cry, and laughing is just more fun in a group.
I am out because I’m proud. Hiding my past makes me feel like I’m ashamed of it. I’m not. This is how I was born. If I’d been born in a taxi, would I be ashamed of it?
I am out because I pass for “normal,” what ever THAT’s supposed to be. When you’ve seen me on the street, you’ve seen the woman I am, not the man we all thought I was. I can tell you my secret and surprise you, and be safely able to fade back into anonymity.
I am out because I want to learn and teach. There’s more about the spectrum of gender than I can ever know, and I’ve seen more than most. I don’t like feeling ignorant, and It’s worth learning I was wrong to find what is more right. Every discussion, I get to teach and learn things.
I am out because every person I tell is one less person who might freak out when Uncle Lloyd says she’s actually Aunt Vanessa or when the new woman at work has a rather deep voice and a notable Adam’s Apple.
I am out because I still have support. I told my family—they still love me. I told my friends—they still surround me.
I am out because I have money. Unlike many transgender people, my secret never cost me my job, or my marriage, or my safety net. I had the rare insurance that covered most of my therapy and surgery.
I am out because I have a home. I’ve never been thrown out of an apartment, exiled to a back seat or an underpass.
I am out because I’m lucky—I have never been screamed at in a mall, spat on by a passerby, chased out of a bathroom. Instead, when I’ve revealed my secret I’ve had fantastic discussions and meaningful debates, even with complete strangers and clergymen.
I am out because I’m alive—nobody ever beat my skull in or buried me in a shallow grave. Nor did I drink myself to death to save the world the trouble.
I’m out because I am a minority’s minority’s minority: a lesbian, transgender woman, who is happy, strong, secure and loved. I tell my story to give hope to the many who are miserable, sick, afraid, and alone.
I am out because I’m angry. I’ve been to groups. I’ve heard all the stories I describe above, over and over. Your mothers and fathers, your children, your uncles and aunts, shamed, ostracized, brutalized, cast aside, expurgated from your history. Wonderful, kind people. Fine people, ground up even finer for want of the tiniest amount of love, the smallest benefit of a doubt, the least amount of patience.
I’m out because with all this good fortune, I feel the need to push my luck. Good things happen when I tell my story: looks of shock, laughter, hugs. More often now, the best thing: “Really? Huh.” And then a shrug as we move on to more important things. That’s the world as it should be. It costs me nothing to be an ambassador, to answer questions. To pay back all the patience and good grace that I received.
I’m out because I can see the future. The kids I meet are even less nervous about gender and its spectrum than I am. Crossplay and fluidity allow us to figure out exactly who we are. The games they play evolve too fast for terms to even keep up. The Internet is awash in children reinventing gender.
I’m out because although the world can be horribly cruel, I find that the best way I can make it better is to live like it could be otherwise. I tell my story for those who can’t, or don’t dare to, tell their own. I speak for the murdered, the suicides, the institutionalized, the browbeaten, the homeless, the sorrowing wounded I met at every support group, the fatherless, the friendless, the child-bereft, the shamed, the terrified. Because I am proof that it DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THAT WAY.
I am out, on this Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we note the HUNDREDS of transgender people brutally and violently killed this year, because…because it’s so easy to make it better. To ask “Is it sir or ma’am, please?” To say “Why should I care what bits you were born with? You’re a woman!” To say “I don’t understand, but I love you and I’ll try.” To say “You look good today.” To say “What’s your damn problem? Leave her alone!” To say “Please tell me about it, when you’re ready.” To say “Let me teach you some basics.” To simply say “Around me, you don’t need to be afraid, or watch your words, or be on edge. Just be yourself, the best you know how.”
I’m out because so far it’s worked for me, and I’ve seen my good fortune spread. I hope that if you read this far, you will keep it going, and that one day November can become a month of thanks and family, unalloyed with sadness.
Also by Fran Stewart:
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