Can’t Find a Better Man

The half growl/half crow of Eddie Vedder has long been a part of my own, personal war cry.  It both fed and poured out my teenage angst—my frustration with the things that were senseless, wrong, and unjust in the world, and my desire to be free from all of the pain and confusion and devastation that those things caused me.  I felt deeply.  Eddie did too.  You could sense it.  And you could echo it as you sang along.

Better Man was one of the songs that I connected with on a spiritual sort of level.  There were others.  And some even more deeply felt than this one.  But this one came to mind today, because I still feel the same angst at times.  I still know the challenges of being that one in the song—that one who can’t find a better man.

If you don’t know it … well, if you don’t know it you are either too young or too old or just plain Amish, I suppose, because Pearl Jam has been around for longer than my child has been alive (21+ years), and they keep putting out new music and touring the world with old favorites in their sets as well.  But, in case you have decided to go the way of Patrick Star and you live under a rock, I will let you know a bit about the lyrics, and the basics of the song.

She lies and says she’s in love with him; can’t find a better man.

It’s a woman, waiting alone in bed for some man who clearly sucks at being a partner.  She practices what she will say—what boundaries she will set, and what angry rant she will set forth when he finally dares to come home in the wee hours of the morning—but when he actually arrives, she pretends she is sleeping.  She keeps his failure and her misery to herself.  It feels like her fault that she chose him, and she does love him.  And somehow, they have this symbiotic, albeit unhealthy and unfulfilling, relationship that they both continue to choose.  And she echoes over and over:  Can’t find a better man.  Can’t find a better man.  Can’t find a better man.

If you’re like me, you can’t help but sing those words instead of simply read them.  They come to life in your head, in Eddie’s voice. And if you are even more like me, you remember singing those words and meaning them with so much truth that it pained you, and you weren’t entirely certain how to feel when the song came on, because the pain of the truth and the release of the singing it were also tied together in this strange way that worked so well.  Turmoil and beauty connected in a way that only the most broken of us can see, acknowledge, appreciate, and even love.

I felt Better Man so deeply not because I was in a relationship with someone at the time who mimicked the song’s poor partner, but because I was somehow already identifiable, before the terrible partners started lining up in my life and experience, with that woman.  Can’t find a better man.  Can’t find a better man.

Like a fish knows swimming is his mode of transportation, I knew that I deserved to struggle through bad partners—I would live this out, and this would be my pain.

How did I know that?

Pearl Jam, Ten, was released on August 27, 1991.  Twenty-eight years ago, I was still in high school, and I hadn’t had a “real” partner at all. I would start a relationship with my first “boyfriend” not long after this album’s release and have sex for the first time about six months later—if you could call it that … it was more like awkward penetration with mutual dissatisfaction.  And throughout that year, even though I was coming of age and starting to figure out that sexuality was even a thing, sheltered in extreme ways from all its forms and expressions, I had no concept of bad partners the way I would just a handful of years later.  Yet, before it happened I knew.  Eddie sang it the way I felt it, and I still understand it as deeply and with as much truth today.  Can’t find a better man.

Part of the challenge in my own situation, I think, is that Calvinism and the last bits of Dutch puritanism were so pervasive in my little sub-culture.  I knew, even when my conscious mind had repressed every single synapse of sexual abuse, that I was “damaged goods”, impure, unclean, sinful, tainted … you could say it a hundred different ways and it all hurt the same way.  Something in me knew that there was this stain on my reputation, according to the religious and cultural views that were held by those around me.  Of course I would not be worthy of a better man.  I was sullied by debaucherous sins.  “Good” men want “pure” women.  Obviously!

The other part of the challenge was the terrible partners that did start to line up in my life.  They only reinforced the idea that I deserved crap partners who treated me with disrespect, put hands on me in violence, didn’t give me the option of consent—either by force or by coercion and manipulation—and generally just acted like assholes.

How did I end up with this line of losers?  It’s a chicken/egg conundrum that we may never solve.  Either my low esteem attracted the sharks, or the sharks lowered my esteem until I was weak enough to pull under and drown.  But the how and why don’t matter a whole lot, unless you are an anthropologist of some sort.  What matters more is the effect, which was proving to me the stain on my reputation must be evident to all, and I am being punished for it, and given what I deserve.

I can’t find a better man.  I don’t deserve a better man.

And eventually, having remembered the abuse and having been flooded with images, feelings, flashbacks, nightmares, and all of the confusion, rage, and fear of childhood trauma returning to my memory from the deep recesses of my mind, I didn’t want better men.  I wanted dirty, dangerous men who would offer me the opportunity to use sex as a tool for inappropriate coping—reliving traumas through promiscuity and increasingly risky sex.  Better men didn’t pull your hair and pound their pelvis against your ass and call you names and do all of it while another couple had sex in the same room—the other man getting off on watching your face as you were being ridden like a bronco and his own partner looking on, infuriated that everyone in the room was focused on your pleasure and pain.  Better men didn’t pass you on to their friends after they had finished so that another could take advantage of a woman still in the throes of passion when the first man was already spent.  And I happily climbed atop another penis, grinding my pain into men as if my hips were a confessional and thrusting organs were penance I needed to endure until I felt clean again.

But no amount of sex brought me to a place where I felt clean.  I still felt undeserving of the love of a better partner. So, I settled for partners who claimed love but offered insecurities, control, abuse, lust, addiction, avoidant behaviors, and a plethora of negative and damaging behaviors that reinforced the idea that I didn’t deserve love, and a soulmate was somehow outside of my reach, while everyone else around me was allowed to find that “perfect” lover.

Can’t find a better man.  Don’t deserve a better man.  Unworthy of a better man.  Incapable of a better man.  The list of disordered thoughts goes on and on.  And the disordered thinking continues to this day.

I’m still settling for a man that needs “fixing” and babysitting and diagnosing and repeated forgiving for the same error.  I’m still not taking my own good advice, and I’m dating “potential” instead of finding a fully actualized man who exhibits the fullness of his potential in his current circumstance—he doesn’t have the potential to get his shit together; his shit IS together.  I still date men who aren’t the men I want to have and hold as lifelong partners.  And in some way, this must be tied to the idea that I don’t deserve that partner.  I cannot achieve that relationship.  I don’t get to have the better man.

Can’t find a better man.

Some part of me longs for the better man.  Some part of me has all sorts of desire for being in relationship with a loving partner who treats me with respect and equity—a person who offers me compassion and kindness and honesty and love.  And then there is this other part that cannot shake the Dutch Reformed purity bullshit that says I am not white like snow with an untouched vagina and therefore cannot find happiness with a partner who offers me those things.  The dirty of Calvinism doesn’t wash off, and the damage of childhood sexual trauma isn’t something that I can recover from with my PTSD diagnosis, so I sit in the muck of disordered thinking nonstop.  I sit in that muck and I get sucked into unhealthy relationship after unhealthy relationship, because my conscience is a liar and my good advice extends outside of myself and not inward.

The fact is, I won’t find a better man until I find the better in me.

It is here—the better in me.

In fact, good and better and best should define me.  They probably do to most others—the non-Dutch Reformed ones—who encounter me.  I’m not covered in stains, as Calvinism would have me believe, but am a woman who does now, and has always, fought for equality, love, goodness, kindness, rights for all, life, grace, freedom, justice, and all sorts of positive qualities.  I’m overflowing with love and compassion and care for others—all sorts of others, and not just those who look like, act like, and believe like I do.  There is so much better in me.  And such better deserves to be met with better.  This amazing woman definitely deserves a better man … or a better woman, as the case may be, because letting go of my early religion also let me grab hold of the truth that my sexuality is extremely fluid and not fixed.  Regardless, a better man or woman belongs in this picture.  The previous pain that Pearl Jam helped me express is not a pain that I should have ever felt, and I should always have believed that a better man or woman was waiting just around the corner for me, and we would share a beautiful life.

But I didn’t believe that.  I wasn’t taught that.  Eddie Vedder saw or knew or related with women like me, who didn’t believe that and were not taught that, and he sang our pain.  If only he could have offered a correction instead of a correlation and showed me that this wasn’t my anthem but a lie to which I was listening.  Maybe he did mean to show me that, but I didn’t see.  Instead I held the belief that this was my plight and my burden to bear.  I didn’t have people who were correcting my error or replacing that lie with the truth.  I had more and more affirmation that I was a stain and stains deserved to be tossed to the trash bin and left there with the rest of the unclean things.

Can’t find better.  Can’t be better.  Am not better—ever.  No amount of goodness can transcend the one bad thing, even when the bad thing was your victimization and far beyond your control.  Give up now, Christy, because there is no redemption here.  There is only purity and not purity here, and you are not pure.

I recently had the amazing opportunity to visit with a young woman who is living in a situation near to the one that I grew up within.  She mentioned to me an abuse that she suffered, and then said something along the lines of not letting it ruin her.  “Some people let it mess up their life.”  She said she wasn’t one of those people.  But later in our conversation tears welled up in her eyes and she told me of challenges with feeling unheard, and like her parents were not dealing with issues affecting the family, and a number of other things that I felt after suffering abuses as a child.  It is messing up her life, whether she intends to let it or not.  And part of why it is messing up her life is the same reason it messed up mine—the inability of others to find empathy, compassion, and understanding, and their insistence upon seeing the world in black and white, instead of recognizing and honoring the fact that we all live in complex circumstances and hard and fast “rules” or dichotomies of good/evil, or virgin/whore, or right/wrong don’t make sense.  Beyond not working, those strict dichotomies harm innocent people, and reinjure those who are already victimized.  They mess up lives.  They destroy lives.  They convince young girls (or boys) that they will never find a better man (or woman), because they are not deserving … because being a victim has left them stained for life—dirty, bad, and impure.

Not only do I deserve a better man than the ones that have been in my life in my history, but I deserve an amazing man or woman as a life partner.  I deserve that because I am not stained and dirty and impure.  I am an amazing woman, with talent, grace, empathy, passion, perseverance, love, and beauty that are unmatched by most.  I don’t say that to brag or because I am egotistical and narcissistic.  I say that because it is a truth that was hard to learn and needs to be remembered.  I also say it because it is something that many others need to hear and accept.

I am not impure, dirty, damaged, and stained.  I am a victim of horrific and terrifying crimes against my person.  My brain was literally malformed as a result of childhood sexual trauma that was ongoing and created captivity-like conditions, making my brain nearly identical to that of a holocaust survivor.  My hormones, my stress responses, my gut health, my brain chemistry, my bladder and bowel control, and more were harmed by this trauma, and more trauma happened as I was retraumatized when people didn’t believe my claims of harm, doctors broke confidentiality, I was forced to interact with my abuser, my family refused to allow me to speak about or address the abuse, gaslighting and victim-blaming became commonplace, violent abusive relationships resulted from my deep need for connection tied with my inability to form healthy connection due to my complex post-traumatic stress symptoms, and more.

All of this was me being victimized.  None of this was me being impure.  If there were lines that were crossed and bad things that were done they were done by my abusers, the people who didn’t listen when I cried out for help, the doctors who didn’t know how to help and didn’t refer me to someone who could, the family who refused (and still refuse) to address the issues afflicting me and us, the church that pounded the drum of purity so loudly that a young girl was shamed into silence about sexual assault and rape, the “friends” who chose to support the denial of the perpetrator and not support my claim of abuse, the people that told me to “give it to Jesus” and it would be gone who made matters worse by not getting me the help that I needed from medical professionals, and the many people who refused to give up their dichotomous thinking in the face of my pain and struggle and confusion and help ease my suffering.

But if you are one of those people, I don’t judge you, and I don’t blame you.  You were likely (and perhaps still are) stuck in a space where that black and white thinking was affecting your judgment.  You didn’t mean to wrong me, I am sure.  You didn’t know better.  And when you know better you will do better.

I hope that what I write here today will help you know better.  I hope that it will help you move toward doing better.

I don’t want a young woman to come to me and tell me her secrets because she can’t be heard in the space where she lives, just as I couldn’t be heard in the space where I grew up, and where the worst possible things happened to me.  I don’t want that beautiful woman to be holding on to those secrets until she is 40 years old, because she feels impure and shamed by a community that sees things in such black and white terms that it cannot give love to the wounded and the wronged.

I share my story, in part, to heal my own wounds.  It helps me to get it out on “paper” and to release it from the places where it has been hidden for all of these years.  But I also tell it for all of you.  I tell it so that if you are the young men and women who have also been harmed in this way, you can know that you deserve a better man, or a better woman.  You are not impure.  You have no stain.  You are perfect and pure and good.  Someone did something terrible to you.  You deserve justice for that wrong, not shame.  And if you are one who hears of a person or from a person who has been harmed in this way, listen and support that person.  Fight for justice on their behalf and be certain that they receive the aid that they need.  Never support the perpetrator because it is easier than supporting the victim.  Never place blame on the victim.  Never treat a victim as though they should carry some shame.  They do not.  They have been wronged, and they deserve better from you than what I received.

I’m dating someone now.  I’m not always certain that he is my better man.  He has a lot of challenges.  I have a lot of challenges.  It makes things volatile at moments.  But I don’t see things in black and white, and I know that he was a victim of lots of wrongs, just as I was.  So, we work at loving one another, the best way we know how.  He cares for me and he tries very hard to be the best he can for me.  And he is open, honest, and working very hard to be the man that I deserve in my life, because he knows that I am an amazing woman.  That is much more than any man has done for me in the past, so I am happy in this relationship now.  If that changes, I no longer feel tied to shame and insecurity and the idea that I am not enough, so I can walk away without reservation and seek out a better man or woman.  And that is miraculous, given all that I have been through.

I still love to listen to Vedder croon out the words to Better Man.  I still sing along with my teenage angst somewhat intact, but it is more a memory of what was than a feeling of the moment.  I know that I have a better man.  I know that I can find and that I deserve better.  I am not the unclean and impure that should be shamed.  I am the overcomer—the strong, the determined, the loving, the understanding, the one who learns and shifts and grows and fights and finds life, no matter the circumstances she is offered.  And no matter the circumstances you have been given, you can fight to overcome in numerous, amazing ways as well.

We don’t win every fight, of course.  I’m still disabled and suffer from PTSD.  I still have several family members who refuse to discuss the events of the past.  There are many who would still shame me for my actions—like having sex outside of marriage, or smoking weed to manage my fibromyalgia pain.  But what other people want to consider shameful doesn’t matter much to me anymore, because I know my heart and my intentions.  I know that I am a good person who does all that I can to promote equality and justice.  I love deeply, I seek to respect all, I honor the beliefs of others as long as they do no harm, and I work toward creating a better world in any way I am able.  That is what matters.  Lines in the sand, black and white thinking, and rules that shame and harm the innocent do not matter.  Your heart matters.  Your intent matters.

So, let go of shame, call out victim blaming, call out gaslighting, and speak your truth.  Bring evils to light and bring justice to every situation you are able.  Don’t hide.  Tell your story.  And, of course, find a better man—with or without the Pearl Jam album in the background.  (Just kidding—definitely with the Pearl Jam album in the background!!)

Thanks, Pearl Jam.  Thanks, Eddie.  And thanks to everyone who helped and still helps me to step outside of Calvinist shame and to step into the love and light of who I am over and above the victimization that I have experienced.  I am a better woman every time I take that step.

 

 

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Payday

I’m busy printing out proofs to attain a payday loan.  It is a long shot, last resort sort of move on my part.  There aren’t any options left beyond a ridiculous interest rate over 50% and steep penalties should I not meet the strict requirements of repayment of that criminal amount of interest.  It should be a crime for such life crushing loans to exist.  And yet I am working to get one, and desperate to hear them approve me for this loan that I believe to be criminal.

It is nonsense, really.  But it makes all the sense when you live in the margins, where there is never enough, and you are treated with contempt and barely considered human, much less treated with the grace and kindness and compassion that humanity should garner.

These days, I don’t know what “humane” means.  I don’t know that “humanity” exists in the way it once did.  Or, more correctly, I don’t know that it exists in the way that I had imagined.

I was running very late for a doctor appointment the other day and needed to take a Lyft instead of a bus.  My driver, a Somali native, said something along the lines of “selfishness is human nature”.  I wanted to argue that was not true.  I wanted to express the compassion and love that humans were capable of offering one another.  And then I thought better of it, knowing that I was suffering needlessly an economic situation that could be eliminated with just a few dollars from the people who call me “friend”, and knowing that this man, having emigrated from Somalia, knew selfishness and pain and racism and judgment and xenophobia and messed up fucking shit that I, an already despairing woman, cannot even imagine.  Who was I to tell him that humanity has something better to offer??

Instead, I made a statement about perspective and how much we are shaped by what we experience in our lives—hoping to avoid agreement that hurting those whom we can place beneath us so that we might rise is human nature, but also not arguing that we are better than that, because I don’t feel like we are better than that very often of late.

I sit at a desk covered in images of Wonder Woman.  I built it.  I covered it in these images deliberately, because I found it inspiring.  Not only do I sit and work atop a work of art when I am well enough to do work, but I also have a deep sense of justice and love and giving of myself to improve the state of the world, and she embodies that for me, and reminds me that my end goal is a world filled with love and justice.  What I do at this desk should be focused on that goal.  And to a great extent my work is focused on that goal.

But more and more my focus is fear.  There is worry over finances.  There is stress over what I read in the news.  There is the sadness and the horror that comes from seeing the world become more broken, fractured, confused, and afraid as a particular world leader creates xenophobia, insecurity, unrest, racism, and general hatred and chaos.  There is pain and struggle and the fear that the future will become even more difficult than the present.  And that isn’t just my personal fear, but the fear of millions, which is even more heartbreaking, because of my deep empathy.  Wonder Woman and her ideals seem worlds away while I work atop images of her from generations of comics.

I wonder if Donald Trump ever watches super hero films or reads comics.  Do you suppose he sees himself as the hero or the villain?  He certainly doesn’t have the ideals of the hero, so he must be delusional if he identifies as one.

I know that I am not the hero in any story.  I sometimes get painted as one.  Ask my brother-in-law about Christmas Day in Seattle and he will tell you a tale that makes me the hero of the story.  But I am not the hero, because I only did what any human should do—I helped a woman in need.  I felt her pain, I met her in it, and I made certain that she was safe in the hands of professional medical personnel before I left to attend to my own needs.  That is the least that we should be doing for one another.  The absolute least.

There is so much more.

So. Much. More.

Recently, I had dinner with my “brother”, Adam.  We were talking about need and giving and enough and excess.  He talked about aid that he had offered our nephew, and the way that he had added a component of “paying forward” part of the funding that had been offered to him.  Give to another, the way Adam gave unto you.

It sounds a bit biblical, right?

It is a bit biblical.  Because there is a verse in the bible that is pretty much the same.  It is found in the Gospel of John, Chapter 13, verses 34 and 35.  It says, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I suppose that means if my nephew pays forward a third of his college aid, he is a disciple of my “brother”.  Haha.  There are definitely worse men to be disciples of, so this is probably a good thing.

The point I am working toward here is that the goal that we as humans are meant to be working toward—according to Jesus, and according to Adam, and according to Wonder Woman, and according to the feeling in my gut—is offering love and compassion and physical needs and grace and equality and honesty and kindness and more than enough.  And I don’t know when or where we lost sight of that, or whether we ever truly had that in our sights as a society at large.  But our heroes—the embodiments of the best of us—have always had that in view.  We need to cling to that view.

I should be focused on what I can do to continue living out the ideals of Wonder Woman, not on what I need to desperately print out to prove that I am worthy of a criminal payday loan! No human being should be forced to sell their soul so Speedy Cash out of fear that they won’t live from the 28th to the 1st, and will lose their home, contact with their family and friends, and the ability to obtain sufficient calories to sustain their body. And when some of the people are in this state while others are jumping off of fancy boats in the waves on a weekday morning, we are not loving one another as we have been loved.  We are not giving to one another as Uncle Adam gave to us.  We are being selfish.  And we are letting Somali men believe that this is just the way we are as humans—that this is just who we are and will always be: selfish bastards who trample one another to elevate ourselves.

Are you a selfish bastard who tramples others to elevate yourself?  Is that who you want to be?  Is that what you want to be known for and what you want others to believe defines the human condition?

I cannot abide that.  I cannot tolerate that.  I cannot accept that.

I won’t let humanity be a giant game of “king of the mountain” where the ruthless climber is the winner.  Not if I can do anything to help it.

And I can do something to help it.  You can also do something to help!

We can all stop accepting the idea that selfishness is a part of our DNA and refuse to let humanity be defined by anything but the heroic ideals of love and generosity and compassion and care and grace and good.  We get to define who we are, as individuals, as a society, and as representatives of the human condition.  We decide.

So, decide now.  Are you the kind of person who lets payday loans take the souls of disabled, poor women struggling to make ends meet, or are you the kind of person who changes the narrative and refuses to let this be the way that we treat the people in the margins?  Are you the kind of person who is ready to stand up and work hard to eliminate the margins?

It will be difficult work.  Change always is difficult.  You need to learn, you need to change the voices in your head, you need to assess the things that you believe and challenge the beliefs that you have held for many years.  So much of our bias is unconscious, and it takes a lot of self-reflection to work out what we think, and then to consider the ways that thinking might be incomplete, inconsiderate, or just plain wrong.  But if the choice is between doing hard work or letting down humanity, I choose hard work every single time.

Today, I still need the payday loan.  And it breaks my heart to know that I need to sacrifice in this way.  It is a terrible choice.  But there aren’t good choices in the margins very often, unfortunately.  Maybe at some point I will have better options, or there won’t be margins, and humanity will not be seen as selfish, but as loving and generous and compassionate.  Maybe on that day payday loans won’t exist—they actually will be criminal, as in illegal—and disabled women will not be afraid of starving or living under bridges because of financial challenges.  If enough of us choose care over selfishness, this will be reality.

So, choose heroic ideals instead of payday loans.  Don’t let Somalian Lyft drivers believe that this is who we are as humans.  Don’t be this as humans.

We can do better.

I know that we can do better.

Follow Jesus, or Wonder Woman, or Adam.  Choose heroism over selfishness and do better.

As I have loved you, so you should love one another.

Bully

When I was a girl, I suffered from a medical condition that made it impossible for me to maintain control of my bladder.  I had a major surgery just before my tenth birthday that corrected this issue, but up until then, I was tortured by classmates and neighbors.  I was less than ten years old, and I vividly remember one neighbor picking up a rusty nail from a parking area across the street from our homes and suggesting that “we shove this up there so you can stop peeing your pants”.  I remember the taunts of “Christy Pissty”.  I remember being isolated, depressed, ashamed.  This is what children did to me.  Children that were seven or eight years old did this to me.

Where did they learn that hatred and violence?

In the fifth grade, after the surgery and the pant-wetting had stopped, there was this girl, Tammy, (her name is not changed to protect her identity, because she was a fucking terrible person then and she doesn’t deserve my protection).  (Also, I may be spelling her name wrong, but I have no desire to remember the correct spelling of the names of those who tortured me.)  Tammy was friends with Shawn.  Shawn had been my friend for many years, because our parents were friends and we grew up together.  Tammy had the strange idea that three persons cannot be friends together.  I’ve never understood this whole “best friend” thing, and feel like there is more than enough love to spread around.  Lots of girls somehow get an impression that this cannot be true, and that they need to secure the best friend status of one other, and eliminate any competition.

Tammy convinced Shawn to run from me on the playground.  Tammy took the time to create hand drawn cards for both Shawn and I, and then to deliver the whole cards to Shawn through the Kindergarten “mail” that was teaching them how to address letters.  I received a very large package through the Kindergarten mail service.  Everyone crowded around to see what I had been sent.  It was the cards, identical to Shawn’s, ripped into tiny pieces—a pile of hatred on display for everyone in the room.  Everyone laughed and taunted me.

Where did she learn this hatred and violence?

In high school, I became a nomad of sorts.  I didn’t connect with a single group of peers, because I had grown to mistrust people.  (Shocking.)  But I still wanted friends, obviously.  And many people failed me in this stage as well.  I would hang out with a group of boys that were nice and fun to be around, so people called me a slut.  I still had the influence of Tammy.  One Sunday night, I waited by the cold, drafty window that faced the street for my friends to pick me up to go out.  They never arrived.  “There wasn’t enough room in the car” was the reason that Shawn gave.  But they abandoned me, without a word.  Shawn felt the guilt and told me the excuse, but the rest didn’t seem to care.  And somehow I had been singled out as the one who wouldn’t go along.  I was the one crying tears of pain and loss and confusion all night.

Where did they learn this hatred and violence?

I thought college would be my respite.  New friends.  New opportunities.  It was going to be new and different and better.  And it was for a few months, until I started to have memories of childhood sexual abuse.  I confided in a few people.  Those people told other people.  Those people asked friends of my abuser if he had abused me. They asked him.  He said no. (Shocking.)  And I was immediately called a liar and a fraud and all sorts of other things.  I was once more isolated and shamed and abandoned.  I had failed my way out of college by the 3rd semester.  Not only was I finding it very difficult to find and maintain healthy relationships, but the lack of support made the weight of dealing with the memories and nightmares heavy enough to break me.

Where did they learn this hatred and violence?

I proceeded to live out my pain.  Drinking, sex, drugs, harboring runaways, and finally marrying a man who was violently abusive.  He never hurt me while we were dating.  It wasn’t until a month after our wedding that I was first physically smacked—backhanded in the kitchen while I washed dishes.  But the ways that he harmed me weren’t just physical.  Cycles of abuse include manipulations that most cannot imagine.  It is more akin to a cult than a relationship.  Isolate, degrade, shame, and then, once control has been gained, violence against your person.  Getting pregnant gave me the reason I needed to leave.  I would have stayed until I died, I suppose, were it not for the fear that my child would learn to be like me, or like him.

After I left him, I continued on the path of addiction and struggle, even getting involved in a less violent, but just as controlling and unhealthy, relationship.  But even after I left this second relationship, and I worked to regain control of my own life, and to find some peace and some safety and some stability, people kept being bullies.  Church friends would judge me.  Family would challenge me.  Poverty became a reason to treat me poorly, and being a single parent became a reason to shame me.  There was always someone, somewhere actively working to harm and humiliate.  There was never a place where I was safe from harm.  I was always attacked, in some form.

Where did they learn this hatred and violence?

I’ve gotten to a point where I can mediate between the world and my heart in more effective ways.  I’ve been in therapy and on medication for a few years now, following my diagnosis of PTSD.  I’m learning to care less about the things others say and do.  I’m learning to find self-compassion and self-definition, instead of relying on others to tell me who I am and what I am worth.

I still have the occasional bully in my sphere.  It is difficult to get rid of them altogether.  There are so many who are pursuing their self-interest at the expense of all others.  There are so many who are looking at their decisions only from their perspective, and ignoring the impact that exists beyond their own interests.

Where did they learn this hatred and violence?

And it is hatred and violence to ignore the plight of others in order to gain more money or status or freedom or stuff for yourself.  It is hatred and violence to isolate, to shame, to deny equal rights, to deny basic human rights, and to ignore the pain of others.

I was raised in a conservative religious setting, and I obtained two seminary degrees, so I often default to the bible when I look to quote something that expresses the ways that actions are rooted in hatred and violence.  The Good Samaritan parable of the enemy of the harmed caring for him when his own religion and state and race abandoned him to death is one of those very easily quoted parables.  Your own interests are not good excuses for not caring for others is the basic lesson in that story.  But there are also many passages that talk about putting first the interests of the poor and the refugee and the sick and the imprisoned and a host of others who may be marginalized.  There are also many that speak to the judgment that will come down upon those who do not have love as the basis of their actions.

I often find it ironic and sad that the place where I grew up, and the people I know from my history, were often so filled with hatred and violence while they assumed they were in the role of the good Samaritan.  They thought they were the hero in the story.  But they were not and are not.  They are the villains.  They are the bullies.

Since the election the other day, there have been numerous reports of hatred and violence.  Swastikas and n-words and the simple moniker “Trump” have been graffitied everywhere from the sides of cars to the doors of prayer rooms.  Muslim women have stopped the religious practice of wearing burqa or hijab out of fear.  Children are taunting other children, with deportation or isolation or death being named as the fate of brown and black and Muslim students.

Where did they learn this hatred and violence?

They learned it by watching a bully become the president-elect of their country.  They learned it from the rhetoric they hear in the news and around the dinner table.  They learned it by watching the adults in this country make the grave error of choosing a man who spouts hatred and incites violence at every turn as their leader.  They learned it by living in a society that places self-interest above the health and vitality of the society.  We would rather burn with big screens than live peacefully with one another and share resources.

Donald Trump is the Tammy of my current situation.

The threat to end healthcare for millions is a real threat for me. I am chronically ill.  I qualify for Medicaid under the expansion required by the ACA.  I will not have healthcare if that is repealed.  And, without the other ACA requirement of insuring people regardless of pre-existing condition, I will likely be uninsurable.  I’ve had about 200 appointments and four surgeries this year.  I take 18 medications right now.  I see between two and seven doctors per week.  All of this care keeps me in a state of disability, but a rung or two up the ladder from death.  Without this care, I will drop down to the death rung.  I die.

Without food stamps, without insurance, without housing assistance, and without disability, I die.  Losing any one of them will potentially cause the loss of all others.  My life is in danger, because we (and by “we” I mean the electoral college and don’t include myself at all) elected the bully.

When I was left crying that night by the window, left behind by my “friends”, I am relatively certain that all the people present didn’t want me to be abandoned and harmed, but at least one of them did. And by following the lead of that person or persons, friends that had been such for a lifetime were lost.  The effects were devastating, and each person who went silently along in that car was responsible for my pain, because they didn’t put an end to that pain.

Taking stock of my life, and seeing the ways that bullies operate, and the ways that their actions affect others, I am trapped in a serious situation once more.  After living through all the things that I have lived through, and enduring all the struggle while another profited from my demise, I see clearly the ways that electing a bully will impact the nation.  The people who have let this go on, and who have elected a bully, are committing themselves to the ideals of bullying.  They are allowing hatred and violence to win the day, and to rule the country.

I need to ask you, are you going to be the boy with a rusty nail, or the Tammy, or the abusive husband, or the manipulator/cult leader/champion for hatred and violence?

My childhood, my teens, my adult life—every moment and every experience—could have been radically different if the people around me had not been conditioned to consider themselves before others, above others, and in control of others.  The people around me learned it by watching other people (probably their parents) adopt and embrace individualism and reject care and compassion and empathy for others.  Whether you are using the choices one makes or the color of one’s skin as the litmus test for whether you shame and isolate and judge and harm, you are doing harm.  By considering only your own interests, you are doing harm.  By leading with your fear and reactionary instincts, instead of using facts and thoughtful consideration, you are doing harm.  By voting for a bully, you are doing harm.

Where did you learn such hatred and violence?

And why don’t you seek to unlearn hatred and violence and, instead, live in love and peace?

Why do you choose to remain the bully?

 

But Some Lives Don’t

I removed a comment from my Facebook post this morning.  Its basic message was “ALL LIVES MATTER”.  I was as kind and respectful with the one who commented as I was able, but I could not leave that comment on my page.

It isn’t that I think all lives mattering is a bad thing.  I’m all for that.  I would love to see that.

The problem is I see very clearly and close-up that some lives don’t matter.  And that isn’t right, and it isn’t good, and it needs to be rectified.

I think that a lot of people miss the point of the Black Lives Matter movement, and other similar movements that are pressing for equity and safety and opportunity for those who are marginalized in our society.  The point is not that these lives matter more than the “all lives” that some use to counter these movements.  The point is that these lives already live under the oppressive and marginalizing weight of being treated like they don’t matter.

Last night I posted because I watched a young man be shot across the street.  He was a black man, living in an underserved neighborhood—my neighborhood—and he was just walking down the sidewalk when he was struck with bullets and fell to the ground.  There were lots of people out last night, on that same sidewalk on this block.  Women, children, elderly people, and young men all shared the moment.  We sprang into action.  I called for the police and an ambulance.  Several others ran to where the victim had dropped, peeling off their shirts and pressing against wounds, administering what first aid they could and keeping him conscious until help arrived.  And after the event, I posted a plea for an end to this injustice, racism, classism, and access to firearms that transforms quiet blocks on the Westside into blue-lit, yellow-tape-covered, crime scenes.

Many responded with sadness, some with shock.  One left the “ALL LIVES MATTER”.

They don’t.  They matter in the sense that I believe in equity and that humans deserve love and respect and opportunity and safety and security as humans.  They don’t in the way our society currently treats the brown and the black and the poor and the sick and the suffering.  We are treated like shit.  We are treated like our lives are not worth the air we breathe.  We are treated as though our lives mean less to others than “rights” to have entitled and privileged and unfettered space for the most white and most rich and most cis and most male and most heterosexual.  We are treated as though our lives don’t matter.

Here I will interrupt myself for a moment and clarify something.  I’m not black or brown.  I am poor and sick and queer, so I understand much of the marginalization that my neighbors experience, because I experience that too.  But my plight is not their plight, exactly.  I can pass for a normative, respected, acceptable person when I am not asking for money or ranting about the problems that disability creates.  I can simply not share with others that I am unable to work and struggling to survive.  But my neighbors can’t pass as white-bodied individuals.  And no matter what other status or wealth or purpose or good works they may have associated with them on an individual level, they are judged first and foremost by the color of their bodies.  And that judgement leaves them unsafe, disrespected, gunned down, impoverished, and more.

I live in an area where I am one of very few white people.  It took me living here for over a year to even meet some of my neighbors.  There was a suspicion that floated about me.  Why was I here?  What did I want?  Why would I not live in a “better” or “safer” area?  After all, I am white, so I should be able to easily find a place to be among the other white people.   But I am poor and disabled, so I cannot afford to live among the other white people.  And, as my neighbor so poignantly expressed last night, “None of them are buying you a house in the suburbs, are they?”

Nope.

Nobody has offered me a place to live in the relative safety that they live in.  Some will help with finances so that I can continue to eat and heat or cool my home and stay alive in my marginalized state.  Many will judge me and treat me poorly and say bad things about me to others in order to discredit my claims that the system is rigged against people like me and my black and brown neighbors.  “Lazy, free-loading, welfare queens” is how they see us—not as hard-working people of integrity who just happen to have arbitrary traits that prevent us from being valued in our society.

I stood outside and talked with my neighbors for some time last night after the shooting had happened.  We talked about how nobody wants this for themselves or the ones they love.  We talked about how a teaching career and a host of graduate degrees and the love of god and fellow humans means nothing, because we have that arbitrary trait of ours that negates all of the good, purposeful traits.

We are good people, by and large.  We are families.  We hold down two or three jobs.  We learn from a young age to appease the system at all costs, to prevent increased suffering.  We learn that even appeasing that system all the time will not necessarily prevent suffering—it might still end in us shot on the sidewalk.  It may even cause us to be shot by the people who are sworn to protect and serve us.

I’m not black or brown-skinned.  But I count myself as “we”.  I count myself that way because I have been immersed in this culture, in this neighborhood, and in this experience for over five years.  That is but a fraction of the years that these others have and will be marginalized due to arbitrary standards, but it is enough time for me to know and to feel the pain that is endured here.  Not fully, of course, but in part, I feel what those around me feel.  I hear their cries.  I listen to their stories.  I relate to their pain and fear and frustration.

I had PTSD long before I began living in a ghetto-like environment where people of color are trapped for lifetimes, and living to age 50 is a landmark worthy of parties bigger than the reception after most weddings.  But being here triggers much, because the traumas of being black surround me, even though I am white.  I’m not afraid of or in my neighborhood.  I am afraid for my neighborhood, and the people within.

Our lives do not matter to politicians or manufacturing companies or many of the police or “decent” white people living in large houses in nice areas where you don’t even lock your doors at night.  Our lives don’t come with the assurances offered to others.  Our lives are lived moment by moment, challenge by challenge, and triumph by triumph.  And we value life more than most, because we see the fragility, and we understand how quickly and without comment we can be removed from this world.

There were no news vans or helicopters last night on my block.  There were only those who live here and those paid to come here and help.  This young man was gunned down in the street, and only those who live and work here even know about it.

Sure, there might be an article on Monday about how many shootings and homicides happened in Chicago over the weekend.  But this young man may not even be mentioned specifically, and all the people with power to change the situation will pass over that article and give it over to statements including drugs, gangs, “black on black” crime, or “ALL LIVES MATTER”.  They will give it over to excuses, and not to the truth of the matter.

The truth of the matter is that we do not matter.  The sick, the aging, the black or brown, the woman in hijab, the man with prison tattoos, the person with the name you don’t know how to pronounce, the mother who has three jobs to provide for her children, the veteran on the corner with a sign and a paper cup asking for care and respect and the ability to live—we don’t matter.  And we feel the weight of that every day.  We know you don’t believe we matter.  If you did, you would change your actions and fight for our rights and stop saying that “ALL LIVES MATTER” to justify your ignorance and lack of care for the most vulnerable in our society.

If all lives really mattered to you, you would stop purchasing fast fashion to save the lives of Bangladeshi men and women.  If all lives really mattered to you, you would demand that social security support those who are disabled without years of suffering and waiting to be heard and offered care.  If all lives really mattered to you, you would be screaming at your representatives to put an end to the sale of handguns and assault weapons in our country.  If all lives really mattered to you, I wouldn’t be trying to crowdfund my existence because you would be generously donating funds or making certain that there were safety nets for those who need them in this country.  If all lives really mattered to you, you would reassess your views regarding women and birth control and safe access to abortion to make certain that you were not looking at the issue from a privileged viewpoint.  If all lives really mattered to you, you would fight for the rights of the formerly incarcerated, sex workers, and juvenile offenders.  If all lives really mattered to you, you would call for an end to the “war on drugs” and private prisons and mass incarceration.  If all lives really mattered to you, you would celebrate love between people, regardless of their gender, and use the pronouns and names that transgender or queer individuals have chosen for themselves, and stop looking sideways at men in dresses, or women with shaved heads, assuming that they are “wrong” somehow, for being who they are.  If all lives really mattered to you, you would be outraged by the oppression of, marginalization of, or limited rights of any and all people or groups.  If all lives really mattered to you, they would matter equally.

I can hug a homeless, mentally ill, prostitute on the corner and wish him a good day and ask how he is doing.  His life matters to me, regardless of anything he does or does not do.  And if all lives matter, then he should have healthcare and medication and safe housing and opportunities to make money in other ways than selling the only “capital” he has—his body.  If you wouldn’t go near such a man, then all lives do not matter to you.

If you would not sacrifice a portion of your own comforts and securities to make certain that all others had equal, or at least basic, comforts and securities, then all lives do not matter to you.

And if you cannot admit that you treat lives in a hierarchical manner, placing some lives higher than others, then you are in no position to say “ALL LIVES MATTER”.

This post is harsh.  But I won’t apologize for that, because it is necessary.

People with extreme privilege need to stop pretending at care for all lives.  Instead, all people need to care for one another in a manner that demonstrates we want a world without privileged status—we want a world where each life matters as much as our own.

I don’t see that from most of the people who say things like “ALL LIVES MATTER”.  I don’t see that from many of my acquaintances or my Facebook “friends”.  I don’t see that from most of my family members.  I don’t see that in my neighborhood or in my city or in the way that the problems we are facing are addressed.  I don’t see equity.  I don’t see lives that matter.  I look out my window and I see a sweet young man, who passes my home almost every day, bleeding on the sidewalk—shot, wounded, and not mattering much at all.

So, please, for the love of all that is good, stop pretending and making excuses and going forward without challenging the systems that are oppressing others.  Grow.  Think.  Listen.  Consider.  And then change, so that you are participating in a society that offers equal rights and equal benefit and equal status to all.

Don’t say all lives matter until you are doing everything you can to honor every single person living on this planet, and have your actions be intimately tied to the care and concern for every single one of those lives.  My guess is that following this suggestion will create a situation where only a handful of people I know—maybe less—will be able to say that all lives matter.  The rest need to sit and study and wrestle with the concepts of privilege and oppression and injustice and equity for a longer time and with more intent.

Yes, all lives matter.  But no, we aren’t treating people in that manner.  So start treating people as though they matter, or stop fucking saying that they do.

This morning the blood is washed away and people are out doing work.  The men across the street are working on fixing a car.  Next door to them is a man working diligently to rehab a house that has been boarded up for about four years.  I’m sitting in my office, overlooking the children and the young people and the men and women moving about.  We just go on.  We just keep on doing life in the best way we know how, in the midst of trauma and terror and task forces and terrible social support systems.  We are resilient and we are strong and we are good.  We keep fighting for change and working toward peace and summoning hope and praying for better situations.

Even if you don’t show us our lives matter, we know that they do.  So we live our lives, in the best possible ways we can.  Our lives matter to us.  We hang on to one another, and we work together, and we keep telling our stories, hoping the world will one day hear and respond.  Hoping one day we will see that our lives matter, that all lives matter equally, on a global scale.

May that day come soon.

 

Same

There is this way of speaking that has taken over much of the communication between me and my daughter, and some of my friends as well, I suppose.  We shorten things.   It just seems like a whole lot of flourish and extra syllables isn’t necessary or important.  And while, as a writer, I am a huge fan of the flourish and the big words, in life they aren’t always helpful.

So, when we are thinking, “I completely agree and have a very similar perspective on this issue”, we instead say, “Same”.

I’m in the mood for pizza.

Same.

I can’t believe the state of the world and am grieving deeply over the pain and wounding that is overwhelming millions.

Same.

I wish that I could be in La Jolla right now.

Same.

I’m overcome with grief and don’t know how to express anything clearly, but everything hurts.

Same.

Yesterday I received news of the death of a good friend of my parents.  And all day I was feeling the weight of grief.  I was feeling it not just over the loss of her life, which is definitely significant and important, but also I was mourning the loss of my own mom.  And I was drawing all sorts of parallels between the lives of these two couples and feeling for those going through what I and my family went through a year ago.

All day I wanted to reach out to the daughter of the deceased wife and mother.  But there were not words.  There weren’t words when my own mother died either.  And the platitudes and “she is with Jesus now” assurances helped not one bit.  In some cases, they did more harm than good.

So, in the evening, I finally realized that what to say was that there was nothing to say—that nothing makes that pain lessened and nothing changes the complex feelings and nothing brings back the mother that you long for now more than you ever did when she was alive.  And I reached out with exactly that: an assertion that nothing would help and that I wouldn’t pretend it might.  I offered my love.  I offered my listening ear.  And I offered my sympathies.

And she shared a huge piece of her heart in reply.

As she expressed her feelings and her struggles and her joys and her surprise and her pain, I realized that all of these long years, we have been living a parallel life.  As she spoke of her many-faceted emotional state and the journey that she had been on as her mother became sick, her father became a care-taker of sorts, and her mother passed, I could have replied with that often used, “Same”.

We were sharing a history, but doing so apart from one another.

When we were kids we played together when our parents got together.  And it wasn’t as though we didn’t enjoy hanging out, but over time, as we became old enough to not be dragged along to our parents’ social events, we stopped spending time together.  And there were times when we connected over the years—running into one another at Christmas or a special event when we were all present once more.  But those little interactions became cordial and socially acceptable, instead of times when we played with abandon or shared secrets or did all those things that come easy when you are young, but cease to be so as you grow up.

Peter Pan had the right of things, in many ways.  Growing up steals much of the honesty and joy and many of the dreams which childhood allows, and even encourages.

What was stolen from this woman and myself was the opportunity to share our similar journeys.  Until last night, we had not had the opportunity to bond over shared experience, or to support one another.  It took the death of both of our mothers to recognize one another on a path we had been walking together for years.

I’ve been thinking much today about this sameness, and this similarity, and this shared experience.  I’ve been thinking that we all felt the weight of struggles alone, and all of this time we could have been bearing them together.  I have had other childhood friends express feelings that I have struggled with: I’m not enough, I’m not good enough, I cannot compare with person X, I don’t fit in, I can’t do anything “right”, I didn’t want to treat person Y like that but wasn’t brave enough to put an end to it and went along with the crowd.   All of this time, we were all young women (and a few men) who felt alone in our struggle.  We were not alone.

We are not alone.  We are united in this struggle.

The organizer in me wants to shout from the rooftops that we need to come together and fight against our common enemy.  But the pastor in me knows that such a strategy isn’t necessarily the right approach here.  What might be helpful is for me to express continually my struggle, and to allow others the safe space to express their struggle.  Because SO MANY TIMES I find that we are coping with the same feelings, and have so much in common, and could be bearing burdens together.

I’ve said before, and will say again, that I label myself as “spiritual but not religious” because organized religion has left bad tastes in my mouth time and again.  I believe in the Divine.  I don’t name it in terms of a triune god, but I believe.  But one of the things that many religions teach, and that I think is a divine directive, is that we share in one another’s burdens—we carry the heavy shit together to make it lighter.  And for some reason the place where I grew up chants the religion like a name at a boxing match, but also chastises individuals and tosses burdens onto their backs while they whisper behind their hands at the failures of those individuals to carry the load.

It is a sick practice, really.  It is wholly other than the divine imperatives to care for and love and welcome and heal and help everyone—like literally everyone.  All of those imperatives tell us to help carry the load, not toss it on the back of another.

I broke under the weight.

So many people I know broke under the weight.

And still the weight is piled.  My daughter experienced that weight when we moved back to that area.  And I left, rather than have her live in that place and in that way where you never feel like enough and people are constantly trying to hide their brokenness by breaking the person next to them.

Today I see that we can fix this.  Today I see that we were fighting the same war, but we were all at different battle sites.  If we could have been honest then, in our adolescence, and shared how we were struggling, we could have become a powerful force for change.  We could have swept that town of gossip and lies and shaming that keep the focus off of the problems of one, only to shatter the life of another.  We could have united to bear one another’s burdens.  We could have lifted the weight and held one another up and shared a journey.

We didn’t.

But I am committed to doing so now.

The past doesn’t change when we change in the future, but it can transform in some ways.  It has the benefit of perspective, and new perspective can shed light on events, even though the events themselves do not change.  And I am ready to look at this childhood in this place with these people in a new light, and with new honesty and connection and trust.  I believe that looking at it in this way will transform not just the past, but will transform us as women and men who thought for all these years that we were alone in our struggles.  Knowing we were in it together and talking about it together in this later stage of life empowers us.  It lets us acknowledge and release the bad and lets us acknowledge and embrace the good.

And that doesn’t happen overnight.  And some events you don’t get over completely—or at least there are some I don’t think I will recover from completely.  But knowing that the burden is shared, and that I am not the only one carrying the weight of those events puts me well on the way to recovery.

So, here I am, people of my youth (and any other time period, really).  I’m standing open to receive and to offer with honesty, with trust, with grace, and with understanding the journeys—mine and yours and ours—and the events and the feelings and the burdens.  I’m here, committed to change, committed to new life, committed to carrying the weight together.

Let’s all try to open up.  Let’s try to do it before any more of our parents die.  Let’s know that the circumstances of our childhood don’t define us.  Let’s know that molds were made to be shattered in order to exhume the beauty within.  Let’s know that we don’t need “thicker skin” or to keep our business private or to hide or to hurt.  We are allowed to be—in all of our ways of being we should feel comfortable and free and alive.  Let’s stoop under the weights of our friends and neighbors and partners and brace ourselves underneath, helping to lighten the load a bit.  And when enough of us are willing to stoop down and take some of that weight, we all find relief.

Community.  I’ve studied it for a long time.  And I keep coming back to this idea, that burdens are borne together, or we are crushed.  So, in order to survive, we need to start looking at the plights of those around us and responding with the short and effective communication that my daughter and I have come to use so frequently.  Same.

There is a quote I use often, and love from Lilla Watson.  “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time; but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

It is time for us to work together.  In my childhood community, in my current community, in my social circles, in my city, in my country, in my world, and in my universe it is time for us to work together.

It is time for us to understand that the liberation of one is bound to the liberation of all.

We can only be free when we are free together.  We can only bear burdens with all of us carrying the weight.  We overcome only because we do so together.  And we do so together because in many ways we are all on the same journey—not just in the specifics of events or feelings, but in the sense that we are all evolving and developing into a better version of humanity (or we should be, at least).

We are meant to look to the person next to us, to see their experience and their perspective and the events that shape them and to declare, “Same”.  And if we cannot do that, we will be crushed under weights we didn’t imagine would ever be placed upon our shoulders.

I think we see that in the news every day of late.

We join in sorrow over things that were caused by a refusal to bear burdens of another.  Discrimination doesn’t hurt us personally—that is the burden of the gay or the black or the Muslim—so we don’t enter the fray.  And we are seeing the results of that failure to stoop and lift with our fellow human beings.  When we don’t bear the weight together, people break.  But there are consequences felt throughout the entire community when those individuals break.  You can’t escape the aftershock of the seismic events.  So, why refuse to help hold the weight that might prevent those events?  Ignoring the problems of others doesn’t work.

We lift together, or we are crushed.  All of us.  The whole of humanity.  The entire planet.

And saying it that way makes it seem an enormous task.  But it really just starts with us listening and bearing the weight of the feelings and experience of another.  A world full of people caring about the person next to them is a world that resembles what most would see as a heaven or a paradise.

That heaven, that paradise, is achievable in the here and now.

It can happen if you open up and share your journey, and listen well to join in the journey of another.  It will happen if we simply love one another, care for one another, and bear one another’s burdens.  It will happen when we hear the struggle or joy of another and can respond with a genuine agreement.

“Same.”

 

 

 

 

Silence

The news tells me to take a moment of silence at 6:00 pm.

And I will do so, in honor of the 50 people dead, and the others still fighting for life.

But I can’t remain in silence.  Not this day.  Not in this moment and after this event.

I need to cry.  I need to scream.  I need to freak the fuck out!

And so do you.

This cannot happen anymore.  It needs to end.  Gun control vs. protecting yourself needs to be seen as what it is:  Complete Bullshit!  50 people died, with an officer on site … apparently after the officer already fired shots at the gunman.  That gunman bought guns, legally, after being considered a possible terrorist on multiple occasions, according to NPR, and only days before this terrible event.  And that should not have happened.  That should not be able to happen.  That should never have been possible and it should never be considered acceptable.

Look, you can argue all you want, but that won’t make it necessary for anyone in the United States of America to own an assault rifle—EVER.  And your excuses of hunting or protecting your family are not valid.  No research shows that you are safer with a gun.  All of it says you are more likely to die from a gun if you own a gun.  Some studies say four times more likely.  And hunting I have done.  You need no more than a shotgun to make one hell of a dead beast.  And a shotgun is actually preferable if you hunt different sorts of game. If you can’t manage it with a shotgun, you are a shitty hunter anyway, and should probably just give it up.  And, for that matter, you don’t need a gun at all.  If you wanted to remain true to the hunting roots of the country, then you would fashion yourself a bow and some arrows.  If you are hunting for meat, great—as long as you are doing so legally and as safely as possible.  If you are hunting for sport, you are a disgusting excuse for a human in the first place.

Yep.  I said it.  Said it all.

And I am going to keep on saying it forever.

But the thing I need to say even more loudly than the gun control things. (And that shocks even me, because I am a champion of gun laws and constantly telling you that my neighborhood needs you to care about people being shot here, not about hunting or protecting from imaginary threats somewhere else.)  What I need to scream and cry over is that this happened at a gay club just days before my own city begins to celebrate Pride.

And there has been no official connection made at this time between the gunman and the gayness.  There is not, it would seem, any information to state that this was anything but a randomly chosen Latin Night packed with people who may identify in some gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, asexual, queer, gender-queer, pansexual, sapiosexual, intersex, or other than strictly heterosexual way.  (Feel free to add your identifiers in the comments if I missed you.  I’ll make sure you have representation next time I approach the subject.)  But the fact that there is no known connection doesn’t mean it isn’t connected for me.

It is connected for me.

It is connected for me, because while I am not an “out and proud” anything, since I have yet to fully define what my sexuality might be, I identify as something other than strictly heterosexual.  I identify with this group and this cause and this marginalization and this struggle and this attack whether the gunman intended to target me or no.  Because how can you not see violence against a group you identify with or as in a way that makes you feel like a target?

My first real “introduction” to gayness came in a sad form.  My cousin had contracted HIV, and he was dying of AIDS.  I’m not sure if having AIDS gave him the strength to come out, or if coming out was legitimized by him having AIDS.  But I don’t think that in the early 90’s he would have come out to his hyper-religious, right-wing relatives without the HIV being part of the equation.  I can’t imagine a scenario where he would be treated with anything but disdain if he didn’t have the added “bonus” of being near to death.  You can’t be mad at somebody while they are dying.  You don’t scream at people who are dying and accuse them and call them names.  The dying part outweighs the gay part.

But the fact is, when I was a sophomore in college and would tell people at my Christian liberal arts college that my cousin was dying of AIDS, the ONLY response that I ever heard leave their lips upon hearing that news was, “Is he gay?”  Nobody who didn’t know the man seemed to give a crap about the dying part.  They wanted to know if he was disgustingly, salaciously gay.

And he was.

And I loved him no less at any moment because he was gay.

He still holds the title for favorite cousin on that side of the family.  And my daughter was named in his honor.

At that time in my life, sexuality was not the only way that my religious leanings and my life were crashing into one another in annoying and disturbing ways, so the situation with my cousin wasn’t something that I would dwell on.  But it wouldn’t be many years later that I started to wonder what the heck was wrong with me, because I felt in love with women.  And that couldn’t be right.

I’m not sure why I thought it couldn’t be right.  I didn’t mean that in a good vs. evil kind of right, but just in the sense that I didn’t find it believable.  I liked men.  I liked sex with men.  I had lots of sex with men.  And yet, I fell deeply in love with a young woman.  She is still counted among the most loved and most influential and most important people in my life’s history.  She was everything.  She was amazing.  She still is, I think.  And until/unless she reads these words, she might have no idea that she was my first and truest love to date.  We never had a sexual relationship, but I was never afraid to curl up next to her and be held, or to kiss her lovely round face and rub my hands over her bald head and feel all the good feelings that could ever be had.  She meant the world to me.  I sacrificed much for her, and I would do it again a thousand times over. And I never knew that I was in love with her until many years later.  And I never voiced it until now.

Because it seems wrong to not say it.  It seems wrong not to tell you this story of my life and my development and my movement from straight to queer after what happened in the early moments of this day in history.  It seems wrong not to align myself openly, distinctly, and deeply with every person who has other than the heteronormative standards our society espouses as correct and righteous and good.  Because any society that can still hold on to judgment against love and hold on to personal safety over and above the safety of all others, is shit.  And I want no part in it.

But this is the society I live in.  I can’t leave—I haven’t got the means to get to Canada or the Netherlands, much less take up residency there.  So, if I can’t leave it, I must change it.  And I start by ending my own silence.

I have alluded to the fact that I am queer on several occasions, but I have never been overt in claiming the queer as my tribe.  I have deliberately been vague at times, because there are places and people who are not open to a lifestyle that isn’t heteronormative.  And because I pass as heteronormative VERY easily (some would even call me a hedonistic, man-devouring, slut!), I don’t need to be out.  I don’t need to use the word “partner” and make you question my sexuality.  I don’t need to hold hands with a woman, or get married to a woman, or even date a woman, ever.  And that is because I have the choice.  I’m not a lesbian.  I’m not gay.  I love men AND I love women.  So, I could live my whole life without ever expressing any interest in women.

Except I can’t not express it today.  I can’t pretend that I am “normal” and go on living while 50 people die while others celebrate Pride.  I can’t stand by and watch that happen and not be broken into shards and weep.  I can’t stay in a closet of convenience while my best friends in the world come out to me, because they don’t have the choice I have.  They don’t love both men and women.  And in the eyes of the religious or the right-wing or the tea partiers or the whatever, they love the wrong gender.

So, I am taking a stand today.  I am voicing it.  I am making my public declaration and letting the world know, in no uncertain terms, that I am NOT strictly heterosexual.  And whether I am pansexual, or bisexual, or sapiosexual, or something entirely new and different doesn’t really need to be flushed out and finalized for me to take this stand and make this declaration.  All you need to know for now is that I don’t stand with the LGBTQIA+ community because I am empathetic, though I am.  And I don’t stand with this community because I am committed to equal rights and human rights, though I am.  But I stand with this community because I am a PROUD part of this community.

My darling Kaytebug, I was in love with you.  Rachel, I spent half of yoga class lusting after you.  Kate, your brain made me want to hold on to you and kiss you for a lifetime.  Jess, I would marry you.

And I didn’t know all of that at the time.

There weren’t any models for lesbianism around in my sphere until Ellen. Willow came along too late for me to have had a teenage breakthrough based on her love life (though many of my friends loved that Buffy character best primarily because they could identify with her love life).  And I am not a lesbian, so there was no reason for me to consider why I only liked women, because I could just spend my time dating, marrying, procreating with, divorcing, living with, and having sex with men.  I still can (excepting the procreation part—I’m almost 42 and haven’t a uterus).  But I am to the point where I won’t.

Not that I won’t be with men.  I absolutely will.  But I will also allow myself the freedom to be with women.  Or smart people.  Or dog lovers.  Or whatever qualifying aspects I might wish to place upon my sexual preference at some time.

But the thing that I needed to say today—the thing that ached to be said—was that I am one of you/them (depending on where you place yourself on the Kinsey scale).  I am one of you, LGBTQIA+ community.   And I am not one of you, hating-upon-people-and-judging-love-as-sin community.

I am queer and proud.

And I will not keep it hidden and will not be silent.  I will speak my truth in solidarity and strength.

And I will mourn and rage and fight against attacks like the one today with my full voice.  I will chant and sing and march and yell and I will refuse to stop until change comes and lives are protected and the NRA is not.  I will refuse to stop until it is no longer shocking or disappointing or strange for anyone to come out—and coming out won’t be a thing, because we will all be able to live in our truth, and see models of our sexuality, and accept ourselves as we are without being questioned and without being attacked.

I won’t be silent until my friend can bring the love of his life to weddings.  I won’t be silent until everyone I know has safe access to the bathroom of their choosing.  I won’t be silent until the disabled and queer intersection is recognized.  I won’t be silent until people accept my sexuality as equally normal with heterosexuality—because it is normal.  It isn’t weird or wrong.  And you cannot find an argument strong enough to discount what I know in the core of my being and experience every day—that gender and sexuality are fluid for many of us, and fixed for some of us, but never a reason to hate or berate or discount or deny the rights of others.

I won’t be silent until my society is safe from both bigotry and gun violence.

And you shouldn’t either.  Because you should be empathetic, and you should be committed to equal rights and human rights.  Everyone should.

Make some noise for a good reason.

Stand in silence and solidarity for a moment, but then scream your solidarity from the rooftops.  And don’t stop until change happens, and we live in a society of equals, devoid of senseless attacks upon one another, and supportive and loving and caring and kind … and potentially hoarse, because we will have been screaming our solidarity and our identity and our passionate pleas for justice from the rooftops.

Documented

Documents and documenting are serious themes in the past few weeks to months.  It is interesting to me the ways that we are forced or encouraged or inspired to document, and all the different reasons that are used to justify or explain that documentation.

I recently had to make a trip to my local office of the Chicago Housing Authority.  I had used their new online participant portal to upload requests for a rent renegotiation due to household income changes in both August and February.  In August, they denied my claim, saying I had not attached documents proving my claim—but I literally uploaded them per the instruction of the site, and had copies and receipts of all the attached information.  Last week, they claimed that I had never made a request in February, and that my mailed documents of proof (which I had mailed to avoid the same result I was met with in August) went to the wrong address (the address listed on their form and web page, by the way).  So, they claimed there was no proof that I ever applied for a renegotiation.

Not true.  I had documents and receipts a plenty this time.  There was no way I was letting the lack of documents be my downfall this time around.

So, I went into that office with an entire folder full of documents.  I brought documents proving I applied with proper documentation in August and was denied.  I brought documents proving I applied again in February, and supporting documentation that I deserved the rent adjustment at that time as well.  And, for good measure, I brought in documents removing my daughter from my household over a week before she moves into her own apartment.  All of those documents were copied and admitted and dealt with by the office manager at the office, and then she said, “Now, the only thing we are missing is two documents signed by your daughter and we can get all of this processed.”

Gaaaahhhhh!!!!

I called my daughter and asked if she would head down to the office after work to sign these added documents.  They closed at 5, and she made it there at 4:45, signed the documents, and in the next 30 days, my mailbox will receive documents that tell me whether or not I am allowed the revision in rent, whether or not they will back-date to the dates of application, whether or not I will receive a refund of the monies I overpaid due to these errors on the part of the housing authority, and a document that tells me to come into the office again and sign about 45 other documents so that they can give me documents to take to my landlord, so that he can accept my voucher sans dependent child document and let me keep living in the same home I am currently living in.

If you thought being poor was tied to laziness, you are an idiot.  I fill out as much paperwork as any doctor or lawyer I know.  I just don’t get paid for filling it out—unless you count rental assistance and food stamps as getting paid, which I don’t, because safe housing and food security are basic human rights. (A fact that most developed countries have embraced and created systems of care to ensure. But not the United States, because we are selfish, entitled brats who believe we somehow earned our privileges—in other words, ignorant assholes.)

And if you thought you heard the word “documentation” enough for a lifetime in my earlier paragraphs, then prepare to be disappointed!

There are all sorts of other forms of documentation that are tied to my disability case.  The disability system is such that you are denied the first time.  Almost everyone not in a wheelchair, nursing facility, or mental ward is denied.  That is just the way it works (inefficiently and expensively).  You acquire documents from all of your doctors, you fill out numerous assessments, you add in assessments filled out by those who know you or live with you, and then you wait for documents that say you are denied.  After the denial documents, you go find a lawyer, and they make you sign about 87 documents because you must sign disclosure statements for every lawyer who might work on your case, not just the law firm, according to the state, effectively requiring the disabled person to sign the same document 4, 5, or 6 times, depending on the number of lawyers in their particular firm.  Then you wait for the exact same assessments to arrive and be filled out another time, and collect the same medical records, but your lawyer asks you to keep them informed of any changes in treatment or diagnosis and to document your wellness or lack thereof, so you give all the paperwork you did last time, plus you begin logging your daily mood, daily function, daily tasks, and any and all changes that happen, to support your case when your redetermination is denied, and then you have to file paperwork requesting a hearing, and get back a document that says you will be given a court date in about 10 to 12 months.  Then you document changes and function and symptoms and such for a year, while you wait to bring all the information amassed in the past three years before a judge.  Who, if we have done all the things correctly, will create a legal document stating that I am, in fact, disabled.

It isn’t difficult to understand, at this point in the post, why I hate documents.  I am so overwhelmed with paper that I sometimes feel it is drowning me, and paper cuts are just par for the course in my situation.  If I don’t have any, I worry that I must have missed some paperwork that needs filling out or filing.

But yesterday I was introduced to a new form of documentation.

Yesterday, two friends came over to help me create a video for my fundraising page.  And we started by documenting things.  One suggested things that we could document, and the other started slowly, but surely, taking video and still footage of all the things.  We started with adaptive tools—the things I need on the daily to live life: special knives and peelers and openers for the kitchen, a tool to tie buttons and pull zippers, various adaptive pens and pencils and cutters (because I can’t use scissors without severe pain and injury), and more.  Then we moved on to the overflowing basket of medications and the daily pill organizers that are filled with multiple doses of many of those medications.  We also printed a copy of my next two weeks of appointments, which required three pages of paper.  And we looked up the list of current illnesses, which wasn’t complete since not all of the things are recorded in the same place, but still took almost an entire page.  Next was physical therapy and occupational therapy papers that show what exercises I am to be doing daily.  We spread them out over the floor, and as I was preparing them I dropped papers that scattered all across the living room.  My friends filmed as I sat and worked to collect and organize this pile of documents once more, and caught on camera the fact that I cannot see some of my therapists due to insurance refusals, documenting that my medical needs are sometimes not met because of money.  And by that time we were all exhausted and decided that we would need another meeting to document all of the ways that my illnesses affect my life—maybe two.

But this documentation, this mini-documentary of my daily life, being made by the son of two documentarians and his fiancé, was eye-opening and expressive of things that I hadn’t imagined.  My life is really difficult.  And there are all sorts of proofs of it.

However, the thing that was most shocking to me was that I am doing all these things.  I am doing my exercises and using my splints and walking in water to get some cardio and eating 1100 calories and none of them sugar and filing all the papers and bringing in all the documents and taking all the medicines and attending four and five medical appointments each week and stretching and meditating and coloring mandalas and doing art therapy and studying nutrition and gardening and using my paraffin bath and doing yoga and writing and more. I am doing far more than anyone might imagine, because I am doing far more than I could have imagined.

When I look at all the things that make up my life, and I am drowning in the sea of papers, and exhausted or craving chocolate or in pain, and feel insignificant and incapable, I rarely look at the proofs of all that I am doing.  I look at all the documents that show I am not “good enough”–poor and sick and lacking.  I don’t look at the documentation that shows me doing every possible thing I can do to be the most well I can be.  I get dragged down by the negative proofs and don’t even consider that there are positive proofs.

While some might not understand the life of the chronically ill person, and will refuse to believe the proofs laid out in my mini-documentary, I know that I am doing so much hard work to live my best possible life.  Whether that means I walked the dog, or I ate vegetables, or I colored for a bit, or I remembered to connect with my breath, relax my face and neck, and engage my core when feeling fearful or overwhelmed on a stressful transit ride, or I washed the dishes, or I asked for help, or I practiced new body mechanics, or I managed to finish an article or blog post, I am doing everything that I can do to live well.

My previous ideas of living well were not good ideas of living well, in many ways.  And when my focus shifted from living out my pain in ways that brought more pain to creating a life that included education and progress and sufficiency and stability, I thought that meant I was on the path to living well.  And I believed that documents like my resume and my degrees and my personal and professional references were the ones that would bring me other good documents, like the deed to a house and paystubs that showed more than three digits before that decimal point and an insurance card that I could bring to the orthodontist to receive services.

But I had it wrong.  None of those documents are proof of living well.  I know plenty of people with bigger incomes and better insurance coverage who are not living well, but are full of contempt and hatred and negativity.  I know plenty of people with lots of letters behind their name from years of education who are completely ignorant on important points.  I know plenty of people who are physically and financially well, but complain every time I see them about one thing or another in their life, refusing to see anything that has good or peace or acceptance or joy at its core and only seeing the negative.  None of those people are living well.

Documenting my life started as a project to garner support from others, by offering proofs of my need.  And, I suppose, that is still one of the goals of the project.  But, it has become much more than that for me.  It has become a proof of the fullness of my life, and the extent of my dedication and strength, as I work day after day after day to live a life of wellness—improving my body and healing my mind in any way possible.  This video will be something that shows others what dealing with constant physical and mental suffering is about, and give them a glimpse of why my financial need is great at this time, and demonstrating why I am incapable of working enough to support myself and depend upon the generosity of others.  But, for me, this video is the catalyst I needed to find self-compassion and to stop denying my tenacious work toward a life well-lived, but accept and proclaim and honor the fact that I am a warrior.

I am not weak, but stronger than almost anyone I know.  I am not lazy, but offer my body the rest it needs to heal and cope and survive.  I am not stupid, but suffer cognitive impairments due to my illness.  I am not reclusive, but work to foster and put energy toward only the best of relationships with the best and most supportive people in my life.  I am not crazy, but deal with multiple mental illnesses that affect my thinking and choices.  I am not playing the victim, but am coping with the ways that I was truly and deeply victimized by all manner of perpetrators.  I am not scared, but am learning to manage hypervigilance and overstimulation and anxiety caused by my diseases.  I am not giving up, but am fighting for every moment of every day to create the best possible life I can live with my challenges.  I am not begging, but I am placing my need before my community in the hope and the trust that provision will be offered in return.  I am not desperate, but I am allowing myself to be vulnerable and open and honest in expressing my struggles.  I am not whining, but I am telling the truth about the realities of chronic illness—and if you think that telling my truth is whining, note every time you complain about a thing, and see which of us expresses more complaint per actual struggle (I’ll bet on you, unless you are dying or also have chronic illness).  I am not lying, exaggerating, or making things up, but I am telling the harshest of realities without any sugar-coating to make it more palatable or acceptable to others.

And I know that it isn’t very palatable or acceptable to discuss any sort of true suffering in our society.  I know that we generally avoid pain, and we lie about who we are and how we are doing on a very regular basis, and we chastise or castigate or cast out any who express in their words or actions or being any hint of the lies we are telling or the avoidance we are seeking.  It is the reason we don’t make eye contact with the pan-handling person on the corner, or look down on the addict or the sex worker, or pretend that we “earned” our privileges and not that we are taking part in a system of injustice that is harming others and refusing helps for those in need.

I wonder, though, if it is possible to truly live well when we can’t look in the eyes of the homeless, or see the addict and the sex worker as our equal, and admit that we have privileges and seek to create a more just system that offers basic human rights to all people.  And I move toward an answer of “no”.  The more I identify with the least and the lowest of the society, and the more I hear people’s judgment and lies and excuses to reject my illness or my need or my deserving assistance, the more I believe that I am living well, and those others are living sad and sorry lives.

I know that I am living well.  I am putting every ounce of energy into being stronger, more able, less dependent, more mobile, calmer, more balanced, thinner, more educated, more aware, and just better than I was yesterday, and I am doing it in a way that doesn’t deny my experience, but embraces the reality with which I am faced and by which I am surrounded.  I am doing it without shame and with honesty and vulnerability.  And I am doing it in ways that recognize my privilege and stand against systemic injustices.  I am living well, and am proud to be doing so.

So, I am no longer afraid of or weighed down by documentation.  I’m learning to embrace the documents in my experience as proofs of transformation and hard work and betterment.  I’m learning to see every piece of paper as a document that shares life and fights disease and seeks equity and justice, even when those papers are also annoyingly redundant and seem ridiculous.  And I am also recognizing that every word I write here, and every thank you note sent, and every photo with friends and family and my dog, and every selfie of a new haircut, and every update or post or page that is put out by me or on my behalf or with me tagged is also documentation, and it is documenting a most beautiful life.

Bring on the paperwork, world.

Paper cuts or no, I am ready to keep on documenting and to keep on being the best and the most I am able to be.  And no matter how many diagnoses come my way, and no matter how many treatments and therapies are added to my daily routine, I am going to keep on adding documents that show a life of wellness—maybe not in my body, and maybe not in my psychology, but definitely in my spirit.

I will live life well and share a record that screams of legacy and not of lack.