2016 Presidential Election Soapboxing

Warning, this is a really long post and this is your only trigger warning because my life doesn’t give warnings and I usually don’t either. 

When I was little my parents would leave us at home (my eldest sister is a decade older than me and would kid sit us), go for a short walk and come back with stickers on their clothes that said, “I  voted.”  It was kind of cute to see them leave the house, hand in hand to go vote together.  It was once a fantasy of mine to do that with my husband.  It never happened.  The one time we did vote together, the kids sat with one of us in the car and we took turns.  My parents did this when we lived in East Hollywood.  I was little and their unhappy moments were far from divorce worthy.

In middle school, I ran for office and won.  It was a popularity contest.  I had a couple of friends that didn’t like my opponent and they wanted me to run against her because they thought I would win. I did.  I wasn’t qualified.  I didn’t even know what my job would be.  I wanted it because my friends thought it would be cool and I wanted to be cool for them.  I ran for it.  I won.  In the end, my opponent should have won.  She’s currently still amazingly beautiful, smart and successful.  I’d vote for her on anything she chose to run for.  I lost touch with the people I ran for.  I don’t even remember their names or who they were, but I still have a Facebook friendship with the woman I ran against. She was my Drill Team Captain and for a time was one of my best friends. Don’t do what they did. The person that should hold office should be most qualified. 

Years later I would turn 18 and get to vote for Bill Clinton.  That was a big deal because I liked him enough to say that I wanted him to lead the country for a second term.  He may not have been a man I would want in my life, but in spite of his moral shortcomings, he did right by our country.

I didn’t always make voting a priority.  As a stay at home mom, I was often sleep walking while covered in kid vomit.  Getting out to vote was just another thing to add to my list and it wasn’t a moment of pride or joy.  As a couple, the only time we voted together was for Obama’s first term.  We didn’t vote for his second term.  The last time I meant to vote, I had work duties and mom duties and there wasn’t enough time in my day. As shameful as that is, it really just speaks to my mindset about life in general.  This election, I’m voting tonight by absentee ballot, so nothing can come in the way of my civic duty and the voting joy I feel right now.  It wasn’t a priority for my ex either.  His sample ballot arrived at my house a few days ago.

This election matters.  All of them do, but this one has elicited a visceral response so strong that I am choosing to not remain silent.  Normally I keep quiet.  I feel that so many people have fought for the right to vote that it’s not my place to influence individual decisions.  It’s also backlash from the times my Dad handed me his Sample Ballot that he filled out for me.  I won’t say that Hillary Clinton speaks for me on all issues, but that’s because she isn’t me.  And no, I wouldn’t want to be her.  She is a better person than me for walking through her husband’s infidelity, taking him back and owning responsibility for his actions so she can command the office that she’s worked so hard for.  Her vision more closely aligns with mine than Trump’s does.  Even if my Dad believes she is the Antichrist. Seriously. Trump . . . Well, he’s a special snowflake and I want to address his stance on certain things and how they apply to my experience of the laps I’ve taken around the sun.

I actually listened to one of his speeches in its entirety a few months ago, and I could see his allure to others.  The last time I tried to listen, I couldn’t stop laughing.  That’s a problem because I know better.  You can’t get angry or make fun of the ignorant, but you can pity them. He’s a bigot that isn’t aware that he’s racist.  He appeals to those that see Hillary Clinton as far from religiously grounded because she believes a woman has a right to control her reproductive decisions.  He appeals to the Veterans that have fought for our country, though he does it in a placating, superficial way.

It’s not enough to say Donald Trump is sexist because there are enough people doing that for us.  Here’s one.  I’m not even going to go into all of the issues.  It seems unnecessary . . .  overkill.  What can I say?  He makes it easy.

My Body

My Mom had three daughters and miscarried twin boys sometime before me.  I gave her varicose veins and thyroid problems. She was done and I don’t blame her.  She’s since expanded her family through adoption. When I was born, she wanted to have her tubes tied.  My Dad didn’t consent and the doctor wouldn’t perform the procedure.  My Mom wasn’t able to make a medical decision about her own body because it was 1978.  I’ll never understand what makes a man think he has some form of entitlement over a woman’s body.  Even if he is my Dad.

Today, I watched a friend’s video where she spoke about the 8 boys that cornered her and put their hands all over her body.  I’m starting to think that is some sort of rite of passage.  In the 8th grade, I had to walk to a quieter section of campus to get to my electricity electives class. I appreciated the class, and have used what I learned to swap out outlets in my home. I was the only girl in the class, and on a daily basis, boys would slap my ass, or grab my body, uninvited, as if I was theirs to own and touch.  I complained to the teacher.  In a perfect example of male ineptitude, he shrugged his shoulders and told me, “boys will be boys.”  I wrote, “Yessie’s butt” on the bottom of my gym shirt, covering my butt in an attempt to own my body (no irony intended) and adopted the attitude that owning what they were doing to me was what I wanted, taking away their power and the allure of a sexual assault.  Saying I wanted what they were doing was what made it stop. Sexual aggression isn’t about arousal, but about power. I complained to teachers and faculty and it wasn’t until the end of the semester that I changed classes.  The boys were never punished.

I have serious “What the fuck?” moments when I think about the fact that there’s a man running for president that thinks it’s okay to grab a woman . . . To demean her because he has some sort of right and authority over the way she looks . . . And people want to award this behavior because they are afraid of a woman that is great at being a politician in the way we would expect any man to be.  I have friends that think this is okay.  Seriously.  Line up her offenses and see where men in her position have gone wrong and you’ll see she’s vilified because of her gender, and not held to the same standard because she is lacking a penis. For Trump to get away with his admitted behavior after how I and many others treated Bill Cosby shows me that race is still a huge issue for our masses.

I grew up being told to never travel alone, or go to bathrooms alone because it’s safer to travel in numbers because being a woman means we should always be in fear because we are always vulnerable.  I learned that when I’m catcalled or approached on the street, it’s less likely to turn scary if I smile and give the attention they’re after. It has shadowed my interactions.  I often tell men that I think they’re beautiful, but that usually doesn’t mean I want them.  It’s a way to own unsolicited assessments of my looks.  If I do it back, it’s not invading my sense of self with what I’m interpreted as.

I’m used to a friendly hello,

being whistled at,

catcalled,

asked why I’m not smiling,

having a tongue stuck out at me suggestively,

having my ass slapped when walking in close spaces with groups of men,

walking the long way to avoid quiet streets,

thinking of personal safety when planning a night, or day,

letting someone know where I’m going and who I’m with when on a date,

telling someone when I’m heading home because I might not make it home,

not trusting a drink if I didn’t see it poured,

being followed down the street, 

not drinking enough to relax if I’m not with people I know or trust,

unsolicited dick pics when online dating.

With my boys, I hope to raise them in such a way that they know they are responsible for the sexual culture they live in.  We all affect each other.  We’re all responsible. 

We don’t need to elect a president that normalizes sexual aggression as locker room banter.  I know too many really great men that respect women and themselves too much to act on an impulse.  I don’t attack the cute men running past me.  And I don’t expect a medal for my self control either.

Digging deeper, I considered a late term abortion with my youngest child.  I was deeply depressed.  It wasn’t the depression where you tell people you want to kill yourself.  It wasn’t a cry for help.  Many late nights were spent sitting on the floor with a handful of pills next to the bed where my ex and our older two were sleeping and preparing to kill myself without a note.  I was crying silently and scribbling in a journal. It was in those moments that my son would kick me and remind me that he was there and wanted to live.

I grew up in a Christian household.  I personally view life as starting from the moment the sperm meets the egg. There are so many things that can stop that from happening and anything I can do to help it along should be done.  How amazing to step into the face of a miracle and take part in it.  I’ve always felt this way, but for a time, I couldn’t see how I could be what I needed to be.  Being born is the most difficult thing any human could ever do.  Everything after that and your body naturally fights to survive.  Anything after that comes to the negotiation of our choices from moment to moment.

My family couldn’t understand why I would have a third child when I had two with autism already and couldn’t afford the children we had.  I couldn’t get emotional support from my ex. I kept pushing back survey ultrasounds so I could schedule them where he could find out the sex with me until my doctor said I would miss the window of time to get the clearest picture of my son’s health.  I can’t tell you how many times I cried in my obstetrician’s office, going over the literature for an abortion because I couldn’t see a way out of the loneliness of being a single parent while with my ex.  I stuck it out for the kid that kept kicking me when I was down.  He is the reason why I’m hyper aware of how I’m doing now.  I will never slip into that kind of sorrow again without seeking help.  But I almost aborted him.  I didn’t.  I got to snuggle with him all morning.

I made choices with my body.  I wasn’t just pregnant.  My body changed before I knew the seven children I carried were part of me.  I had tender breasts, a constant need to run to the bathroom with a full bladder, heartburn and exhaustion.  I cried because I was happy or sad or because I didn’t know how I felt. I was sensitive to smells and was constantly working my abdominal muscles by dry heaving. I avoided pain meds, coffee, alcohol, rare meats, deli foods, chocolate, green tea and any other thing that could harm each child I carried.  My body shifted and grew.  I learned what stress incontinence is.  I pushed a person out of my body, leaving slackened muscles and stretch marks in their wake.  A pregnant woman isn’t just pregnant.  She is a bringer of life and sacrifice.  I chose this for myself, but it’s ridiculous to believe I have the right to make that choice for any other human.  It’s insane to think a man would be able to make this decision for women he has never met.

Who I am

I come from an international family.  Right now, my Thai/Burmese mom is in Thailand with my caucasian/Okie step-dad.  My Dad is a mixed concoction of African American.  My siblings through adoption are Vietnamese, Mexican and African American.  It’s not enough to say we are okay with other races because we’re Facebook friends, or we’ve been together at work or a barbecue.

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I wish I could remember which book this came from but there are some amazing bits of wisdom in literature. 

Gandhi once said, “If you really wish to overcome your pain, find a young [Muslim] boy, just as young as your son . . . whose parents have been killed by Hindu mobs. Bring up that boy like you would your own son, but bring him up in the Muslim faith to which he was born. Only then will you find that you can heal your pain, your anger, and your longing for retribution.”

Profound, right?

It’s not enough to claim connection in superficiality.  We must learn to appreciate other cultures from their perspective and not your interpretation of their experience from the distance that we’re accustomed to.  

I’m a native from L.A.  It’s normal to live next to a neighbor for several months but never notice him until you start dating people and you notice him because you start looking at others as potential dates. You realize that the guy next door showers at the same time most evenings and after his first noticed shower, a nice neighbor might suggest he should invest in curtains.  (No, I’m not a nice neighbor.) 

A long time ago we were called a country that was a melting pot, and then we became a bouillabaisse.  I have no idea what we are now, but I know without the unique amazing attributes we carry as individuals, we’d be lacking so much as a whole.  (And it’s not just my obsession with white boys that have no idea how amazing they are or globally sourced food joy.)

When Trump says something offensive, like making all Muslims responsible for the actions of a few . . .  I could name some of the things my ex did, compare them to Trump and clump all men into a category, but that would rob me of the fan girl moments I’ve had with my latest really tall glass of water.  I would be robbing myself of some amazing fantasies and epic geek outs. My post the other day was ignited from comments Trump has made about “the blacks” or calling himself “a negotiator like you guys.”  He doesn’t see how his diction distances himself from the black and Jewish community or anyone else that he can’t see as a contemporary. I don’t need to hammer out all of his shortcomings in this arena either.  You can go here for a fun little snippet. There are so many more links I could share with you, but I get to vote tonight, and it’s not just for the next President of the United States.  I have other issues I get to learn about.

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Dehumanizing Rhetoric

What we internalize often comes out in unguarded moments.  When attacked or attacking, there is little thought and much instinctive regurgitation of whatever vitriol we’ve allowed to brew and become part of who we are.  In moments when we are driven by a feeling and less thought, what comes out is what is already inside.  I’m not writing about a reaction that is less thoughtful response and more instinct.  I’m writing about the intentional distance used to negate a deeper connection we might otherwise reach.  This is about creating negative and superficial spaces. I’ve been good at dehumanizing men and distancing them for my needs but I’m adaptable and I’m shifting.

Boys

Most of the men I’ve dated are referred to as boys.  It’s not about them, but me.  I realized it when I was talking about someone I saw as a man for the first time.  He was more than a decade younger than me.  I entertained the idea of dating him long enough to decide I couldn’t be a cougar, but I was talking about him as a man.  I dated men older than him and they were all boys, but this (younger than me) man was someone I saw as a man.

I started dating in May and in the embrace of my shallow frivolity  they were all beautiful.  They all have been able to take care of themselves.  They were all easily physically stronger than I am. They’ve all been old enough to buy their own booze and vote on election day.  They are grown men, but I called them all boys.

If he’s a boy, I can distance myself from the idea of a serious commitment, which I did.  I only considered a serious relationship a few weeks ago but it wasn’t with anyone in particular. I couldn’t imagine anything more than meaningless dates.  Recently I imagined waking up next to someone, and stumbling into the kitchen to worship steaming cups of coffee together.  I had a moment of picturing meal prep together.  I was chopping through vegetables while he was hovering over the stove and we kept bumping into each other with laughter between us, then helping each other wash our hands in warm sudsy water.  I imagined hiking together and spending time at the beach together for a sunset.  I imagined the crackle and smell of a beach side fire.  I imagined doing all of the things that make me happy alone, but I imagined having company and help.  That was a big deal for me.

After that day, I started referring to men as men because I don’t need to negate the idea of a future anymore.  I can see it and I can almost feel it.

The Ex

I spent a really long time living with, creating little people with and loving one person.  I was a faithful wife, so when I fell in love with him in 2000, I thought that was it.  It was a huge deal to have a crush in January of this year because it was the first one since I met the man I once promised my forever to.  We’re still legally married, and yet, I call him “the ex.”  He’s not even my ex.  He doesn’t get a name or a description here.  At first it was about fear.  My marriage falling apart could have destroyed me and for a while I couldn’t see survival outside of existing for my kids.  I had to get through each day for them.  I started living for me at some point and I love my life now.  I love who I am now.

I started calling him the Ex as a buffer of protection.  He’ll stay “the Ex” for the sake of his privacy on my blog, but in interactions with others I call him by name.  I no longer fear what he can do.

This doesn’t mean there’s space for love.  That died a long time ago. I pity him and the distance in diction is no longer necessary.  It’s like standing tall to tell you I’m a woman.  It’s who I am and I don’t need to announce it because it’s in everything I do. I don’t love him.  I don’t fear him.  He’s the father of my kids and I can accept that they are thriving in both homes.  I can easily move on with my life because of that.

Fear

I choose to come from a place that isn’t based in fear.  There’s effort involved.  When what we are looking at is unknown, in fear we act out aggressively.  We attack so we aren’t hurt.  We create walls of protection and find ways to alienate or other what we don’t know.  We use words like, “the” to give us distance.

 

Trans Nerdy Podcast

I’m not a podcast listener.  Not really.  I have a friend.  This is her thing.  I say “her” but she identifies as gender fluid and while she was born a cisgendered male, she has now gone above and beyond in a transformation I am inspired by.  Everything she has internalized as her desire to be has become an external expression of who she is. From losing weight, to reassigning her physical gender, to days when she balances where she fits and how she straddles genders.  It’s hard enough to be a woman with people telling you how you should look or present yourself, and what beauty means.  Any magazine would show you we’re all doing it wrong.  She’s both, and she takes the good with the bad, learning with excitement and aplomb.  She sees limits but they aren’t her limitations.  I admire her and her podcast is my only subscription on iTunes or anywhere.

This friend has done more than I would.  I see her and call her my sister because when I see her, she is more like me than a man.  I identify with her probably more than she identifies with me. She has moments where she is very male, as do I.  I mean, when we’re walking down the street and I stop her to say, “look at him! He’s beautiful.” I’m being the more sexually aggressive one, which is traditionally a male characteristic.  This is especially the case when I vocalize my more intimate fantasies. Then I try not to enjoy her discomfort and feel a bit of shame because I’ve made her uncomfortable. When she takes her time texting back, she’s definitely being more male.  It doesn’t bother me. It’s who she is.  And that’s the point of a text or email, right? You get to it when you feel like it. I think she sees the distinction as more physical but I don’t see her that way.  I see her as a beautiful person full of light and raw with emotions most of the time.  Her jawline is solid and I can imagine what she would look like if I could only see her as a man.  He is beautiful and if I could only see his face the only barrier for me would be the age gap.

The podcast itself is well researched with enough personal influence to express so much more than I’d ever get from a news article on the same topics she explores. She talks about issues in the LGBTQ community and it’s stretched my perception in so many ways.

Just this morning I listened to Episode #8, Transgender and Acting.  She brought up so much about issues I never considered, but the more I listen to her, I can see how the LGBTQ community shares so much with the Special Needs Community.  There was a moment when she explained how an actor could portray Superman but never fully appreciate what life as an alien is really like. My explanation of the ways my boys are othered by their autism usually involves Superman.  He’s different.  He’s othered.  He has extrasensory perception, similar to my autistic sons (hearing and seeing more than I ever could) and yet I would never call him disabled.  Both LGBTQ and Autism are characterized in ways the rest of the world can understand although each person is unique and grouped under an umbrella.  The umbrella is for others to understand what the people under the umbrella get to live.  I’m so excited that I get to keep learning and stretching because of her.  Give her a listen and she’ll give you a lesson.  I promise, it’ll be good.

Street Harassment

Growing up female, street harassment is just something you live with.  I have a beautiful trans-gendered friend and she had a recent experience that isn’t mine to share.  My first thought was to blow it off as what happens, but something she said on a late night stroll along the Santa Monica pier Saturday resonated tonight.

We’re so used to holding our secrets as close as we can.  We worry that it’ll get out and be exposed.  We might get teased or attacked for what we do or think or feel.  We keep our secrets close and quiet, muffling all resonance in cloistered secrecy for our protection.  Being trans literally took all of her closely held secrets and put them outside of her body.  She chose to take all of her fears and put them before her, exposed and exposing the most beautiful and vulnerable parts of who she is for friends, family, and fearful haters alike.  I adore her for who she is and who she always shows up as to me. She’s a radiant beauty and I admire her strength and courage, and she gives epic hugs. (We’re not dating.  It’s the boobs.  I don’t do boobs.  Also, I really don’t date younger people. There have been two exceptions. One has so much special in him I would have regretted passing up on our time together and I married the other.)

Street harassment is so pervasive that it’s become an insignificant blip on the radar of my life because it’s a secret of womanhood.  If I talk about it, I’ll be criticized for my jaunts on the town alone.  If I talk about it, I’ll be questioned for what I was wearing as if my Retro Vintage Ruby Woo lipstick is asking for anything other than to make my lips blood red. If we talk about it, it grows a face that looks like blame and we won’t place the responsibility of the action on the shoulders of the aggressor.  He’s a nameless child that means no harm.  We’ll find help.  Even if he proves to be a rapist, his family loves and trusts that he’ll make good choices if we give him another chance. If we say he is just having fun, and it’s harmless, we ignore the many women that are so openly victimized by street harassment that they are afraid to go out alone. Street harassment tells the attacked person that she or he doesn’t have a right to be outside of their home and enjoy freedoms that stray dogs do.  We never know when a comment might become an attack of aggression.  It’s power and dominance. It wasn’t long ago a woman was killed because she exercised her right to reject a man.  That is a reality that sits in our minds from the time we were little and told we needed a buddy system for our safety in public bathrooms. 

Street harassment doesn’t even require a sexualized adult body.  My first experience was more than harassment, but it was my first exposure.  Literally.  I was in elementary school, possibly the 3rd or 4th grade.  I was allowed to walk to and from school as it was only a couple of blocks on a busy street.  A man pulled up next to me in a red car, asking for directions while stroking an erect and exposed penis.

Growing up, I got used to men catcalling me.  I hear lots of complaints about men asking women to smile, but I usually do smile and it has never been my problem.  I understand the frustration.  Being a woman on the street does not offer strangers entitlement to how I walk down the street, whether smiling, or angry, strutting, or trying my best to pretend I don’t exist and can blend in with the cracks in the sidewalk.

More than once, I’ve noticed a camera phone pointed at me as I go about my day, walking, or shopping, or sitting with gelato at a bistro table. My nephew was shocked and pointed out he would attack a creeper taking pictures of him. This is my normal when I’m alone because we need to do better by our sons, nephews and brothers. 

I’m used to men smiling at me, and slowing down or pulling over as I walk and they drive.  I’m used to friendly smiles and creepy ones. I’ve watched men looking at me while using their hands to air stroke an imaginary phallus.  I’m used to everything from a sweet hello, to “I’d hit that.” I never know what it’ll be and I’m a little nervous to find out sometimes. Time has taught me to put on a brave face, smile and make eye contact.  It’s less likely to turn ugly if you show kindness. Also, it’s why I’m at Santa Monica Beach so often.  I prefer quieter beaches but the police presence is huge and comforting.

I get the power aspect of it.  I work out my own aggression when the windows are down and I see a beautiful man running, and I loudly say, “thank you,” while quietly saying ,”for all you are doing for me right now.” I’ve been called out on it and shamed enough that it’s been a while and I felt true remorse for my actions. I don’t do it in front of my boys, but I have done it and it was always about power.  Now it’s about shame.

When I Don’t Say “I’m Sorry”

As a woman, it’s easy to apologize for things we’re not even responsible for. It’s a gift of femininity when we are taught to not make waves and make others comfortable.  It’s a gift without a receipt.  We can’t take it back and we don’t know what it’s valued at, but we wouldn’t mind taking it back to the store for something else.

We apologize for someone’s loss. We apologize when someone walks into us.  We apologize to the person we want to get around when they are standing in the middle of a grocery store aisle with their cart blocking both directions. Take the same person and stick them in a car that is slightly more dent proof than we are and you might get road rage. We give meaningless apologies for the space we take or step into.  I’m sorry for being too close to your pain to offer real comfort.  I’m sorry for the space I was taking when you forgot to look where you were going.

I’m sorry you didn’t like what I did or felt or thought.  I’m consistently sorry for hurting others or making them uncomfortable.  When I’m not, I take a careful look at my motives and I’m often trying to be dominant in a powerless situation. The guilt is often a heavy burden I accept willingly.  What I try not to apologize for is the life I am trying to live.  The idea of holding back who I am for someone else’s comfort hurts.  I wish it didn’t, but that is what my scar tissue feels like.  It’s pain when I am asked to be someone I don’t want to be.  It hurts the most when I can see I’m trying to be less because the request comes from someone I want to mean more than I do. My apologies come with careful consideration and weigh heavier than they used to.

There are times when I don’t say sorry.  There were times when I justified and defended my choices.  There were times when I made excuses but I didn’t experience contrition.  Or I wouldn’t admit to being apologetic.  Usually this happens when my shame is such a bright and heavy jacket that I throw out excuses and justifications to offset the weight of what I carry.

Other times I feel there isn’t a fault in what happened.  It is what we’ve made it and I accept it for what it is and what it feels like and how it shapes itself around us.  A love of books . . . Shameless adoration . . . Fighting for what I believe in . . . These are things that aren’t about shame but a willingness to stand in all I am capable of being and doing.  An apology says I’m willing to be less of who I am so you can be more and I’m not willing to do that.  Not anymore.  Not for anyone else.

I make mistakes all of the time.  I have doses of regret fall heavily when I don’t expect it to. I hurt feelings and mine are hurt but I accept what lands as the cost of transparency because there is deep connection in letting others see and letting others in.  Connection feels good.

I tell my sons they can tell me how they feel, and it can include yelling as long as it’s not an attempt to wound me.  They can tell me they’re mad at me.  They can tell me they don’t agree with me or they can point out when I am wrong.  Just this weekend I was freaking out a bit when looking for my keys.  I insisted the boys should help me find my keys that I lost . . . On my bed where I thought I had left them.  I told them they should laugh at me, and they did.  And I laughed with them because it was silly of me to freak out when I should have looked more diligently in the first place.

There are alternatives to “I’m sorry,” and there are ways to submit without being submissive.  I feel it’s about the balance of accepting you were wrong, finding out how to correct it, and moving on, without the burden of your guilt confining you into stagnation.

Being a Woman

I remember my first women’s history class, and the many books I read to discover what the patriarchy was so I could smash it.  I wore blinders so I couldn’t see it in my life because that distance was a safe one to keep.  I saw it in make up and it gave me an excuse to not wear any because it was feminism and not being lazy (which is what it often felt like).  It was fighting against a man that would hit a woman, and not the one that alienated her from her friends and denied her permission to have her own checking account.  It was pointing out that high heels made a woman look like she was always ready for rear entry and claiming empowerment in knowing this when I walked in them.  It was hating on Hello Kitty because she was created with a large brain, tiny body and without a mouth to speak.  But it wasn’t the ways I let motherhood define me, rather than deciding what motherhood meant to me.

In recent weeks, I’ve gotten to know a beautiful transgendered woman with a more fluid gender identity than I’m used to.  I was given my name, and the nickname “Yessie” before I could speak.  She chose to go by Jessie before we met and that makes her super special.  Our friendship was one of those things decided before we met. We hang out because she’s sweet and caring and smart.  She has a geeky flair that soothes those itchy parts in myself and we get along really well in spite of the fact that I could probably be her teenage mom.  By being the bright and amazing person she is, and without ever saying a word, she has been pushing my idea of what a woman is.  She can dish on gender studies and you should listen here. If you’re looking for an actress, producer or editor, check out her amazing here.

It made me take a look at Caitlyn Jenner and what it means to be him/her/them.  I won’t pretend to know where they stand on their gender so using fluid language will serve my laziness in researching who they are right now. The identity they have chosen calls out the idea of what a transgendered woman is supposed to be.  I don’t actually watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race, but the idea of a transgendered woman always meant to me that she had a fit body, perfect makeup and outlandish style.  She could dance in 8-inch heels when I can barely walk in them.  Clearly I’m writing about it because I recognize the parts where I’m wrong.

What does it mean to be a transgendered woman?

Is she supposed to look more beautiful than your average woman? Is she supposed to look like a man on most days because that was what she was born as? Could she choose what gender she expresses herself as on any given day?  I learned from my new friend that being transgendered is much like being autistic.  It places you on a spectrum where you can fall under an umbrella because those that don’t understand it need to quantify and qualify what someone else’s life means.  I do that and I’m examining it so I can stop, because it’s not okay.

In terms of race, it’s like saying, “Racism means . . . and when white people say . . . ” without ever looking in the mirror because that moment when you identify another race . . . Yeah, have you met that kettle yet?

Uh, oh, no she didn’t . . . Yeah. I did.  Was it good for you, too?

When I was enjoying my friend’s company yesterday, I asked her a question I would normally never ask another woman. Do you ever wear make up? It was a question I brought up because some days putting on layers of glitter and gloss make me insanely happy.  After the words left me, and I settled into my drive to my next destination, I thought about what I asked. As a feminist, you don’t need to wear make up.  Alicia Keyes made the news because she chose to go out without a full face of spackle and I applauded her.  It’s her face.  But being a woman that was once a man somehow placed in my mind a need to make up for something that was lacking in femininity.  You would think that lacking a penis, having boobs, and owning an identity that she chose is enough to hand over my girl card, but then there I go again, assuming we would even carry a girl card to be who we are.

Yikes.  I’m that person.

On most days, I’m still working out what it is to be a woman.  At what point is wearing a dress about what I want, and not what my experiences with seduction have made it? When it comes to being the Mrs. Cleaver I once thought I was supposed to be, how did it become okay to let the girl I was die in favor of a person I had imagined and could never live up to because she wasn’t real?

When it comes to being a woman, and ideals of femininity, is it about makeup or nails? What about hair and clothes?  I generally don’t exercise, and decided a short while after my first pregnancy that yoga pants and sweats were a gateway drug to not wanting to brush my hair or teeth.  It was a way to hide from the world by wearing something I found completely unattractive.

This weekend when hiking with my beautiful friend (okay, so it was a short walk) I admired her strength and beauty and she was this powerful woman in yoga pants, hiking with her 3 year old son on her back.  I admired her for it and bought a first pair (or 3) of yoga pants for the first time since I swore I would only exercise if it looked like fun about 4 years ago.  I’m not planning a marathon or anything that looks more sweaty than fun, but I’m planning outdoor adventures once fall settles in and temperatures dip just enough to not need shorts for survival.

Right now I’m lounging in yoga pants, and no makeup and wearing my glasses and diamonds because I want to.  I think that’s what a woman is really about.  It’s not what magazines sell.  It’s not about sexualizing your existence.  I’m a firm believer that male attraction is easily persuaded by your confidence, interest and willingness to play rather than how sexy you look.  Boys can be easy in terms of attraction. On the other hand, my confidence is intimidating to most men and I think I like it that way.

When I was working on my BA, I had my first quarter as an English major and a baby to deliver in the middle of it.  I had a husband that sometimes supported me in school but more often gave me the reasons why he didn’t.  Each quarter presented a new challenge but that is how life works. Nothing you need badly is ever too easy to be considered work. I was heading to a luncheon where I was honored as a scholarship recipient when I found out my grandmother had a stroke.  We drove to Houston, drove home, then I forced through finals and flew back out to get to her funeral. I had cars die, child care that fell through at the last minute, the last surrogacy put my last quarter on hold for a year.  It wasn’t easy.  It was something I wanted to do and even when I was working on no sleep, making my family happy and being the best student I was capable of, I couldn’t complain because there were too many excuses offered for why I couldn’t do it.  It was a time when I learned that you do what you choose to at any cost, and as a woman, if you complain, others will find reasons why you couldn’t do it to begin with.  I learned that as women, we suffer in silence so we can accomplish what we want and make it look easy.

Being a woman isn’t about being able to have a baby. I’ve carried babies for women that were beautiful and powerful.  They were gentle and caring and in nurturing me, clearly everything a mom should be.

Being a woman isn’t about wearing makeup and having perfect hair.  I still can’t work a curling iron.  It’s not in my wheelhouse and that’s okay.  I still have days where my makeup makes me look like I’m going for a raccoon or clown look and no amount of YouTube videos will make up for my lack of talent in this area.  If it’s not important for a woman, it’s not important for a transgendered woman either.

Being a woman is about the inner strength to face what life hands her and power through gracefully.  It’s about knowing that if the words you speak were a dress you wear, you’d be just as beautiful as you are with your elaborate or simplistic covering.  With your foul mouth or polite demeanor, it’s finding ways in which you are beautiful to yourself.  It’s not the size or shape of a body.

Being a woman is about loving and hating what you see in the mirror but finding ways to appreciate all you are because you recognize the gift that is life and the love you offer can hold someone else up and that feels good.

Being a woman is about loving and caring without reservations and doing what you can to create a better world because as nurturers, it’s part of who we are.  It’s also okay that some of us are incapable of nurturing and find our strength in being able to accept help and being cared for. It’s perfectly fine that some of us are fiercely independent and would wilt under someone’s protection and covering.

Being a woman is about deciding what is right for you, whether it’s marriage or children or a career and knowing that you are empowered by and through your choices.

Being a woman is about letting others live the existence they choose and supporting where you can because in the end, we know our sisterhood is a strength to rely on and not a wall to tear down.

Being a woman is about building up what we can and helping others reach their full potential while balancing our power with our influence so others feel this accomplishment was their own.  (I feel this one is often a subconscious act of mothering and I’m working on being more mindful of it because I don’t have to be everyone’s Momma.)

Pride

img_0885I don’t think of pride often. Not specifically.  Last night that envelope was pushed and so here I am, exploring meanings and pushing them into shape.

First I should say I grew up in a Christian household.  My parents tried really hard to instill in us the fear of a wrathful God.  Getting tattoos and being gay will send us to hell. I’m tatted up.  I want more ink one day.  I decided loving gay people was better than being hateful.  I believe you get out of your faith what you put into it, and it’s important to see what faith means to you, and not what others tell you it means.  The United States was based on a separation of church and state, and I’m still working out a separation of church and my parents.  I’ll have to let you know how it goes once I get there.

Before hitting Junior High, I had a huge crush on one of my sister’s friends, only to see him grow into a drool worthy specimen of masculinity that likes other boys.  It can be hard to be aware of what sex for him would look like and still be attracted to him, but I manage. He loves his body as much as I do and I appreciate his work outs and selfie moments.  Yes, I still see Crossfit as God’s gift to me.

When I was in high school, I had a few really great guy friends that would sit and talk about cute boys with me because they liked the same boys that I did.  These men grew up to have stories about the first time they got their asses handed to them for loving someone of the same sex, or being far more feminine than I am.  It wasn’t a big part of who we were together but I know their existence was full of more heartache, grace and empowerment than I have ever known and their ability to walk in love is a strength deserving of admiration. Around this time I used to joke and say, “that’s gay, but not like jailhouse raping gay . . . you know, plan your wedding gay.  The good gay.” (No, I’m not proud of that.)  I didn’t understand then how offensive I was being.  There’s no good or bad gay.  There is a mix of pain and sorrow and grace and beauty and my ignorance in a time when “gay” was being used as an insult only normalized those that were behaving badly in “innocent” hetero fun by othering my friends.  We were laughing at the expense of those who have to fight family and friends to love and be who they feel comfortable being.

I have a confession to make.  When my sister came out of her closet, I must have been in high school or just out of it.  (My old kicks in and the years blur at times.)  I had to really look at what that meant to me, because I was under the false impression that who she loved had something to do with me.  I went through the shock that looked like disgust.  I thought silly things: was she getting off in giving me a bath when I was a kid?  Never mind the fact that she is my sister, and we’re talking lesbian love, and not incest.  At the end of the day, and after I saw her go through lesbian and gender normative relationships, I realised all I wanted for my sister was for her to be loved like a coffee mug.

I later went through my own curious phase.  It lasted long enough to know I don’t like kissing girls because they are too soft.  As exciting as porn might have looked, because boobs are awesome, I like mine enough to not want to touch anyone else’s.  Then breastfeeding happened and touching them can be annoying instead of arousing.

I have a cousin that came to the states from Thailand when he was in middle school or high school.  (Again with blurring years.) As normal as it is to see Thai Lady boys, he is the only transgendered, gay person on that side of my family.  He’s fiercely beautiful and still othered for who he is.  It’s not normal in our family and while he’s loved beyond words by his brother, he’s also teased by that same brother.  He’s still beautiful and fierce, and brave to me.  He will help me with my makeup, dance in 8 inch heels, tell me I deserve better, and still cut a bitch for looking at him wrong.  He’s diva and beautiful and I love him madly.

When my boys were little, they each went through a nail polish phase.  I didn’t mind and indulged in it.  Their Dad was angry about that, but how he feels is no longer my problem. I tell my boys I will always love them, no matter who they love. All I want is for them to be happy and know love. Male or female, I want my sons to be loved deeply and treated well.

For the LGBT community, pride isn’t frivolous or silly.  It’s not just rainbows and unicorns.  It’s what survivors have when they didn’t have someone to pave the way for them. As a black woman, I have in my bloodline a heritage that knows oppression and struggle.  My bloodline knows segregation and living in fear, but I don’t.  I know emotional and financial abuse.  Having full control of my own finances is so liberating. I’ve never lived in fear that I might not survive the night because of my looks or how I walk and talk, or who I love. Even my parents, a black man and Thai woman knew oppression for being a mixed couple that I didn’t, having married a white man.  I’ve never lived through being called names and being attacked and accepting that this was normal.  I don’t mean when I was teased in elementary school.  For a while when I was in the second grade, I was teased and called slave girl and told to go back to Africa. I changed schools and went to a school with fewer hispanic kids and more black kids but I didn’t have the same hair and I didn’t talk the way they did, so my best friends had fair skin and hair textured closer to mine, but several shades lighter.  Schools changed again and I was teased for having liver lips, and Chewbacca hair.  But I didn’t have to live in fear.  Not really.

Last night I was back to school shopping with Kid2 and Kid3.  Kid2 wanted a pair of Pride sunglasses from Target.  I had no problem with it.  I probably wouldn’t have bothered with an explanation but their aunt was with us and started to explain what it’s about.  She told them that Pride means accepting the fact that people can love whomever they love and we are going to be okay with that.  It’s a great explanation for my 13 year old autistic child and my 9 year old, but then I remembered they’re my boys, and there’s a deeper meaning they should understand.

My explanation started in the store but finished on the way home and sounded more like:

You know your Auntie that dates women? And my cousin that dresses like a woman sometimes and dates men?  Pride means they can do this and we support them.  Some people don’t like that and wearing something that says you’re proud means you are okay with standing up for something that might get you hurt because people that don’t like things tend to make their opinions known in unfriendly ways.  You know I’ll love you no matter who you love, but what you may not know is that not everyone is as accepting of that as I am.

I walked away from our car ride discussion realising it’s not enough to be able to have fun at a gay club.  I should be expressing my Pride.  I don’t walk through what it means to me enough to teach my boys what Pride means.  What I want them to know is that for some people, gender is a fluid idea that isn’t fully realized.  There are people that were born as boys but grow up to become women.  There are girls born who later become men, and the truly free present themselves as “they.”

I was born a woman.  I live as a woman. It is how I feel comfortable, and even then, I have moments when living in my skin itches and pulls and I want to peel away the layers of weight and disgust but I can’t.  It pulls uncomfortably like skin that has been burned and dried out by the heat of an unforgiving sun. My Pride is about accepting those that are comfortable in their skin, even if it means I am going to ruffle feathers and disgust people. It’s knowing what may not be accepted and knowing that what I know to be right is more important than being accepted. My Pride means I won’t flinch over which bathroom is being used.  As a Mom, I will always fear a bathroom that has my kids in it without an adult I know and trust. I won’t get angry at seeing two men kissing.  I won’t tell you how to live your life because frankly I’m still trying to figure out how to live mine.