Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Well, it's nearly December 31st and I'm saying a relieved "good bye" to 2010, to my 22nd year. (Yes, us Capricorns can handily mark our ages by the calendar year...but, I digress). Age twenty-two will be remembered as my most difficult so far, but not for the most obvious reasons. No, not because my college graduation has still not borne the fruit of full-time employment. No, not because I found myself moving back to my parents' house upon my supposed entry into adulthood. No...these are what my friend Evan calls "First World Problems" and, as such, I can at least find rueful humor in them. Honestly, in thirty years when I am finally established and employed (Please, Karma?), I will remember economic woes hardly at all. So then, why was 22 so painful that I will toast its departure? Because, dear reader, in thirty years I will still remember this as the age when I experienced "secondary traumatic stress."

It has taken me nearly the entire year to know that what I have been feeling is called "secondary traumatic stress." For most of the time I have just been bewildered as to why I find it so difficult to get out of bed every morning, why I'm always tired, why I've gained weight, why I have so drastically lost the ability to control my temper so that I end up screaming at my parents over the slightest irritation.

I tried to write off these symptoms as mere side effects of the job search, of frustration with the instability of my post college life, but this is not true. In fact, quite the opposite. This stress is the shit I brought home from college and St. Louis is where it really surfaced because St. Louis is a safe place for me. School was no longer safe because it was the place where everyone was questioning whether it all really happened, whether the events had even ever happened. When you are continually trying to prove your reality, there is little time to feel anything. But now I'm home, and I can step back and reread the newspaper article I wrote and all the emails I received afterwards and I can recall conversations...and I see the enormity of what was done and how we reacted and how it all felt.

And now that I can remember all of this, now that it is finally just that, a memory, now I know that what I have felt is secondary traumatic stress. STS is the phenomenon in which those close to a trauma react in a traumatized manner even though they were not the direct victim themselves. For a more technical definition, please google the term for some excellent journal articles. Suffice to say, STS is often explained as a less severe version of PTSD, which would explain why I cannot read an article or even view a TV clip on rape without feeling my breath become very shallow and my chest tense.

For the longest time I felt guilty for feeling so bad because these specific rapes did not happen to me. But, pretending I didn't feel so bad didn't make the feelings go away. It made it worse. I know now that whether or not I was raped, I have still been scarred. And, in order to heal, I must admit that I am in recovery.

True healing is being able to say what happened without reliving it. So now, in honor of healing in 2011, I want to say what happened in 2010:
Someone I was friends with was brutally raped and I wrote a newspaper article about how no one really did anything about it. She wanted us to write it so we did and we quoted hospital reports and police reports and recorded how insensitive and retrogade the police department still is and how brusque the emergency room nurses can be. And I read and wrote about blood and tearing and bruising and a hand over a mouth and a thumb clamped firmly around a neck. And then lots of women started writing and speaking stories and told me some of them, but many people kept saying it hadn't happened like that. He said/she said/gray area. Burden of proof. How could you kick him out of school and ruin his life like that? Yes, this was all really said. And the school brought in a lawyer to intimidate my editor, yes, really and restraining orders were broken and people said we were using "shock value" as if rape is not shocking in itself. A shock to the system, to our own small system, if not to the larger one that may be entirely based on rape to begin with, yes I said that. For me it became so obvious that I was living in a rape culture, so I am not sorry if that term makes you cringe or roll your eyes, because for me it feels so real.

2010 was the year it became so real. So, fuck you 2010. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. I turn away from you and raise a glass to 2011, propose a toast to learning to live happily--even amidst a "rape culture." Here's to facing trauma without absorbing it. Here's to continuing the fight and here's to knowing when to rest and how to laugh. Cheers. Namaste. L'Chaim.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I'm tired.

I'm tired of hearing new stories of women being raped. I apologize for that use of passive voice--instead, let's be very clear. I am tired of rapists raping. Raping people I know and care about, raping those my friends and family care about, those other people know and care for.

I'm glad to be someone my friends feel comfortable telling. I never, ever, want them to not tell me for fear I don't want to hear them. I want to be here to hear. I am here.

I wish, though, that there weren't two new stories to hear in this week alone. I don't want to be here. In this world, this is here. I don't like it here.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Allied hip hop poetry...a.k.a. some good ish

Let us return to the theme of the previous post about allies, largely because a discussion I had earlier tonight reminded me how fraught that term is. My male friend said to me, "I'm not an ally to feminists, I'm a feminist." Semantics aside, I respect this commitment and I accept it wholeheartedly. Despite my ongoing struggle with the term "ally," it is really important that I acknowledge that good work (and good art!) is being done for justice...and is being done by all kinds of people. Thus, I will now start an occasional blog feature called Awesome Male Feminists (AMFs). I'm excited that the first AMF will honor a hip hop figure because too many people characterize hip hop as inherently sexist without ever exploring the diversity of the genre. Yes, I do love hip hop. Could you tell? Ahem, now to the award.

First AMF: Saul Williams, hip hop poet extraordinaire.
Reason: His newly released song/poem "B.S. in a Tampon."

I wish I could link to this song, but I can't. Just know that it's the new lead song on my "Inspiring" playlist. "B.S." is on the new Believer Summer Music CD and it is also available from iTunes. I love this track because, as a broadly postcolonial thinker, I appreciate that Williams also thinks intersectionally. He clearly understands (and cares) that women's bodies are the playgrounds of imperialism:

"We have colonized the minds and bodies of women like British soldiers crammed into a tampon."

Yes, this is a gross image, but as such it is incredibly apt. We sometimes forget how gross sexism really is. Williams reminds us that patriarchy, like all imperialism, is physical, is the repression of bodies. Then, he ends with a punching, crescendoing chorus:

"Your world view is infertile, your seed is wasted on cement. Your world view is infertile, your seed. Is wasted. On cement."

Thanks, Mr. Williams. You have made me excited about poetry again.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Guidelines for "Nice Guys"

In any social justice movement, allies are seemingly our biggest necessity, but they are also often our most difficult relationships. It is not easy to occupy the position of "ally" and I sympathize with anyone who is seriously committed to a cause yet is finding it difficult to navigate their privileged position. That said, I must admit I do not always make it easy for men who are feminist allies. I often assume that they cannot possibly understand feminism without living life as a woman. Sometimes this is just me projecting my own insecurities, but often I am presented with proof that said men do not truly grasp the roots of my feminism, roots which are quite visceral and, I'm sorry to say, often based in physical fears.

Many straight men who say they want to "get it" really just seem to want to "get it" for the sole purpose of seeming sensitive enough that more women will want to date them. I grow frustrated with these self-declared "nice guys" who do not seem to have made much effort to learn about the realities of women's lives before trying to fit themselves into those lives. They seem just like the White people who declare themselves to be allies of non-White people yet expect every Black/Latino/Chinese person to explain to them what it is like to inhabit said identity. I wish such people would take advantage of the public library and read some books instead of expecting others to educate them for free. The library is free...but if I'm gonna work for you I'm expecting health insurance, you know what I mean?

All this aside, I've realized that some of what I want men to know may not be in the books they have read. I will give the benefit of the doubt to some men who have attempted to educate themselves and yet still don't know what I want from them. So, I have generously listed a few things I would like everyone who really means to be a "Nice Guy" to consider before he interacts with me...and especially before he decides to discuss feminism with me.

For me, a large part of being a woman is coming to terms with vulnerability to sexual assault. For example: in the past year, several of my female friends and acquaintances have confided to me about their rapes at the hands of fellow college students. Although I was not the victim, the brutal details of these rapes have lodged in my memories and my nightmares. I cannot shake the thoughts of the blood, the sadism, the blackouts, the insensitive police questions, the betrayals by supposed "friends." In addition, I am haunted by the stories other friends tell me of being molested as children, of being raped by boyfriends, husbands, and fathers.

None of these stories end with the trial or conviction of a rapist. Most of them were never officially reported. I know who some of these men are and, until recently, I had to inhabit the same tiny college campus with some of them. I know where criminals walk free, and every time I realize this, I feel almost unimaginable anger. I don't like the way this makes me feel. I try yoga and meditation and talking to trusted confidants, and still I remain so angry.

I find that my anger often manifests against all perceived "straight males." I know that this is unfair to people I do not know. Yet, nothing makes me angrier than a man imploring feminists to not "judge all guys." I see this plea from male commenters on feminist blogs and I even hear it from otherwise "nice guys" whom I engage in conversation. Yet, rarely do these men seem involved in anti-rape activities. I sense this is because those with a record of anti-rape activism need not worry about being harshly judged by most feminists. Their actions speak for themselves and so they need not declare themselves the "Nice Guys."

Thus, I suggest that all "Nice Guys" who really want to be friends to women (for our sakes and not just their own) assess their roles in the system of sexual violence. If a man wants me to trust him, he needs to have taken the time to know the basic reality that many women experience. I need to see him holding other men accountable when they perpetuate sexism. I would like to hear what books or periodicals he has been reading in order to learn more about experiences different from his own. I would like him to stop assuming that my attitudes on men come from a movement--that I have been "brainwashed." He should consider instead that my attitudes might have been shaped by a very real and scary reality which I encounter all too often.

Even after I explain all of this, I know the complainers will sometimes continue whine that I am holding them accountable for "other men." At this point, I observe that they really don't seem that different from those "other" men and, at that point, we usually stop talking. This is awesome because at that point I stop donating my intellectual resources to freeloaders. I tell them, "Hey, you know, I work in a bookstore, and if you want to come buy a book about feminism, I will sell it to you. That would be fine with me because I would finally be getting paid to educate you and I could justify the indignity as a drawback of the service profession." Strangely, they never seem to follow up on the offer.