:: untitled ::

By: H. D. 

I wanted to talk about a major issue I have with the gender neutral bathroom debate Re: men using the opportunity to assault women. I’m troubled by a lot of what I’ve been reading. I’m sorry for every single girl among us who has felt like her story wasn’t truly heard, and for anyone who feels they didn’t get a chance at justice.

So it is bizarre and frankly a little frustrating that when it comes to rape, THIS is the line people are drawing in the sand as “too much risk”, THIS is the one incredibly rare scenario where people are speaking out in protest and actually advocating for the potential victims. I noticed there’s a distinct and surprising lack of the usual doubt, scrutiny, victim blaming and rape apologies and after a lot of thought and reading, I came to a troubling theory why: Obviously first and probably foremost, it’s because this is an easy cover for people to justify their transphobia and if there’s anything that makes ignorant people uncomfortable, it’s the thought of transgender people among them. (Don’t worry amigos. It used to be the same with openly homosexual people just a generation ago.) But secondly, and this is the one that really bothered me, it’s because it supports the comfortable narrative of what rape “is supposed to”[sic] look like: The menacing male villain in an act of random insanity or perversion preys upon a stranger-an innocent and sober girl with nothing questionable or sexual in her background who was just minding her business in the well lit place at the wrong time. Anything outside of that and they eat you alive. So these phantom rapist hypotheticals are not only perpetuating hate and prejudice against trans people, they’re furthering the stupid and enduring myth that what rape REALLY looks like is a dramatic and violent jack-in-the-box attack by a stranger in a public place. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, because it does. But people are generally very quick to blame even a hypothetical woman if she’s raped outside those circumstances and when all of a sudden the usual allegations of the woman making it up, leading him on or dressing like a whore are gone, you have to wonder why. What changed?

Think about it: in all the posts I’ve seen regarding a cis male allegedly raping a woman who knows him, the responses are always predictably critical of the woman, scrutinizing her every move and motive, and generally the lucky rapist has more than a few Devil’s advocates on his side. They seem to ask questions not to glean insight or to hear her side, but to go down the “legitimate rape” checklist, seeing if her rape fits all the criteria before they even consider blaming her attacker. Well were you drunk? Didn’t you text him the night before? Well if you didn’t want to have sex, why was he in your bed? In the case of the hypothetical man pretending to be trans to rape a woman, the victim is nothing more than a crime scene who did all she could against an unprovoked madman. This is problematic because it removes all human elements from the victim and from the story, and frames the definition of rape to be an exclusively obvious act; an outright assault on an innocuous woman who, as a requirement, did literally NOTHING to perpetuate it and absolutely EVERYTHING short of death to stop it. If there’s any less effort on either part, then the rape is now out of the comfortable narrative and she is met with contempt and suspicion. It also dehumanizes the rapist, making it seem like the only men who rape are hulking, imposing, criminally minded cave men who one day snap on a random woman. This is important because it means the opposite traits prove he is NOT a rapist, and if he’s not a frothing, deviant, perverted, intimidating guy-if he was a clean cut youth minister, or a young handsome baseball player for instance-then he couldn’t be the bad guy could he?

Now, the cut and dry image of “legitimate” rape has become the only acceptable circumstances if you seek justice, and only qualified women may apply. Drunk? Your fault. In his apartment? Your fault. Have a lot of sex before? Your fault. Didn’t get his blood under your nails in the fight? Your fault. Took a shower after and messed up the rape kit? Your fault. Too scared to report him immediately? Your fault. Because thanks to the spread of the “respectable rape scenario”, all your classmates realize the boy from school you said hurt you so badly couldn’t possibly have done it-not when you willingly met him for drinks and even flirted with him over texts. Not when he plays rugby and has a beautiful girlfriend. Everyone saw your arm around him at that party. All of a sudden, your story has human elements to it-he’s not a mindless beast, and you’re no ingenue-and thus, it becomes a tall tale meant to stir up trouble for the young man. The “man pretends to be transgender woman to access bathroom and attack women” scenario is tilting at windmills in the worst way possible, because it’s obscuring the uncomfortable truth of what rape actually looks like with a ridiculously far fetched smear campaign against trans women- and that’s much more dangerous than a phantom bathroom assailant.

A man pretending to be a woman to sneak into a bathroom to rape an unsuspecting woman is not the enemy here. The culture that allows THAT to be the only type of rape that gets recognized or planned for is the enemy.
Look at the football player who assaults several women but is allowed to remain on the team because no one is paying 80 dollars a ticket to watch a woman receive justice.

What about the man who learns from media influence that a woman’s agency is just a lock on her vagina, and he can wear it down with the right combination of drinks, half truths and contrived lines to finally get past it. Who can she go to to for comfort when he finally forces himself inside her over half hearted protests and quiet resignation? Who will believe her when her story is so, so, far from the knife wielding stranger in the bathroom?
When a college fraternity brother drugs and rapes another student, the problem isn’t the act itself, vile and unforgivable as it is. The problem is that he’s surrounded by a culture where roofies and rape and coercion and women being used for sex are all punchlines, and a woman saying she was raped is met with disbelief, disgust, contempt, ridicule, and above all else, permanent skepticism. How can anyone ever be expected to stand up and say “my story has more to it than being overpowered in the bathroom by a stranger, but what this man did wasn’t right”, knowing that what will invariably be discussed is not the actions of the rapist, but her performance as a victim to make damn sure that she got as violated as she feels.

Forcing trans women to use the men’s bathroom is not keeping men OR rapists out of the women’s bathroom, it’s keeping WOMEN out of the women’s bathroom, and it’s perpetuating an ideal crime that invalidates other people’s stories. A woman’s safety, inclusion, and right to basic human dignity (Mystifyingly defended in the context of a public bathroom but not her own bedroom) does not come with ANY stipulations.

I am now unsilent

By: Anonymous

From the time I was old enough for anyone to listen, I’ve felt an insatiable drive to lend my voice where there wasn’t one. I’ve felt like a warrior, screaming among the crowded streets of an underdeveloped world to all the people walking about, ignoring the mute. It was an obsession, seemingly from the outside and its motivation wasn’t conscious. Revered by some, annoying to others. For me, it was community service. A “do-good” service that felt instinctive.

Baylor University has recently been in the news concerning their unjust treatment of sexual assault victims. The kids were upstairs playing, my husband was at work, and I was downstairs reading the accounts that made the world stop for so many women, girls really. After I was finished, I began to sob … uncontrollably sobbing. Shoulder jerking, heart paining, breath raping, snot string sobbing.

It was at this exact moment I realized the birth of my voice. The voice I lent to so many others was fueled because I didn’t have one for myself. My voice wasn’t some divine soul driven instinct. It was about empowerment, control, and self-worth.

I was 14. I went with my cousin to a high school party at an apartment clubhouse. They had Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. I don’t remember how much I drank, but I remember I blacked out. Before we even left, I was in the bathroom paying homage to the porcelain God. I remember a friend, although I don’t remember who, was holding my hair, but at some point she tired of this ridiculous scene and rejoined the party. She probably stayed longer than I would’ve.

Someone knocked on the closed bathroom door. I was too drunk to give consent of passage, but they walked in. It was a boy in a grade above me. I didn’t know him but I knew who he was and I still know his name. He laughed at me and I can’t say that I blame him. I can’t remember if he shut the door, but what happened next is a burned scar time will never forget. He started taking off my pants. This was no easy feat because, after all, it was 1990 and the eighties style of painted on acid washed pants were still all the rage at my school, not to mention I was bent over a toilet barfing. I can still hear the echo of my voice in the porcelain bowl. “Stop.” “Don’t.” I started to cry. It wasn’t a ferocious cry. It wasn’t a cry fueled of anger. It was a cry of defeat. Loud enough for him to hear, quiet enough for no one else to come. I stared into the toilet the whole time. An occasional tear would ripple the waste water my head had become intimate with. He left and I didn’t even pull up my pants.

This story remained unspoken to anyone, lofting in the back of my hidden memories, until the night I read all those rape accounts at Baylor. My husband came home from work and found me. Eyes swollen. Memories streaked across my face. A lifetime ago. So, at our family table, where my kids share their school day stories, I shared the dirty secret I had hidden for over 26 years from myself. A girl who didn’t have the courage to have a voice for herself spent the next two decades lending her voice to others, and now I know why. Thank you Baylor survivors. I am forever indebted.

What I have learned

By: A. H.

On the eve of my birthday, a dear friend and I walked back from my car, snacking on cups of half-consumed froyo. She asked me a question.

“What have you learned this year?”

And I wanted to tell her nice life lessons. Bible verses. God stories. Jesus-in-the-flesh stories. I wanted to tell her about how the hard parts of the year helped me cherish the good parts. I wanted to say that I learned to love a little better. Hell, I wanted to at least start listing off the syllabi of all of my classes.

But my first thought was his name.

Because the honest answer I guess is that I learned not to trust people. I learned that sometimes people aren’t actually as they appear. Sometimes people do the unimaginable. Sometimes the neat lines you draw around people, the assurances you curl under at night before you turn out the lights, are just thin air.

Sometimes, people lie.

Sometimes, people say they would never do x, and they do x. A lot.

Sometimes, people do the inexplicable. And it’s just that. Inexplicable.

But that’s not good post-froyo, my-last-day-being-a-teenager nostalgia, so I say:

“Actions speak louder than words. Sometimes people say things, but they do things that show that they didn’t mean what they said.”

Because that’s a nice way to say:

“I’ve been screwed over and I’ve spent a quarter of this year being kidnapped and the last quarter trying to find myself again, and I’m still in this same 19-years-and-364-day-old body, but days like today feel like learning to walk again, so here I am, wobbly knees and weepy eyes, trying to make sense of something that makes no sense.”

So I guess I’ve learned to stop blaming myself this year. I’ve learned to stop apologizing. Because the fact is that this should have never happened to me. He should have never happened to me. They should have never happened to me. I should have never had to make escape plan after escape plan as safeguards for the next time, because this year I learned that some things never change. This year I learned that I didn’t leave my ghosts in my hometown. They came back, even after I went to all that trouble to put the blood over the doorpost and eat my dinners with a staff in my hand. Because sometimes, ghosts come back in different bodies. So maybe I’ve learned not to be so optimistic when I open the door. Maybe I’ll check their ID next time. As if ghosts come with warning labels.

So this year I’ve learned it wasn’t my fault. This year I’ve learned there is no amount of age, experience, or knowledge that can safeguard me from abuse. Sometimes shit happens to you. And I am done listening to people telling me how to avoid it. It’s time that I start saying:

“I’ve been screwed over and I’ve spent a quarter of this year being kidnapped and the last quarter trying to find myself again…and I wasn’t the person who misplaced the key.”

I wish I had round, young answers for sweet friends. But I find an optimism in admitting that there are some parts of my story that I’m not complicit in. Sometimes people haunt you. Sometimes people hurt you. But I am hopeful, because one day I will have a little girl and a little boy. And I will tell them.

“Sometimes people lie. But it doesn’t mean that we stop telling the truth.”

This is my truth. I am 20 years old and I woke up at 4am last night with nightmares. I don’t remember every detail of everything that has happened to me, but I remember the edge of my tapestry while it did. I have a handful of people that listen anyway, and I’m grateful to the people who tell me the true story when my brain wants to make up a fake one that’s easier to swallow–you know, like the pills that say that you’re making it all up. It’s appropriate that the medical term for my brain is four letters long. I thought about writing down all of the events in order, but then I realized that to say any of this is to say that it happened.

That’s what I’m learning.

[I will not calm down]

By: Jenuine Poetess

these days I’m full of piss and vinegar
I’m angry
no.
I’m mad as hell
spitting
sparking
growling
Rage

I imagine these scenarios:
me
losing my mind
white hot fury
burning it all down with
one look
one word
one fist punching the sky

they have not invented
a language strong enough
to articulate the tempest
turning and churning
a tumbling tumult
floodwater outrage
roiling in my bones
teetering on the verge of
Eruption

I thunder at the lies
I strike lightning at all that was stolen
I hail down upon the abuses
I earth quake the manipulation
I flood the cruelty
I tornado the selfish
greedy
taking
and taking
and taking
into oblivion

my wrath is a monstrosity looming
a shadow, palpable
tall tall darkness
a Leviathan loosed
from my Mariana Trench deeps
an unfurling fury
unfettered

one Roar would shatter continents
one footfall would send oceans into global tsunami
one sweep of fisted hand would raze nations to finely ground sands

I am
this seething ire
this foaming temper
this
Righteous
indignation

I pretend

By Kat, published with permission.  Original blog posted here in 2015.

I pretend things will be okay, when I fear they will not – acting as if these series of actions will result in a measurable end point. A satisfying end to things I have trouble picturing.

I pretend to be normal – as Donna Williams says she does – attempting to say the write things at the right time, only to find myself in a game of conversational tetherball: Oh, there it goes – my words, this dialogue; it’ll come around again, I suppose.

I see my words overlapping others, finding their place, as the grip of my pen grows ever tighter and more painful. I suppose this means we’re getting somewhere. Where I’m not ready to go.

I pretend to understand – you, this situation – hoping that, believing that sense-making will lessen the pain of this experience. It doesn’t.

If I just knew how and why I’d feel better – longing for a coherent narrative – I create one, invent one, collage one out of the pieces of my life:

The ever-present real details and scenarios. These utterly terrifying things that happen to me, about me.

I’m finding the words for these seemingly indescribable visuals, the concepts and labels I’m not sure are mine. They are.

What if someone in this room could tell you who you are?

I can’t, won’t, shouldn’t.

But you can.

These are your bits of narrative. Claim them. Embrace them. Feel them out. This is not a rejection of the self you knew – this is a renaming, an honoring.

Not weird – othered or strange – different perhaps, quirky – autistic in a way you haven’t all the way acknowledged. Every word but that one. Yes, this is a thing.

Pretending is something you do when you’re working through what is, imagining what could be. Acting as if – as you become the person you know you are.

***
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She did it anyway

By Kat, published with permission.  Original blog posted here in 2015.

She once told a professor she had enough anxiety to power a small city, that it got her stuck in the mire of worry loops. And yet she finished that class; she did it anyway.

Her diploma will have an asterisk, with a footnote below, finished this PhD with anxiety and familial trauma – a neurotype that felt so awkward in the midst of the majority.

And so she learned to imagine these things were possible, that she could manage, not in spite of, but because of.

What would you think of someone who’d been through all of that, who was where you are now?

She’d be pretty amazing.

She looked back at the girl with a knowing look reserved for processing and responses to Socratic questioning. So there she was in the land of coping and somehow managing, and yet she did it anyway.

She remembers the side of shame, implicit, but nonetheless there, that came with a paper extension.

But you always turn things in on time…

I know.

She walked back into the conference room the following day, giving a presentation she felt was poorly thrown together – ill-prepared. But you know what, she did it anyway. And sat through the barrage of criticism that followed. She waited to cry, feeling numb and clinical instead.

Minutes later, after making a deliberate exit – let me know when she leaves – she collapsed into the neighboring cubicle. This is what a meltdown feels like – tears and talking about nothing and everything, letting a friend now in the know, put dividers in a project binder.

She let herself go, shields down; she tried to explain. Wounds in full display, she did it amongst the shame. Vulnerable and confused – a bit dismayed and lost – she did it anyway.

In between the apologies and shame of being helped, she let her words fill the space in between the freshly carpeted floor. These words flood out, like a pent-up storm – clouds released as the showers pound the ground below.

She isn’t sure how to be grateful. We’ve moved past vulnerability. I wish there was a word for this. Emotions on display. To the just is – I can’t stop this flood anymore, not without a subsequent numbness. We sit together, for she is paralyzed, sitting against the wall, remembering to breathe.

This ends soon, she reminded herself. She cares and will sit with you through this. Perplexing, I know, but you’ll live through this. Relief and embarrassment is a muddled mix of emotion she is trying to explain to herself. I don’t know what happened, but it did.

Her feet touched the ground as she saw the adjacent hallway; I suppose I’ll have to leave here eventually – and so she slowly got up, afraid to pass by onlookers’ glances, but she did it anyway.

This hallway stretches into an L; door in the very corner, and so she kept walking, avoiding eyes and searing glances.

Am I still blotchy? I redden in the midst of tears.

You’re fine. You can do this.

This support was unexpected, but welcome; she has no idea how to let people in, to give a measure, even a teaspoon of trust – but she begins anyway.

***
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Text-based: On building Autistic community

By Kat, published with permission.  Original blog posted here in 2015.

How long will I have to mince my words? You see, I have these traits – I’m 85 to 95% sure that this is who I am. I’ve lived in euphemistic dialogue for some time now…

I’m socially different, sensory sensitive; missing gist for detail. This is who I am, regardless of how you choose to see me, label me. We sustain ourselves in these Voldemorty spaces – that which shall not be named.

I’m autistic. Not that you’ll believe me. We’re unicorns. The highly verbal, completely awkward, often confused. I’m not a 12-year-old boy who like trains. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t.

My passions are information gathering, sorting, and sensemaking. That’s why I’m here today. I brought a list of all the things you might think are wrong with me – I prefer different. This is merely a collection of traits – some of which get me stuck. Please don’t medicalize me, marginalize me.

This is new to you. Not to me – I’ve been this way my entire life – just hadn’t found my coherent narrative. Hadn’t imagined there were others like us, rising in dust and hashtagging it – dialoguing across countries and timezones. Other women like me, yet utterly alien in their own spaces.

We are developing our own dialogue, a shared narrative – together. I see us in a decent-sized room, sitting at a table, offering virtual cups of tea.

Remembering.

Verbalizing.

Being.

In this created space – creative space. We are ourselves, with little explanation. Needing no one else to fill in our gaps. We are our own. Here anyway. Coda. Yet this space, although not enough, is a starting point. Free from labels or to label as we wish. Existing together in a shared collage of narratives.

Of course this text-based medium would serve us well. Free from constraints of nonverbals and missed cues.

We are here in this place. We fit. We belong. And we are enough. Together.

***
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Space

By: Kat, published with permission.  Original blog posted here in 2015.

I remember the high school chemistry teacher who demanded, “Space!” when his students encroached upon his boundaries. I don’t think they understood how important these carefully delineated areas are: yours and mine. I understand now. I too want space. A place where others will leave me be.

I remember the librarian who noticed I was reading Tony Attwood’s tome and remarked, “That’s about Aspergers. I have that – maybe I should read more on the subject.” I knew I couldn’t pummel him with uninvited questions, but now I wish I had. Adults on the spectrum are hard to find.

I remember the activist who gave me an autistic pride button. I encountered this model of different rather than disordered long before I knew the medical model existed. She helped me learn to be proud before I knew I was autistic – before I knew that identity was mine.

I remember the young feminist, who like me was socially different and lived across the street. Community college to commuter school student who showed me how to self-advocate. This is what I need; please help me get there. I took notes for her in class. We had long talks about the nuances of social interaction.

I wonder sometimes what it would have been like to have known I was autistic – before my mid-20s, so I could have been different – rather than just plain weird. And yet here I am, stimming in cafes and coffeehouses. I’m learning to be autistic.

These mentors showed me I could be myself before I recognized who that person was (and is). I’m getting to know her as I listen to my needs, recognizing that she’s slowly learning to thrive.

***
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Missing pieces

By Kat, published with permission.  Original blog posted here in 2015

I don’t know where to begin this story. I’ve lived in this narrative for the last 2 years. And yet I wonder if you’re missing pieces. In the assumptions you make as I walk through the door. Why now, you might ask. How could you know? Can anyone really be objective about themselves.

I’m afraid of being explained away. That in the telling, you’ll miss pieces – getting distracted by these blatant anxieties. The inadvertent monologues. The forgetting why I’m here. The doubting myself.

I sit across from you feeling terribly complicated. Why did you wait so long? Well, let me tell you about the circuitous route I took:

Across the street from an autism support program – relating and not knowing why. Finding bass and nearby conversation overly distracting. Learning to repeat and rephrase, wondering if I was the only one who had to do that. Slowing down again. Getting distracted. Speaking too loudly.

I took up too much space.

Do you ever wonder if you’re on the spectrum? She asked. I don’t remember answering. Just processing on my own – writing, poeming, sorting through thoughts.

Learning to be who I’ve always been – declaring an identity that remains uncertain. I’ve grown familiar with the befuddlement of others that follows accepting my weird. Acknowledging the things I’m bad at. Trying not to worry about others’ perceptions of me. Feeling judged, shamed – trying not to care; knowing I will.

So here I am – what do you think of me? Do I want to know? Just another overly anxious 20-something who’s arrived in your office. Just learn to be less concerned. That’s your job, right? Talking through and lessening.

But what if I want more? What if I want validation. Space to be who I am. Help in having these tense dialogues of gifts and limitations. In the space between can’t and won’t. Wondering if I’m just not trying hard enough.

Social disability is tricky – slows these sorts of conversations – as I learn to doubt myself. Wondering if the realities in my head – that world – exists at all. And yet the experience is real, but that feels conciliatory. Real to you  – emotionally valid, but not in this objective space – as if that place existed.

We have imagined objectivity – constructing a linear narrative, we forget all the conflicting details. It’s easy to get lost there – not knowing where there is. Missing pieces, I wonder? But which ones? Neither one of us is objective – why can’t we just live in literary truth, created fictions – remaining in the narrative I’ve created, maybe found, when it’s not outside of me.

I tell you what I think is true – my version, experience of it, when there is no out there. There is only in here, between my words. You don’t have to believe me. But I wish you did. Will you? Sit with me in this?

I hand you a laundry list of difference, present a series of diagrams. Must I pretend this is outside of me? I am the expert on my own life. Not you. But I need help over these series of sessions. I have learned to repair myself. I grow weary of explanations; I wish we could start in the middle.

I keep talking. You keep listening, nodding, noting as needed. And the hour continues…

***
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Anxiety

By: Cassie L. Smith

I hate anxiety because it makes me use the word hate
Not just use the word
feel the word
burning while simultaneously squeezing my heart
so I can’t breath
gasping from the pending attack
panic taunts me
singing its siren song
long before I can pick up my defenses
And I can feel my heart screaming
the ringing, so much ringing in my ears
my organs swirling like that ride at the festival I avoided when I was 5
for a reason
seasons change and I wonder
how no one can see the literal suffocation inside me
anxiety
count, one, two
this won’t be the one that breaks me
count, three, four
this won’t be the one that takes me
count, five, six
I hate the word anxiety and I hate what it has done to me
breathe