The Semantics of Rape

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I’m baaaack! Sorry it’s been so long, but with GISHWHES and a week on vacation without internet, there was no way I was going to be posting. I’m happy to be back in action though, and so I decided to take on a topic that I’m sure will piss some people off. Hooray! I want to give you a basic template for determining if a rape has occurred, and who is culpable.

Let’s talk about drunk sex.

Or rather, let’s talk about rape, because drunk people cannot consent and people who have sex with nonconsenting people are committing rape.

Or rather, let’s talk about what it means to “have sex with” someone. That phrase seems really simple, but it can obscure quite a bit. When you hear that phrase, do you imagine that one person is acting on another, or that two people are doing something together? Sometimes I hear it used to mean one, sometimes the other. That is a huge problem for dialogues around consent and rape, because the difference between those two parsings is the difference between sex and rape.

Most of the time we can tell if one person is the active participant or if both people are actively participating in sex. We don’t always talk about rape that way. We don’t necessarily talk about the things that the rapist did. We talk about the things the victim did: did they run away, did they fight, did they scream. But we don’t talk about who is initiating contact, who escalates from kissing to touching, who removes clothing, who initiates penetration, etc. Those are usually pretty good markers of who is an active participant in an encounter (there are obvious exceptions, particularly in BDSM situations, but those exceptions almost always require pre-negotiation or a pre-existing relationship that uses non-verbal and mutually discussed cues to indicate if someone is consenting).

Where many people get confused is when alcohol comes into play. How does consent work between two drunk people? Aren’t we all raping each other because pretty much all of us have had sex while drunk?

I think things are both more confusing than many feminists want to realize (it is not just as simple as “consent is easy, any time a penis touches a vagina while people are drunk a man has raped a woman”) and less confusing than most other people want to recognize (we can figure this out, I promise). It hinges on those two meanings of “having sex with.” Most people want there to be a single metric to understand if a rape occurred and who did it. Typically that is consent: who was capable of giving it, who gave it. When alcohol is in the mix, I think we need to have a two step process instead. Step 1: determine who could consent. Step 2: determine who “had sex with” whom. Rape is not just the presence or absence of consent: it is continuing to engage in sex without the presence of consent. So we need to determine both pieces. That can be tricky when we’re not willing to talk about the nitty gritty of what it actually looks like to be an active participant in sex, and who was being active.

A big disclaimer: this DOES NOT mean victim blaming. It DOES NOT mean that if a person was active up to a point and then stopped being active, they were “having sex” the whole time. It DOES NOT mean that any prior sexual activity is relevant. What it means is using the actual facts to determine who was the aggressor. He took off her pants and she did nothing? He was having sex with her. She pulled him upstairs and grabbed his dick? She was having sex with him. While it sucks for victims to have to relive what has happened to them, it is also important to know the details of what happened, and that is true of any crime. This is not an excuse for cops or other officials to act as if a victim is a criminal or to force them to recount it over and over. A victim should give a detailed account once, and that should be good enough, unless they have left out a detail, or someone is confused.

I will in a future post discuss how we teach young people to both be active participants in sex, EVEN IF one person is more assertive or you’re doing a sub/dom scene, or one person likes receiving. But for now, let’s accept that we do a shitty job of talking about mutual assertiveness in sex, and recognize that who is doing what is an important part of discussing rape.

Ok.

So step one: if only one person can consent and sex occurred, their partner raped them. If both people can consent, then great! Go to step two to help determine IF both people consented. Can neither person consent? This is the situation that most people seem greatly concerned about, especially in college campuses. What happens if both people are drunk?

Step two: was this a mutual encounter and everyone could consent? Great! You’ve had sex, and no one raped anyone!
Could everyone consent, but only one person acted while the other didn’t reciprocate? This is probably a red flag. It could have been negotiated this way, but encounters that are entirely one sided should probably get you to look a little more closely at them, whether they’re your own or whether you’re an official trying to decide if someone was raped or not. Get some more information about who says they consented.

Now we get to the one that EEEEEVERYONE is interested in. What if no one could consent? What if everyone was drunk? Here’s where it becomes incredibly important who actually actively participated. If only one person was active, then they are the only rapist. It doesn’t matter that sex involves two bodies, if only one person is making it happen, EVEN IF both people are drunk, then only that person is culpable. We cannot assume that that person was the man because that’s bullshit. We have to ask who did what to determine who was the aggressor. Many people get caught up on step one (which really isn’t that confusing) and forget about step two (which sometimes can be confusing, and is awkward to talk about, and really sucks for victims, but is necessary).

If both people are drunk and actively participating, then they both violated each other’s consent and are both culpable. We can discuss whether it’s possible for two people to rape each other or what the harm is in this situation, but it’s NOT the same as when one drunk person takes advantage of another drunk person. These are the situations that I worry are obscured when feminists use metaphors or parallels to other crimes that someone can commit when they’re drunk: most other crimes do not also come with a high likelihood of the criminal being a victim as well. When a feminist says that a drunk rapist is still a rapist, just like someone who drives drunk is still culpable, they miss that sex always involves two people, and that we do need to take the time to ask if both people were actively involved.

This is why we can’t just say two that two drunk people had sex with each other. That phrase obscures that sometimes it’s a one sided action and sometimes it’s mutual. That’s why many people are so concerned that their child or friend or acquaintance is going to be held responsible for a mutual encounter, instead of recognizing that the majority of the time we are talking about encounters in which only one person was active. In fact, it’s incredibly common for rapists to intentionally get their victims drunk and themselves remain barely buzzed so that they can use the confusion around the phrase to defend themselves. Those situations are the reason that feminists and other activists are so concerned with alcohol and rape. So please, if you find yourself wondering why one person is being held responsible for “drunk sex” but not the other, look at who actually did things. You might learn something.

 

 

Housekeeping

You may have noticed that I’ve been posting less frequently in recent weeks. There are a number of reasons for this, from work picking up to getting engaged to having some family health problems. I intend to continue blogging, but at this slower pace of one to two posts per week going forward. This coming week, there will not be a post, as I’ll be participating in GISHWHES. Thank you all for being my readers. You really do make my life better. See you in a couple weeks!

Is Self-Care Part of the Capitalist Machine?

Some unsustainable self care

Self care is really important to me, so when someone passed along an article entitled “Why I Don’t Believe in ‘Self Care’ (and how to make it obsolete)“, I was intrigued. I like a good critique of something that I care about, especially if it makes me consider things in a different way. The intriguing thing about this critique is that it appears to be based in Marxism, which i’m mostly going to ignore because I don’t want to argue against all of Marxism, but suffice it to say that buying things ever is not inherently evil. That said, there are some interesting things to consider about the critique.

According to the article, self care means “any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated….In modern medicine, preventive medicine aligns most closely with self care.” The author pulls this definition from Wikipedia, and goes on to talk about the fact that we call many things self care that don’t fall under this definition. In the author’s mind that’s a problem, because we confuse things that are necessary and under our own control with things that we do to cope temporarily with bad situations.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but the first thing I want to point out is that hinging your entire argument on a Wikipedia definition of a word is not a strong case. Words are defined by how we use them, so if everyone around you is using the phrase self care to mean “taking care of yourself, doing things that feel fulfilling, checking in with yourself to engage in practices that keep you going”, then that’s probably what the phrase means, rather than something very strictly defined as “under your own control.” In fact, if I were to ask 100 of my closest friends what they think self care means, I doubt a single one of them would include the self initiated and under individual control elements, but those appear to be huge parts of the author’s argument.

I have a huge problem with folks who profess to be intersectional, but take strong prescriptivist positions on language. That shit is racist and classist, and if you don’t understand that we have to look at how language actually functions in real life, then I really don’t have time for you. So let’s just take a moment to find irony in the fact that an author who is arguing against the problems of capitalism and the abuses of the oppressed classes relying on prescriptivist arguments for their article.

But to move on to the main argument of the post, the author wants to distinguish between coping, which is a temporary strategy to get through a hard time, and self care, which is the ongoing actions you take to ensure your well being. I think there’s an important nugget of truth to be found in this article: there are some things that we do that feel nice in the moment but are not sound long term strategies. I think it’s important to recognize the fact that often self-care will put us at odds with other people, and that we need to be aware of how our self care affects others. I’ve seen people say that self care is eating a whole pizza and binge watching Netflix. That might be self care in this moment, but it is not going to be self care if you do it every day. That’s the challenging balance: sometimes you have to do temporary things to get through the day, sometimes you have to go exercise and eat a salad in order to stay healthy and make a sustainable life.

What I find bizarre is the shamey tone that the author brings to this argument.

She says that “The result of this [self care] is that we end up spending a lot of resources on unnecessary things, even as we are trying to work for a less wasteful and anti-consumerist world. We’ve bought into the consumerism that we claim to oppose.”

I find myself confused. It’s easy to say that if something isn’t totally ethical then it isn’t sustainable, and therefore isn’t self care. We should be able to get by without it. But that’s not always true. There are times that a person requires something that isn’t great in order to survive. An example: in order for me to eat in a healthy manner, I have to live in opposition to my values; I cannot be a vegan, which is what I logically believe is the most ethical position to take. If I were to eat vegan, I almost certainly would fall back into my eating disorder and seriously hurt myself or potentially die.

That would not change if society were different or if I had a better communal support system. It is a simple fact about my combination of sensory sensitivities, difficulties with restriction, and rule following nature. Sometimes there is no circumstance in which we can both take care of ourselves and do the best thing. That’s ok. My biggest beef with this piece is that it doesn’t recognize how hard someone can try to be a good person and still need to “fall short” in some ways in order to take care of themselves. I don’t think we need any more shame around the concept of self care. We have so much already.

 

What the article gets really really right is the promotion of more community care instead of an individualized understanding of health. We are interdependent and it is important to recognize that. I’ve always thought that an important part of self care is recognizing when we need others, so I think we might be down to semantics in distinguishing self care from community care. You can put the focus on the individual by saying everyone is responsible for asking for help when they need it, or you can put the focus on the community by saying that it’s impossible for any of us to meet all of our own needs. I think it’s important to remember both, as the community can’t help unless we articulate our needs, and we cannot take care of ourselves without community.

It is absolutely important to recognize that the language of self care can put the onus of survival on an individual rather than on systems. Self care cannot exist in a vacuum without advocating for change to workplaces that are unsupportive or relationships that aren’t interdependent. This is the most important element of this piece in my eyes: self care cannot replace a society that is functional for the people in it. What I disagree with is the idea that self care or even coping has no place in a “good” society.

“It sounds so simple, but here’s the big secret: community care can make our unsustainable coping mechanisms obsolete. If we can build a culture of community care, where people’s needs are met through each other, coping becomes unnecessary. We can cut down on waste. We can make our communities sustainable.”

There will never be a community so sustainable that people never have to use unsustainable coping mechanisms for some things, or so sustainable that some people don’t have to use long term self care methods that are not ideal. That is not possible and saying it is is a utopian myth. There will always be times that in order to get by, we will need to do things that aren’t perfect or that might hurt other people. One of the hardest things about engaging in self care is recognizing that sometimes it is ok to prioritize yourself and your own well being over other people.

I think that this article gives us a great starting point: communal care needs to be part of our understanding of living a healthy life. But I think that a healthy life involves a balance: giving and receiving help from others, while also sometimes prioritizing your own needs.

Not everything we do can be sustainable, perfectly ethical, or communal. Sometimes we have to do things for ourselves that means someone else won’t get our time, or that we take a resource from someone else. It’s not ideal, but it is also reality, and shaming people for being realistic about taking care of themselves is pretty shitty in my opinion. So yes, let’s aim for community care. We absolutely can do better. But making all unsustainable coping mechanisms obsolete? Ha. There is no system under which I will never want to binge Netflix and eat a tub of ice cream. Unsustainable coping mechanisms are part of life, because some situations are unsustainable and that will never change.

The United States’ Troubling Relationship With Anger

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The last couple of weeks have been rough, pretty much for anyone who lives in the U.S. There has been a great deal of violence, and a lot of people trying to understand the appropriate way to respond to extreme violence, which means there have been a lot of people stepping in it. One of my favorite examples of this is white people quoting MLK out of context, especially this quote:

Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

I’ve seen this quote in response to people posting about Black Lives Matter. Let me tell you what I have seen from BLM supporters: hurt and anger. A demand for change. A call for justice. I’ve seen a lot of people talking about the fear they feel, the sadness of seeing their brothers and sisters killed, and the hopelessness of not knowing how to change anything.

So when I saw people respond with the above quote, I found myself flabbergasted. Who was talking about hate? I saw people talking about anger, justice, sadness, and an expectation of basic human decency. How on earth were my fellow white Americans looking at black anger and seeing hatred?

It has become very clear to me that Americans do not understand anger or how to be angry in a healthy way. I get it. I’m still struggling with how to feel and express anger well, and I’ve had five years of therapy trying to work me through the process. Most of the presentations that I see of anger in the media or modeled around me show anger as primarily something that white men feel, and as something that is typically violent. But we need to do better because there are very real impacts to our awful relationship with anger: people are dying because we cannot stop conflating anger with violence.

First and foremost, anger is healthy. Being angry and expressing anger are not mean or bad things to do. Not only that, but anger is something that every person in the world is entitled to feel. Every emotion that we feel serves a purpose. Anger helps to keep us safe. When someone crosses your boundaries, treats you or your loved ones poorly, or hurts you, anger is the response that says “do not let this happen again.” That is a good thing. If you don’t have anger when someone treats you poorly, you are less likely to take care of yourself.

So when we see women or people of color feeling angry, we need to be ok with that. Everyone deserves the space to set their own boundaries. White men: just because you cannot separate your anger from violence doesn’t mean you get to assume everyone else is just as incompetent.

On that note, here’s a problem: when white men feel angry, they seem to think they are entitled to act violently. (no, not all white men).

This may seem incredibly obvious, but it’s important to reiterate (and there are also many people who have never been told): you can feel an emotion without acting on that emotion. Feel the feel but don’t do the thing. The collapsing of anger and violence means many people can’t imagine just feeling incredibly angry and not doing anything about it. That makes anger dangerous, and makes a lot of people dangerous. There are two problems with this: the first is that we can react to anger in a variety of different ways, not just violence. The second is that sometimes anger doesn’t warrant any action.

Let’s start with number one. There are lots of ways to use anger to propel action. Some of them involve violence or yelling or cursing. That’s what most people think of when they think of “acting angry”. But healthy responses to anger can actually present in a wide variety of ways. It could be telling someone that you’re angry with them and why. It could be telling someone not to do whatever pissed you off anymore. It could be protesting. It could be voting. It could be calling legislators. Basically any time that something violates your boundaries and you work to reestablish those boundaries, you are acting out your anger. Violence is probably one of the least effective ways to do that in our current world. If I could change one thing about our relationship to anger, it would be that people could learn different ways of acting on their anger.

But perhaps even deeper than the ways we act on our anger is the fact that there is so very much action when white men are angry. Here are some facts: sometimes we feel angry when no one has actually done anything and there’s no reason to feel anger, or when there’s nothing we can do to change the situation, or our anger is out of proportion with what happened. Those are great times to feel anger and not do anything. It feels uncomfortable at first, but there’s lots of ways to get through the discomfort, whether it’s venting, doing something else to distract yourself, trying some mindfulness, or even just exercising off the steam. But this might be the most important place of confusion when it comes to anger in America.

If someone tells you they’re angry with you, they are not attacking you, doing violence to you, or expressing any kind of hatred or even necessarily judgment on you. In reality, when someone tells you that they are angry, they are doing you a favor. They’re giving you an opportunity to stop hurting them. Love is not at odds with anger: in fact real love requires that sometimes you feel angry, because love involves having some boundaries.

So when I see people responding to the recent police shootings with “why are you inciting violence or hatred against the police? Let’s use love!” I have to laugh. The myth that if we love someone or something we can’t criticize it or expect better from it has destroyed so many lives. You can’t love your abuser into not abusing you. That’s a recipe for feeling guilty and getting hurt. It’s how people get taken advantage of. It’s the lie that society tells women about abusive men. If you’re just good enough then you won’t get hit again. It’s a lie individually and it’s a lie societally.

Anger is a necessary ingredient in change. It fuels us. It helps us to stand strong instead of running away or falling apart. It gives us conviction. Love is not love if it does not expect decent human behavior out of the beloved. Then it’s just co dependence.

This thread of confused anger runs through so many of the problems around me. Rape culture, where men feel they have to exercise violence on others to make up for rejection or negative feelings. Mass shootings, where (primarily) white men take out their frustrations and angers and hopelessness on the world around them with a gun. Cops shooting black men because they confuse anger for violence, and respond in kind.

If you live in a world where every emotion demands an action, and you have been told for your whole live that the only emotion you are allowed to feel is anger, this violence makes sense. I would not be surprised if the same people who lash out when they’re angry are feeling fear in response to black anger, interpreting it as “hate” or “attacks.” If your only understanding of anger is violent, you would not want others to be angry. You might feel afraid of your anger, or trapped. You might not feel you have any other choices beyond violence in response. This is the vicious circle that is spiraling out of control right now.

Unfortunately, our society’s confused relationship with anger is actually, literally killing people. When you put guns in the hands of people who cannot process emotions except through violence, you create killers. When you give some of those people an institutional backing, as in the case of cops, you create an epidemic of violence. If we cannot teach people that anger is not only acceptable, but it is healthy, and that there are other ways to process anger than violence, we will not be able to move forward. If anger is exclusively the domain of white men, we will not be able to move forward. We all deserve to have a healthy relationship with anger.

What To Do When Your Jerkbrain Might Be Right

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Right now the world is doing a number of pretty shitty things for people who are minorities or oppressed. Brexit is a clusterfuck. Donald Trump may actually get elected. The Orlando shooting. The murder of Youtuber Christina Grimmie. The assassination of British MP Jo Cox. Continued police shootings of black men. Conversations about mental illness and gun control and race and cops and xenophobia and fear fear fear. It’s everywhere. The world right now keeps reminding us that it’s a scary place, and many people are feeling overwhelmed and depressed and hopeless.

I’ve seen in particular in my circles that people who already struggle with depression or anxiety are floundering. Our brains tell us that we should panic or we should give up. Normally we would use skills to remind ourselves that the world isn’t awful and things aren’t falling apart. Most of those skills involve looking at whether things are actually as awful as they seem. And sadly, right now…things might be as awful as they seem. My friend Greta Christina inspired this post by saying “TFW your depressed jerkbrain is telling you that the world is terrible and frightening, and you feel like this time it might be right.”

In the meantime, I’ve gotten engaged, adopted two gloriously hilarious kittens, and generally had one of the best months of my life. This puts me in the weird position of having excess joy to share with others, of being the one who has the energy to help remind people that we will get through this. I never thought I would be the one bringing optimism to the party, but I suppose when you’re handed a lot of awesome while others are getting a shit sandwich the least you can do is invite them to your table.

So I’ve been asking myself: is there anything that I can offer others right now? Is there any smidgen of happiness I can pass on to the people who are seeing very real pain and suffering, and wondering how they can survive in a world that doesn’t seem to want them?

My happy things in no way make any of the bad things that have happened recently better. Not even for me. The day after I got engaged I woke up to news of the Pulse shooting, and simultaneously was giddy with excitement at my own future and sick at what I was hearing. Nothing can insulate you from the shock and pain of death and cruelty.

But similarly, I still get to feel happy. I am still capable of feeling happy. The things that make me happy cannot be touched by guns or racism or even Donald Trump’s orange face. Here are some happy things.

Yesterday I asked my fiance (FIANCE) how we should ask our friend to be the officiant at our wedding and he replied “yes”.

This morning I was awoken by two very wiggly and very soft kittens throwing themselves all over me.

I have a shiny, rainbow ring that I get to wear every day.

I’m head over heels in love and I just asked someone if they want to permanently entwine their life with mine and they said yes. Not only that, but dozens of my friends jumped at the chance to help me propose, to dress up in silly costumes and play a ridiculous card game just to make my day great.

These are all small facts. They don’t fight gun violence. They don’t save lives. But they are why we care about life. They’re why we’re sad when people’s lives are lost. Remember that the reason you’re sad is because you think there’s something worth fighting for.

Objectively, things suck, but objectively, there are things that make me smile in my life. Those two facts exist at the same time, and both of them have to have a place in your understanding of the world. If you want some reminders of what might make you smile here are some things to think about:

Are there people in your life that you love? Think about them for a minute. Not just their name or their relationship to you, but the way they smile, or their particular brand of humor, or how they get gentle around kids, or how they ask to make you dinner when you’re sick. It’s easy to say that people are awful and cruel. In my experience, people are loving, delicious, complex, confusing beings that pour out light when you ask what fuels them. It only takes a few that give off the right shade of light to make your skin tingle and your eyes crinkle. We are capable of feeling love. I don’t really know what the fuck love is, but it’s a pretty heady drug and I find it really cool that we get to feel it, and accept it.

You get to make choices about your life. I can’t put into words how important it is to pay attention to all the things you have chosen in your life. I’m not denying that there are a billion things we don’t get to choose, but we get to choose who we spend our time with. We get to choose to have pets. We get to choose to read cool things and listen to weird podcasts and explore the internet. We get to choose (to some extent) where and who we live with. We get to choose what food we eat and how we wear our hair. And yes, I realize that all of these things are constrained in different ways for different people, but all of us have some choices, and those choices are so important. Pay attention to them. I chose a life partner. I chose goofy little kittens. I chose to spend my time at a big nerd convention. Those facts are powerful.

I realize that all of this is trite. I realize that it only makes me super happy because it’s new. But why does it have to be like that? Why can’t I always think it’s amazing that I have a fiance? Why can’t I spend hours playing with my kittens every week? Because of real life? THIS IS REAL LIFE. Real life is not just the bad awful things. It’s the times when you’re walking on air too. It’s the months where every good thing happens at once. Those aren’t fake reprieves from objective reality. They have to count in your schema too. You cannot make it through life without remembering those things that are good enough that you said yes. Those people that are good enough that you wanted to give them your time.

So just do me a favor and during the nastybad times, remember that all of the good things still exist. Pay attention to your people. Pay attention to what lights you up. It is not bad to look away for a moment and remember why it hurts when life is taken: because life is worth it. Even your life.

Engaging in Problematic Practices

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Last weekend I got engaged.

I am INCREDIBLY excited. I put together a silly Pokemon scavenger hunt proposal. I made my boyfriend (fiance!) do a lot of goofy things and eat a lot of delicious food. I bought an oversized ridiculous fake ring to propose with. It was tons of fun, and I look forward to our wedding containing similar elements of party, fun, and goof.

Marriage is an institution with a lot of problems. It’s heteronormative. It prioritizes monogamy over polyamory or other forms of relationships. It puts romantic relationships and biological relationships on a pedestal, and helps us as a society to prioritize them over platonic friendships or chosen families. Already, we’ve had people ask us if this means we’ve changed our minds and want kids.  I’ve talked in other places about feeling conflicted about marriage, and about the ways the history of marriage is a serious pile of shit. It feels different now that this isn’t a hypothetical question, now that it’s a plan in my life, now that it’s something that I’m actually going to do.

I’m suddenly asking real questions about how my actions will affect other people, like is it ok for me, a straight, cis person, to wear a rainbow engagement ring? (after much deliberation with friends, decided that the one I chose was not appropriative or harmful). Is there a way that I can incorporate my support for all kinds of love and families into my ceremony (still no idea, suggestions welcome)? What does it mean for my relationship with my fiance? Do we divvy up labor fairly? Do we have an egalitarian relationship? Do we live out our feminist values in our actual life? What does it mean in terms of monogamy? Will people start asking us about kids more often (yes)?

It’s odd, because marriage is a Big, Important kind of an event, and it makes you ask these questions. It makes you spend time wondering if it’s the right fit for you or for the world. But there are a thousand smaller decisions that I make all the time that involve engaging in problematic or even negative practices. Literally all of us spends are lives swamped in sexist, racist, bigoted shit, and we rarely think twice, even if we are social justice warriors. Since I’ve gained weight I’ve started wearing more covering clothing. That’s problematic as fuck. I’m ashamed of having a not skinny body (I would not call myself fat). That’s internalized fatphobia. But I don’t question it, because it’s a tiny decision that doesn’t get shoved in my face. I simply do it because it feels comfortable to me, and it works for my life. I don’t put on a bikini and fight fatphobia every day. I don’t even question my clothing decisions from a feminist perspective because they’re just a part of life. And honestly, because it doesn’t directly hurt much of anyone and it makes me feel more comfortable and happier in my skin.

I’m not entirely sold on the idea of choice feminism. Just because a person makes a choice that works for them doesn’t mean that the choice can’t have implications for other people. Even if it doesn’t directly impact others, it can still have effects. I think it’s important for people to question their own preferences and ask where those preferences came from and how those preferences can help to create norms or help dismantle norms. I try to be aware of the hidden assumptions I have about what is normal, and to point out to myself and others that even doing what is normal is still making a choice.

But it also seems true to me that in most important ways, we all practically live a form of choice feminism. Most of us will prioritize our own well being over abstract values most of the time. Now that’s not always true, like my choice to be a vegetarian for many years despite having not enough protein and some really unfortunate intersections with my eating disorder. But for the most part we don’t think about a decision, say “this will make me very happy” and then choose to do something else because “it’s not feminist enough.” We balance our happiness and our values, and recognize that sometimes our own happiness conflicts with the happiness of others (this is called life).

Marriage might not be a perfect choice. It might have some negative impacts. I want to recognize the problems with it, and continue to talk about them. But I also don’t want to prioritize marriage as a choice more important than any other. No, there is no choice I make that doesn’t have impacts, but there are also very few actions that are “feminist” or “unfeminist” in isolation. It isn’t “unfeminist” to shave your legs, the problem is when everyone does or is expected to do it. Marriage is similar: it’s a family and relationship format that works for some people, and the problem is the current set of expectations surrounding it.

It’s easy, even as someone who is trying to tell the wedding industrial complex to kiss my ass, to get sucked into the idea that marriage is a choice that exists in a totally unique and utterly important category of its own. It’s easy to spend so much time and energy thinking about it that you imagine getting married could destroy any efforts you’ve made against misogyny. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “this is the most important day of my life”, even if you’re doing it with a social justice veneer.

Really it’s just another choice in a whole series of problematic choices we all make.

Every single one of us engages in some problematic behaviors, whether out of ignorance or laziness or because it is just what makes our life livable and ok. Marriage isn’t unique, and I’d really like to take that “specialness” sheen off of the whole practice (and especially the wedding day). There’s a balance in life: if I can make my life so much better by doing something that might be upholding negative norms, what should I do? I’m at the point where I say that I need to prioritize my own happiness in places where the harm isn’t major. Because my happiness is fleeting, and intersectionality is a thing, and mental illness is my life, and marriage is probably not going anywhere whether or not I get married.

So yes. I am choosing to do something I know is a problem. But literally everyone does. It’s ok. Life consists of choosing from imperfect options. And this imperfect option makes me very very happy.

What Needs to Be Said About the Orlando Shooting

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I’m about to say a lot of things that will not be mind blowing. People have already said all of them, probably better than I can. But I try to think of myself as an ally, and ally is a verb not a noun, which means I need to do something. So if more straight, cis folks like myself need to keep repeating basic truths until America pulls our collective heads out of our asses, then I will do it. Repetition is a key to learning, and straight America has some learning to do.

The shooting in Orlando was a hate crime against the queer community. Gay bars are safe spaces for many people, where they go to find community, support, and acceptance. The shooter has made homophobic comments before. The choice of location was not an accident. This was an attack on the queer community. If you believe that with marriage equality the GLBT community is fine and should stop asking for more, stop and look at what just happened. 50 people were murdered for their sexuality and gender identities. People in the queer community die every day, of suicide and violence and poverty and AIDS left untreated and homelessness. This community is vulnerable, and that vulnerability was exploited in this attack.

The shooting further targeted one of the most vulnerable populations in the US: trans women of color. The club was a popular place for Latinx individuals, and hosted drag shows. It just so happened that the night of the shooting featured Latinx drag performers. This is not a coincidence. The fragile masculinity that pervades America says trans women are a threat to everything we care about. It’s not a surprise that they are the target of so much violence when their very existence is a symbol of fucking the patriarchy.

The shooting in Orlando was a product of toxic masculinity. When physical strength and violence are lauded as the symbols of masculinity, we create people who deal with their problems through violence. The shooter had a history of domestic abuse. When we excuse rape, intimate partner violence, and domestic abuse, we make it so much easier for the violence to just keep escalating. We send the message that violence is how to deal with problems. Toxic masculinity demands that men don’t show emotion and affection, which makes two gay men openly kissing a terrifying and horrifying prospect. It says that men have a dominant role, and any man taking on the woman’s role is a disgusting perversion, giving rise to further homophobia and violence against GLBT individuals, in particular trans women.

The shooting was related to the homophobia rampant in many Islamic communities. The shooting is not an excuse for Islamaphobia. This is where things get a little bit complicated, but I think we can all hold these two truths together. There is homophobia in many Islamic communities. It can contribute to the attitudes of the members of those churches. This is not unique to Islam. Many Christian churches contribute to negative attitudes towards queer people. We need to be able to criticize the damage that religious beliefs are doing without jumping to full blown Islamaphobia that says this man was an extreme terrorist sent by ISIL to destroy America. See the difference? Homophobia in Islam contributed. Every Muslim every is not an evil terrorist.

The shooting is further evidence of America’s gun problem. Yes, America is a unique place and we cannot wholesale import solutions from smaller countries or from Australia. But it is a fact that our gun violence far outstrips other comparable countries and we need to do something. It remains true that guns are dangerously unregulated, and individuals are capable of purchasing unnecessarily high powered weapons that can kill at a rate that knives or homemade weapons cannot. It remains true that guns are less regulated than cars or chemicals or all kinds of other things that are less dangerous. We need to face up to the fact that our obsession with guns is killing people, and we need to start actually doing research into how to make it better.

The shooting is not evidence that the shooter was mentally ill. People with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. There are many complex reasons that an individual chooses to commit horrific acts, but dismissing it with “they were insane” lets us off the hook for the ways that we have built a society that fosters violence. It also throws mentally ill people under the bus and makes them responsible for violence when in fact they are an already vulnerable group of people. We do in fact need better care for the mentally ill, but now is not the right time to talk about it.

Finally, and most importantly, if you consider yourself an ally, now is the time to show it. Speak up. Tell your queer friends they can rely on you for support right now. Give blood. Give money to GLBT organizations. This event was horrific, but if you are an ally then you need to step up. I am actively calling on my fellow straight, cis individuals to mop up our mess. Take care of the queer people in your life. It’s the least we can do.