Archive | December, 2013

Gender Journey

19 Dec

by Anonymous

This isn’t an argumentative piece or a politically correct one. Actually, I’ve just barely scratched the surface of gender variance in my life and wouldn’t know the proper words anyway. This is just a story really, or several, I guess. It’s my stories, of my life and my feelings. And that’s it. It’s a call to walk in my shoes for five minutes and see a different perspective than you may usually see.

I’m eight, and just starting to question everything. The great WHY. Why are there stars in the sky? Why are some people tall and others short? Why was my soul born in a girl’s body?

I don’t feel out of place in my female body, but I don’t feel attached to it either. If I had been born exactly as I am in a boy’s body, I would live my life as a boy with its privileges and downfalls and not think a thing of it. I mean, even the way I phrase it in my head “my soul……girl’s body” shows that what I consider to be “me” is ungendered, even at this age, even though my mom insists on forcing me into dresses and curlers for church. I didn’t like anything girly, and I think a lot of it was due to the stigma against women in society, so I felt more free to do things as a tomboy that are “unbecoming of a young lady.”

I’m seventeen and getting the hang of masturbation. Over the years, I’ve explored my body and fell in love with the responses I can cause with my own touches. I stop railing against everything feminine and let myself enjoy wearing an occasional skirt or some mascara. This is also the age I first fell head-over-heels for Laura.  From the closet, of course. But loving Laura showed me that liking girly things doesn’t make you less of a person in some way. Femininity isn’t a block you have to accept or reject as a whole. You can like what you like, hate what you hate, leave the rest, whatever.

I’m twenty and at university. As I pass a security guard, he says, “Good morning, sir.” I smile, but he quickly blushes, realizing his mistake. I liked it, though. I don’t even know why, but someone not seeing my gender correctly (according to society) really excites me. It’s like a glimpse of a future where no one really knows a stranger’s gender, but it doesn’t matter. I REALLY DON’T CARE WHAT YOUR GENDER IS. And I know that leaves me open saying to lots of possibly offensive statements, but I like my maybe/ maybe not gender, and I respect everyone’s right to define their own gender (or to purposefully not define it). Whatever floats your boat.

I’m twenty-one and at my grandparents’ house for Christmas. I know they disapprove of short hair for girls and so I wore a purple dress, my girliest clothes to struggle for their approval. I know it shouldn’t be this way, but it’s family, you know? Then my grandfather introduces me to one of his neighbors as “that boy.” This is not how gender fluidity works. I’m still upset about it. I hate when people purposely mess up a person’s gender identity, especially so they can use it as a way to insult them. I HAVE DIGNITY!! Okay, end of rant.

Thanks for sticking through my ramblings to the end. From talking to my friends and peers, I’ve learned that most of us don’t think or talk about gender as much as we should. I mean we talk about the bi-gendered world we live in, and male privilege, and the constraints on women in society, but we rarely talked about our gender, how we feel about gender, if we even feel the need for gender at all. So a strange point-of-view like mine may not be heard so often. So, I hope you got something out of this.

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My Mad Fat Feminist

17 Dec

by Anonymous

There is a show (a British show—the best are always British) called My Mad Fat Diary. The title is fairly explanatory: Rae is a fat teenager who struggles with binge eating, depression, and self harm. There are only six episodes, but those six episodes are life-changing.

As someone who has identified as fat my entire life, I had never seen a fat character be a main character. She is no one’s sidekick. She is self-conscious and funny and just a little trite. It is a TV show with a fat main character and before I saw the TV show, I didn’t know why I needed it so badly.

Here’s the thing: people always try to hide my fat. It’s secondhand embarrassment; I am the living embodiment of something everyone around the world is afraid of being. My roommate freshman year said that fat people disgusted her. My friend said that fat people weird her out so much that she can’t even look at them. My classmates grimace as a fat person slips into the desk next to them. Being fat means I’m lazy and ugly and always relegated to the back of the photograph. Being fat automatically means I am unwanted because fat itself is unwanted. There is a reason fat people are known to be “jolly”: when we put up with your bullshit 24/7, we have to use humor as a coping mechanism, because otherwise we will literally want to tear our skin straight off.

I have found other ways of coping to get around being fat. I am the first one to every class, every day, every semester of every year because I have first pick of seats. When I choose where I sit and I sit down first, I don’t have to squeeze between desks and maneuver between gaps that I may or may not be able to fit through. It’s a defense mechanism. No one has to see how I angle myself to fit between the desk and the chair. When I eat at the dining hall, I go when the dining hall is empty so no one can see me eating alone. A skinny person eating alone looks different than a fat person eating alone. A skinny person eating alone is not a big deal; a fat person eating alone means they did not deserve to have someone sit with them. When I listen to my friends talk about how much they ate at dinner, about how fat they feel, or about the three pounds they gained over the summer, I stay silent. I am supportive in their quest to be skinny and I ignore the implication that what I am is undesirable. I smile at strangers on airplanes because I know they are angry they have to sit next to me during the flight and I avoid stares when I finish my Chipotle burrito.

Because I have been told my entire life that I am something that people do not want, I have believed it. I still believe it. But when I watch My Mad Fat Diary, I feel a little better about myself. Rae gets to be a main character. Rae gets to be interesting. Rae gets to battle binge eating. Rae gets to talk about her depression with a therapist and have it not be embarrassing. Rae gets to have a boyfriend.

Rae gets to have a boyfriend.

For the first time in my television-watching history, I get to see a fat person be likable and desirable. Rae’s visible sexuality (she masturbates to the fantasy of a Roman god in an early episode) is absolutely vital because I have absolutely zero idea what orientation I am; I have been conditioned to believe that I do not deserve sexuality. I am universally unwanted and, as a result, my sexuality is futile. So when every TV show, every magazine, every book and movie stars a skinny girl, my sexual erasure is reinforced. It doesn’t matter if the medium is alternative manga or reality TV; fat, sexual people do not exist, and they certainly do not exist as main characters who have entire stories and worlds revolve around them.

My Mad Fat Diary is a pioneer and a champion. It tells me that I deserve attention and that I deserve to be seen sexually, and what’s more, I deserve to have a choice. I do not have to settle for the first person who expresses any interest in me. I do not have to be flattered when I am harassed on the street because at least someone noticed me. When I am treated like a real person, and when I see myself as a real person, I can escape from oppressive structures that keep me meek and mild-mannered. I get to have a voice. I get to have self-worth. And yes, of course, my self-worth should be self-derived, but in the meantime, I get to walk through the world with the knowledge that there are people who think I deserve to be a main character. That I deserve attention and respect. That I, unlike my fat, am wanted.

(Note: I could write pages and pages and pages about how great this show is regarding issues of mental health, but that’s an essay for another day. Also, disclaimer: My fat experience is not the same for all fat women—WOC experience size very differently than white women.)

Prom

7 Dec

*TRIGGER WARNING* This piece contains accounts of sexual harassment.

by Katie

The boys on my cross country team have an offensive sense of humor. After practice one day, the team was talking and playing Frisbee. A freshman boy started making jokes.

“Oh hey, George, I’m going to rape you if you don’t run faster! Run faster! Run! Run!”

The atomic clock on the scoreboard couldn’t seem to move any slower as George ran away.

“I’m going to rape you! I’m going to rape you!”

The black numbers of the clock turned from 8:13 to 8:14 to 8:15. With each change of the numbers, I felt the tears creeping up to the sides of my eyes. I refused to take the taunting anymore.

“Okay, stop, rape jokes aren’t funny! Rape isn’t funny!” I asserted firmly.

“Um, no, rape is hilarious,” George replied, chucking me the Frisbee.

I fumbled with the Frisbee. It’s never been easy for me.

The tears started threatening me again, but I refused to let them control me. “No, rape is never funny. It’s used to dehumanize people,” I challenged as I gripped the Frisbee tighter and tighter.

“Why are you so emotional about this,” the freshman idiot taunted. “Men get raped too!”

Incredulous, I snapped, “I never said only women are raped!”

“Were you ever raped?”

“What? No! Of course not! And that’s not a question that you ask other people!” I half-screamed.

“Then why are you so upset?” George challenged me with a taunting sing-song tone.

“Because rape isn’t funny,” I replied coldly as a chill ran down my arms.

“Whatever. Wanna play some Frisbee?” the ignorant freshman asked.

“No thanks, I have to go home now,” I replied calmly, placing the Frisbee on the field and walking to the car.

But why was I really so upset?

Prom.

I had a crush on this guy for the entire year. He was best friends with one of the nicest, most hard working boys on the cross country team. He was smart (or so I thought), he was kind (or so I thought) and he was trustworthy (or so I thought).

I was a sophomore. He was a senior.

I was 15. He was 18.

At the end of the long evening, as we were standing in line for the coat check I could feel the ugly red blisters forming on my pinkie toes from my high heels. I stood patiently with my arms over my chest, making small talk with him. He stepped out of line and turned to face me. He opened his mouth in the way that people do when they have something of vital importance to say.

“Um, were you going to say something?” I asked, raising my eyebrows, confronted with a date whose mouth was gaping like that of a fish whose bowl had shattered.

He hung his head, embarrassed and sheepish. “Oh, it’s nothing.”

I took a long breath in and stated, “Okay, well, if you change your mind, I’m right here.”

After a few seconds of distraught contemplation he blurted out, “Can I kiss you?”

HERE? NOW?!?!? IN FRONT OF ALL MY FRIENDS?! UH, HELL TO THE NO!

Appealing to his sense of decency, I reasoned with him, “In front of all these people?”

He shrugged and leaned.

Every alarm in my body was screaming. The flashing red lights blurred my vision.

“THINK! WHAT DO I DO TO AVOID A KISS?” I screamed inside my head as his lips came closer and closer and closer. His eyes were closed. I could just run for it? But he was my ride home!

I suddenly remembered a book in which the character turned her face to so the undesired kiss would land on her cheek instead of her lips. I tilted my head too late. His lips landed half on my cheeks, half on my lips. I felt the dull thud of a lead weight being dropped on my heart. Seventeen Magazine lied to me. Everyone lied to me. My first kiss didn’t make me feel like flying, it made me feel like crying and running away. I went into survival mode. I needed to send the signal that I wasn’t interested. I stood with my eyes locked ahead, focused solely on obtaining my purse.

 “We need to try that again. That one wasn’t good enough,” he demurred.

I pretended to not hear.

Three agonizing minutes later with my purse finally in hand, I made my way to the door. But first, he tugged me into a corner.

 “Hold on a sec,” he purred, his hand on my lower back, corralling me towards his body. He closed his eyes and leaned in, closer and closer and closer and closer.

 I pulled him in for a hug and whispered, “No, no. I’m sorry, but no.”

 He finally relented.

As we walked out of the hotel ballroom, he kept trying to apologize.

“I hope this doesn’t ruin our friendship. I really like you. I want to keep seeing you. I really like you. I hope this doesn’t ruin our friendship. You know, I am going to college close by, so I hope we can keep seeing each other.”

All I was able to say was, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” as I hobbled from the long night while chills ran up and down my body in the warm air on the May night. My repetitive speech of it being “okay” was mainly to myself, only partly to him. I would most definitely not being seeing him over the summer or while he would be in college nearby. Or ever.

His father picked us up from the hotel and we drove home. As my date and I sat in the backseat, I noticed he hadn’t bothered to put on his seatbelt. He simply pouted and stared out the window with his empty head held up by his enormous fist.

We finally parted ways forever when I broke up with him the next Tuesday. It was the right thing to do. The lead weight I felt on my heart was lifted. I felt like I could fly.

Though one thing remained. My first kiss was forced.

It’s been a struggle for me to define what happened. Was it assault? Was it sexual harassment?

Assault has too many implications for me. It implies that the coercion was violent. But sexual harassment is perceived to be trivial and unimportant, so I need a stronger word to embody the anger and sadness and anxiety I felt and even occasionally still feel. I need a word for the amount of Nutella with warm toast I consumed afterwards. I need a word for the hours I spent talking to my best friend. I need a word for the panic that washed over me when he appeared on my Facebook newsfeed. I need a word for the joy I felt when my friend reassured me that I could finally defriend him. I need a word for the worry I feel that made me not write this under my real name.

I can’t call it assault if he went to my school. According to the media, assault is only supposed to happen when you don’t know your attacker. To call it assault makes the experience real.

The Obruni Diaries: A Few Last Thoughts

6 Dec

by Allyn Faenza

As my semester abroad in Accra, Ghana comes to an end, I have been thinking through the things I have experienced, the people I have met, and the things I wish I knew before coming. I only talked to one person about his semester abroad in Ghana before boarding the plane. As a male, he had not been fully exposed to the sexism present in Ghana, but he did tell me that men would approach me and call me “obruni,” which means “foreigner.” I was not ready for living in Ghana as a woman, so here are a few observations I have made over the past four months that might help you understand what it is like to be a visitor here if you should choose to visit this frustrating, hot, wonderful little country in the future.

Here in Ghana women tend to dress modestly, but the rules of socially-sanctioned clothing are very complex. College-age females often wear tight-fitting blouses or T-shirts and skin-hugging leggings despite the 90 degree heat. Even when it comes to church attire, women wear long dresses that are worn very tightly. Here it seems like modesty is all about the length of one’s trousers not their tightness. Personally, I cannot wear leggings in this heat. Even though I may get a couple extra stares, I wear my shorts and skirts that hit above the knee. If you do dress as you would during the summer months in the States, expect some men to approach you more, stare at you, and assume you are sexually easy.

I wish someone had told me to come up with a plan for rejecting romantic advances. I was so intimidated by all of the male attention when I first arrived in Ghana. I had men at the airport asking where I lived and if they could have my phone number! The easiest way to turn a guy down is to be direct. At first, I was not sure whether making my intentions clear would help or hurt me, but once you have had men approaching you each day who tell you they want to marry you, you learn that the direct approach is best for your sanity and time. If I spoke to every man who talked to me, I would never feel safe walking around alone, and it would take lots of time to get from place to place. Some girls on my program pretend to be engaged or married, while I typically take the honest route. If their conversation takes the direction of a romantic proposition, I say, “No, I don’t want to be your friend or give you my number, because I don’t like you. Have a nice day.” Say whatever makes you feel comfortable. Women are so often convinced that the most important thing is to appear nice and spare people’s feelings, however, your safety is more important than saving a stranger’s feelings.

One other thing I wish I knew before coming here is how much I appreciate my privacy. In America it is not difficult to locate public restrooms with toilets for males and females. In Ghana if you are traveling on the highway or in the city, it is not common to find a public restroom. Instead, it is often a little field where men and women free-range urinate. There are so many health reasons that make this practice problematic, but I found the experience of urinating outside, near a highway or in a gutter at an open market so emotionally distressing. I treasure moments of privacy, but now I realize they are a luxury that comes with infrastructure development and social norms. As I have mentioned in my other posts, men sometimes grab me or touch me without my permission. This is because Ghanaian culture accepts men as sexual aggressors who have the right to touch a woman without her consent. If I protest their touch, men respond angrily saying that I have no right to tell them no because I am a woman. Being a woman here means life can oftentimes be less comfortable and private.

My personal lens is inextricably linked with my feminist lens, which has made many situations difficult here. I have found myself in this male-dominated society completely of my own choice. Numerous times I took a look in the mirror and asked myself why I was here. Why would I choose to go abroad somewhere like Ghana? But my experiences here have not been in vain.  Now I know that Ghana has changed me, made me stronger and prouder than ever to be female.

This is the final addition to the author’s weekly column about living in Ghana.

How To Get An Abortion

3 Dec

by Anonymous

I have never had an abortion. I do not know if I will ever have an abortion. I might, one day. It’s not something I think about or consider very often. I’ve never needed to think about it. But if I do need to, I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t know where I would go to get an abortion or how I would pay for it. I have no idea how to get an abortion. I wish I did.

I think it is important to know how to get an abortion. Knowing gives you power over your body. Knowing gives you choices. Knowing makes you prepared. I never want to be pregnant, scared, and racing against the clock, trying to figure out where I can go, how I will pay, who will go with me, who will support me. I want to know. I want to know I will never have to be pregnant against my will.

I try to be prepared. I have been on birth control for years. I always use condoms. I should be safe. I should be ok. But things happen. I had sex with a guy I met in a club this past weekend. The next morning my friend joked that it would be hilarious if I got pregnant with the guy’s kid. I was horrified. I know I’m not pregnant, that the guy and I used two forms of contraception, that we were safe. I wasn’t afraid that I might be pregnant. I was horrified that my friend would joke about something like that. I was afraid that if I were ever pregnant, I would not know what to do. I was afraid that I did not know how to get an abortion.

I am studying abroad right now. I have some idea of what I would do if I needed an abortion in DC, where I go to school. I know I would go downtown to the Planned Parenthood Clinic. I do not what would happen. I do not know what abortion procedures are offered, or how an abortion works. I do not know if I would need recovery time, or if I would be ok right away, or if I would need a few days of rest, and excuses to explain where I was. I do know I would go with one or two of my best friends, if I found the courage to ask them. I would hope there would not be any protestors outside of the clinic. I do not know how I would pay for it. I know I would never tell my parents. But here, in Europe? I have no idea. I do not know where abortions are offered, what the laws around abortions are here, if I could get one as a foreigner. This is never talked about in the on-site handbook or during study-abroad orientation. I do not know if my health plan would cover it. I do not know how much it would cost. I do not know who would help me. I would be lost.

When you are abroad, how do you ask someone to help you get an abortion? Who do you go to? I struggle to imagine who I would trust to support me at home. I can think of only a few people. Abroad, no one.

I do not know what my friends here think of abortion. I do not know if they are supportive of reproductive choice, and if they are, if they are supportive not just in theory but also in practice. I do not know if they would actually help me navigate the confusing web of abortion.

I have a site director here, whose job it is to help and support students while they are abroad. But she works for a Catholic university, and I do not know her personal position on abortion. Even if she were supportive, even if I could ask, I do not know if she knows how to access an abortion here.

I would never ask my host family. I cannot imagine how they would react, what they would say. I do not think they would, or could, help me.

I do not know if I could ask another student here, a student who is from here and lives here. I do not know how they would react or what people think of abortions here.

I would have to look online. I do not know what I would find. I do not know if it would help.

Even if I found the proper care, I do not speak the language well enough to navigate my own care. I do not have the vocabulary to talk about abortion or my reproductive health needs. I have no way to care for myself when it comes to abortion and my body.

Perhaps this is extreme, but I think everyone should know how to get an abortion, wherever they are. Statistically, it makes sense. In the U.S. 49% of pregnancies are unintended, and 1 in 3 women in the US have had an abortion by age 45 (I could not find any statistics documenting how many trans* people have had abortions, but I would like to acknowledge that many trans* people have abortions as well and need access to reproductive care that includes abortions). Knowing where to go for an abortion, how to pay, what will happen before, during, and after the procedure-and which different procedures are available-is necessary.

I used to think of abortion as an issue distant from me. I advocated for reproductive justice from the perspective of preserving individuals’ bodily autonomy, but rarely did I think of the issue in relation to me and my own life. Now that I have begun to think of abortion as a personal issue, and as something that I may one day do, I realize we need so much more. It is not just the right to a legal, safe abortion that people need; people also need access and education. Without knowledge of how to get an abortion and access reproductive care, the right to an abortion hardly exists. Teaching about access to abortion and options for terminating pregnancy should be at the very least an optional part of sex education, and should be included in orientations for both university and study abroad programs. Without this knowledge, people seeking abortions or looking to have control over their reproductive care are left with much less power, and they are less likely to find the care they need when they need it. If we really believe in advocating for reproductive justice and the right to an abortion then we need to teach people how to get an abortion.

Tom Daley Is Not Gay, He’s Just in a Relationship with a Man

2 Dec

by Johan Clarke

Tom Daley recently came out via YouTube with the information that he is in a relationship with another man, surprising many and bringing pride to many different communities. In the wake of the Winter Olympics in a country with incredibly harsh anti-LGBT laws, the news that a well-known and well-respected athlete from the most recent Summer Olympics is queer provides awareness and visibility to a community that in the past has been erased. Stereotypes within the gay community are slowly coming down. More and more athletes are coming out as gay, giving pride and hope for young people who do not feel they fit into certain categories defined by our culture. One can play sports, be one of the team, and not have to be straight or pretend to be something they are not.

I find it remarkable that Tom Daley has found the courage to do something so brave and come out with his relationship with another man at this pivotal time. Coming out is still an incredibly difficult thing to do, and to do it in front of everyone in the world, to have everybody watch your every move, to judge you without having met you, takes incredible strength. I commend him for doing something so hard, yet so necessary. Daley is helping to change history for the better and creating a safer space for queer youths.

The media’s response, though, is not the most ideal. As I have written in previous articles, I do not like labeling, and I especially do not like labeling that erases other communities. Many of the articles that have come out this morning have titles with the word “gay” in it, yet in the video he posted, he never makes that claim. He says that he is in a relationship with another man and that he is comfortable and feels safe with him, but he does not say the words, “I am gay.” In fact, during the video, he claims, “I still fancy girls, but right now I’m dating a guy and I couldn’t be happier.”

This may seem like an unnecessary difference for some, but this is a prime example of bi erasure, something that has been going on for years. It’s fantastic that Daley has come out with his relationship, but it is not okay that the media has once again mislabeled someone. Daley has not defined his sexuality. He has stated that he is in a relationship with a man, but he has not come out as gay as several articles have claimed. He has not come out as bisexual either, so the media needs to stop saying that he has.

Mislabeling erases many different communities that struggle to have their voices heard. It makes it difficult for people who are unsure about their sexualities or who do not fit with “gay” or “straight” labels. It illegitimazes legitimate relationships and does not allow people to understand or accept themselves in ways they can. We need to stop enforcing labels on people or the great stride Daley made today in this announcement will do little in awareness for the overall queer communities.