The Lion, The Bitch, and the Whole World

I have three cats at home.  They are not big cats.  They are house cats.  Each cat has its own personality and I live for each of them every single day.  They bring me joy and comfort.  I tell them about my day and they meow at me.  They are my very best friends.  (I am a lesbian with no children so this is not an understatement.)

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I care about animals and I’m sad that Cecil the Lion was murdered. I have seen the outpouring and I have been heartened by the outcry. I’m glad that the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion had to shut down his practice and go into hiding.  The killing of animals for sport is senseless and terrible. People should be upset and outraged.  Jimmy Kimmel’s heart-felt commentary felt right and accurate.

Jimmy Kimmel

But then I saw the backlash. I saw the backlash from many of my black friends and I was surprised by it. In a way, I felt hurt. I saw people or color posting poignant and painful admonishments about how some folks get upset about the killing of an animal but don’t seem to notice or speak up about the killing of black people in this country and worldwide.

A good friend of mine reposted the following commentary from the Facebook page “Son of Baldwin”.  (For people who care about issues of race and equality in this country, please, read this blog in its entirety and don’t skim.)

 

With zero edits or interjections, from Son of Baldwin:

  1. A white man slaughters a Lion in Zimbabwe. The man, Walter Palmer, a dentist, of course, denies his part in it. Using his Whiteness to the fullest of its capabilities, Palmer claims that the black Zimbabweans he paid off tricked him and he had no idea what he was doing, that the slow and painful death he caused the Lion is black people’s fault not his. (http://www.cnn.com/…/zimbabwe-cecil-the-Lion-kil…/index.html)

White people around the world are absolutely outraged over the Lion’s inhumane slaughter. They want Palmer convicted. They haven’t said anything yet about Palmer’s Whiteness evocation, however.

  1. Black cisgender women are turning up dead in prisons (http://thinkprogress.org/…/fourth-black-woman-found-dead-j…/). Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Joyce Curnell, Ralkina Jones, Raynetta Turner; five black women that we know of. (This number expands if we include non-black women.) In these cases, the outrage from most white people is muted, replaced by averted gazes, exasperated sighs, lips curled with skepticism. They want the cops protected. They start online campaigns to raise money for the cops’ defense.

By reflex, they seek reasons to justify the murders and strip black people of our humanity. They mock both our pain and cries for justice, regarding both as the assurances they need to confirm that their plans are working.

They attempt make our murders a public service rather than crimes against humanity. This is genocide by omission; that is to say omitted from the public record through the use of a PR strategy that every American institution is in on–and many white Americans condone and support, either by their action or inaction–to make the destruction of black lives seem like our own fault.

  1. Black transgender women are being slaughtered in the streets (http://janetmock.com/…/02/16/six-trans-women-killed-this-y…/). Islan Nettles, India Clarke, London Chanel, Penny Proud, Yazmin Vash Payne, Ty Underwood, Lamia Beard–to only scratch the surface. (This number multiplies if we expand it to include non-black women.) In these cases, most white people and most black people find common ground. We say they “tricked” people and we sympathize/empathize with the murderers.

Collectively, we recite the anthem of viciousness reserved for those who we believe have no discernible humanity; or, at least, no humanity that our own inhumanity allows us to recognize:

“That’s what they get!”

By reflex, we seek reasons to justify the murders and strip transgender people of their humanity. We mock both their pain and cries for justice, regarding both as the assurances we need to confirm that our plans are working.

We attempt make their murders a public service rather than crimes against humanity. This is genocide by omission; that is to say omitted from the public record through the use of a PR strategy that every American institution is in on–and many white and black Americans condone and support, either by their action or inaction–to make the destruction of transgender lives seem like their own fault.

  1. The American Lesson: White people > Wild animals > Black cisgender people > Black transgender people.

There is enough implication to go around.

 

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I was hurt because I’m one of the people who speak up. I’m not always great at speaking up. I don’t always know the right thing to say. But I frequently speak up. I try. The commentary drawing conclusions about Cecil the Lion and #blacklivesmatter seemed really unfair. I’m an activist and I hold my activism close. I felt hurt that I was being accused of somehow being insensitive about black lives because I’m a white person who cares about animals and a specific lion.

I’m also a queer person and I care about transgender lives.  I care about all the issues listed in the commentary above and I cared about those issues before the mainstream media found a poster child to make it cool and host a reality show about it.

I give a shit.  I have always given a shit.  I have been very loud about giving a shit.  I have never been ashamed about the fact that I give a shit. You can call me a bitch but I still give a shit.  I give a shit about the things worth giving a shit for.

This whole lion thing, and the subsequent intricacies, really caught me by surprise. Lions, animals, and the injustice perpetrated against endangered animals should be a totally non-controversial, legitimate thing to fight for.  Caring about Cecil and publically voicing my opinion should be a social-justice no-brainer. Right?

No.  Not so much.

I initially felt really defensive.  I was mad.  I am a shit-giving activist and I try to consider everyone.  All the time.  Always.

But then I realized something.

Most white people, or folks of privilege, do not understand that worrying about the death of a lion is a privilege. Worrying about something other than yourself is a privilege.  Room to worry about a dentist and the animal he killed is room to worry. Room to worry is a privilege. Room to worry is a privilege that people of color do not have.

People of color have their worry filled up. Filled to the brim. With their families, children, neighbors, themselves. They worry about being pulled over. They worry about being shot at by police officers. People of color worry about being pulled from their vehicles.  They worry about dying in jail. They worry about being murdered by those who are sworn to protect the law. They worry about the law.  They worry about the laws of this land. They worry about history and gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement. They worry every second of every moment. They worry deeply when their children are out of their sight, especially if said child is a young man of color. They worry in a very real way and for several very real reasons.

For white people, and other people of privilege, being an activist for Cecil the Lion, or for people of color, or for LGBTIQ people, or for others who are disenfranchised, seems like the right thing to do. White folks have the time and the privilege to decide when it’s time to worry. We have the privilege to pick our battles. We can decide about Cecil the Lion.  We can decide on our issues and which issues need address.

For white people, it seems like the issues we pick are separate and deliberate.  It seems that our issues are mutually exclusive. They’re just issues.  When white people become activists, we decide what matters; we pick our battles.  We decide on Cecil the Lion. Or we decide on Sandra Bland.  Or we decide on Michael Brown.  Or we decide on Green Peace.  Or we decide on Relay for Life.  We decide to feed the hungry or to build a garden or to donate to National Public Radio.  We decide where to give our time and money.

For white people, and people of privilege, we can separate our issues and decide how to spend our time and our “activist moments.”

People of color do not have the same luxury.

Terrorism, Racism, and the Bullshit We Tell Ourselves

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”        -Desmond Tutu

In March of 2003 I remember staring at my television in disbelief. I kept flipping through the major news channels in hopes that something would change. One of the major news stations had a countdown clock ticking off the seconds of George W. Bush’s ultimatum to Saddam Hussein; Saddam and his sons were to leave their country by a certain time or the United States would invade Iraq. 57, 56, 55, 54… The clock counted down.

When the clock got to zero I turned white and collapsed to the floor. I felt frantic. I laid on the wooden floor of my Sacramento apartment and sobbed. I cried like a child who couldn’t find her blanket. I wailed and gulped between gasps for breath. Looking back, it seems a reasonable reaction. We were at war.

The protests lasted for months. The coverage of the protests lasted for a few days. I still have the sign that I carried as a testament to the anti-war effort.

In the months that followed, our country pretended that we weren’t at war. Less than two months after the countdown, on May 1st, 2003, George W. Bush stood on an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, and declared “Mission Accomplished.” It was an incredible lie and a ridiculous sham. There are still American soldiers in Iraq today, more than a decade later.

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“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”      -Soren Kierkegaard

We tell ourselves a lot of stories. We are great at telling stories. America is famous for its stories. We invented the Hollywood picture, the Animated Feature, and the Broadway Musical. Our stories may be what make us quintessentially American.

Many of our stories make us great. In many ways, stories can make us feel human. They bind us with universal narratives and colorful language. Stories can give us give us comfort in our skin and validation to our souls.

But stories can also painfully mislead us.

For too long in this country we have made our stories a reality.  We have pretended so many things in order to get by.

We have pretended that our elected officials have had our best interests in mind. We have pretended that our mainstream media is a reasonable source of unbiased information. We have pretended that processed foods aren’t making us sick. We have pretended that the Star Wars prequels didn’t totally suck.

Some of the lies we have continued to tell ourselves are harmless. Many of the lies we tell ourselves in this country are killing innocent people.

We have to stop lying. We have to stop lying to ourselves and others. We have to stop pretending that the “War on Terrorism” isn’t racist. And we have to stop pretending that the long history of racism in this country is something of the past.

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”         –Proverbs 12:18

I watched a lot of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show during the early years of the Iraq War. It was the only thing that kept me sane. I know that there is a line to be drawn between the unnamed war that we are fighting in this country against people of color and the many wars we think that we understand abroad. I haven’t been able to form a sentence with regard to what happened in South Carolina. So, instead, I’ll share with you some of Jon Stewart’s observations:

“What blows my mind is the disparity of response between when we think that people who are foreign are going to kill us and us killing ourselves. If this had been what we thought was Islamic Terrorism, it would have fit into our… We invaded two countries and spent trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives and now fly unmanned death machines over five or six different countries…all to keep Americans safe. We’ve got to do whatever we can. We’ll torture people. We’ve got to do whatever we can to keep Americans safe. Nine people shot in a church? What about that?

“This is a terrorist attack. This is a violent attack on the Emmanuel Church of South Carolina, which is a symbol for the black community. It has stood in that part of Charleston for 100+ years. It has been attacked viciously many times as many black churches have, and to pretend…I heard someone on the news saying, “Tragedy has visited this church.” This wasn’t a tornado. This was racist. This [incident] was black and white. There is no nuance here…

“Nine people were shot in a black church by a white guy who hated them, who wanted to start some kind of civil war. The Confederate flag flies over South Carolina, and the roads are named for Confederate generals, and the white guy’s the one who feels like his country is being taken away from him. We’re bringing it on ourselves. And that’s the thing. Al-Qaeda, all those guys, ISIS, they’re not shit compared to the damage that we can apparently do to ourselves on a regular basis.”

We have to stop. We have to stop lying. We have to stop lying to ourselves about the reality of this country. We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to be honest with each other. We have to be honest so that we can start doing something. We have to start doing something.

We have to start doing something.

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”  –Howard Zinn

What do you say at a moment like this? There are no words.

So don’t use words. Use actions. Use acts of kindness. Use acts of kindness that are so significant they change the status quo.

Tidying up: Papers and Paperwork

Marie Kondo’s advice for getting rid of papers is to just throw them all away. I appreciated the drastic nature of this advice because it gave me permission to get rid of a lot of paperwork that I had been keeping unnecessarily for many years. I had kept boxes of paperwork and filing folders full of old bills. I had kept bank statements dating back more than a decade.

I started keeping paperwork when I was in college. At first, I had kept paperwork because it made me feel grown up. I had my own bills and I could put them into organized files. I did this for several months. Then I just kept filing things out of habit. Months turned into years.

My actual desk.

My actual desk.

I had to diverge a bit from Marie Kondo’s sound advice about getting rid of papers; I did not get rid of everything. I kept several pieces of paperwork that I know are important to keep.

As someone who has been through two divorces, a home foreclosure, and an incident with identity theft, I have been grateful over the years for my ample, though mostly unnecessary, record keeping. For example, a few years ago, I received a letter from a cable company instructing me to pay $178.00 for failing to return equipment from an account that had closed more than a year prior. I had kept the receipt from the equipment return and was able to forward it to the company who then rescinded the bill. Some pieces of paperwork are worth storing.

Most of them are not.

Until this afternoon, I had kept nearly every utility bill I have ever received in my entire adult life. I had stacks of PG&E bills more than an inch think. I had stacks of cable bills and phone bills about the same size. I had credit card statements from years ago, and from accounts that had been long closed. I had five filing folders and at least three overflowing boxes of papers.

Getting rid of papers has been my least favorite part of tidying so far. I spent six hours today going through and shredding a long history of unnecessary paperwork. When Marie Kondo says that her “basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away,” I think what she really means is that people should shred all documents with sensitive information and recycle all unwanted paper products. I shredded and recycled a lot today. And I decided carefully what was absolutely necessary to retain.

I kept all of my tax forms from each year of filing taxes. I kept my diplomas and educational transcripts. I kept one piece of proof of insurance from each company that I had ever had insurance through, writing on the form the dates that I had kept insurance through the company. I kept verification of each account that I had opened and/or closed. I kept the divorce paperwork from both of my divorces. I kept my immunization records from my childhood and from my most recent tetanus shot. I kept all personal credit reports, which I run every two years. I additionally kept any unique information or one-of-a-kind records, and I kept the warrantees and receipts from important or expensive purchases.

Not every piece of paper should be thrown away, especially in the context of the American justice system, and with regard to American insurance policies. If you are ever sued, have to divorce, or if you are ever robbed or have damage in your home that requires filing an insurance claim, you will want to have proof of purchases and accounts. Take care to keep track of these documents.

Marie Kondo is from Japan and is an amazing visionary when it comes to tidying but she may not entirely understand the American system of contracts and records. She, like many people who live outside the United States, may have few real examples about the incredible amount of paperwork that may be required from consumers in certain situations.

Get rid of your unnecessary paperwork. It’s okay. If you have checked your bank statements and your credit card statements to verify purchases, you don’t have to keep the statements. You don’t have to keep your utility bills. If you have already looked over a bill for accuracy and have paid the bill, it’s okay to recycle the papers. Keep only the most basic verifications and discard the rest. If, at the end, you still have three filing folders full of paperwork, I think that’s okay.

Tidying Up: Discarding

Discarding

I’m already failing at following the directions in Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’m stubborn and headstrong and I have a hard time in general following directions or listening to authority. Marie Kondo instructs her readers to complete her book in its entirety before embarking on the journey of tidying. I’m only on page 105 and I’ve already started to get rid of stuff.

Marie Kondo states that, “If you put your house in order properly, you’ll be able to keep [it] tidy, even if you are lazy or sloppy by nature.” She says that people who follow her method don’t “rebound” back into being slobs. If I rebound and become messy again, I take full responsibility for not following Marie Kondo’s directions exactly. Kondo states in her book that if you follow her directions honestly and precisely, you will never again fall into untidy habits and rebound to once again become an untidy person.

My partner read the whole book and has been serving as my gracious guide. I read the book up to the point about discarding clothes, books, and paper. I promptly started discarding clothes after I read the part about getting rid of clothes. I didn’t really believe Kondo when she said that her clients fill ten and twenty garbage bags full of clothes to get rid of. My partner and I managed to fill ten bags.

After reading the part about books, my partner and I filled 17 large boxes with books to haul away. I’m not even sure why I had kept so many books. Sometimes I would tell myself “Oh, I’ll read that later.” But even the books I knew I never would have read, I had kept for years. My partner and I got rid of nearly 1,000 books, about two-thirds of our total collection. Using the method of determining to keep something by whether or not it sparked joy left us with about 500 books.

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We aren’t yet organizing our remaining books. Marie Kondo is specific that we are supposed to discard first and then decide where to put things. Getting rid of books and clothes that I didn’t need, and never would have used, has brought me joy. The process freed up a lot of my space to focus on the things I love and will actually use. Discarding gave me the freedom to let go of clutter and to bring forth the useful and joyful.

Getting rid of papers has been a different experience entirely.

Lesbian Proposes Signed Authorization for Viagra in Response to Marriage Discrimination

The issue of marriage equality found its way back to the Supreme Court last week and this one could be the big one.

Kelly and Sarie whole

The outcome of the latest Supreme Court hearing about gay marriage could dictate that all states in the United States have to recognize same-sex marriage contracts. This pending decision has more than a few people riding the crazy train.

I support religious freedom. This blogger supports a person’s right to have a religious marriage. I think that if a person believes that their religion prevents them from supporting same-sex marriages then they should opt for a religion-only marriage.

A simple religious ceremony for marriage requires nothing more than two people showing up to a place of worship and practicing whatever religious rites transmit in the context of a marriage ceremony as it applies to a particular religion. Forget the license. Forget city hall. The government should stay out of religious freedom. If what is important is a religious marriage, then have a religious marriage and keep the government out of it.

Of course, a religion-only, non-government marriage prevents the married spouses from receiving all of the legal benefits that a marriage license provides married people.

Wait wait wait. There are legal benefits to marriage?

Hell yeah there are.

Contrary to the delusional belief that marriage is a stream-lined religious construct, and something that God dictated, marriage is actually a legal contract sanctioned by the government and enforced based on the laws of the land. If a marriage were simply between two people and their God, no one would have to pay city hall or their church for a “license” to get married.

But people pay for a license (even when getting married in a church) because they want all the legal benefits of marriage.

Duh. The legal benefits of marriages are hella sweet.

There are tax breaks and discounts on insurance. There are inheritance rights, and parental rights, and spousal rights. There are lower interest rates and waived financial penalties. There are all kinds of benefits from being legally married.

According to Federal Law, there are 1,138 benefits, rights, and protections provided on the basis of marital status. They include practical family financial allowances such as Social Security benefits and survivor benefits. They apply to health benefits and state sales tax. They apply to spousal sponsorship as it applies to immigration law. The list goes on and on.

Marriage isn’t about religion. It’s just not. Even outside of the United States, in most countries all over the world, marriage is a social and societal construct. Within the United States, it’s a government racket. Single people, and those not wanting to get married, or who can’t get married, like priests, should be far more outraged about the legal implications of marriage than one man and one woman who believe in God’s laws.

But marriage is what it is in in the United States today. That is to say, marriage is a legal protection providing legal benefits that should be extended to all consenting adults who agree to enter into the loving and legal contract of marriage.

Based on the 14th amendment, (which was “written by god himself” according to Tom Delay), it is unlawful for states to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”. Basically, because marriage provides protections under its legal contract, two people willingly entering said contract, should be afforded the same protections as anyone else. That protection extends to same-sex couples.

But hey. I can ride the crazy train too. If Pastor John Stephen Piper wants to adhere to the idea that marriage is for making children, I can get on board. Rather than taking the legal construct of marriage and trying to use it to discriminate against loving same-sex couples, an idea that just won’t work in America’s legal system, why don’t we try something new?

Let’s attack something that doesn’t already have a legal precedent affording rights to a privileged class. Let’s target flaccid, floppy penises. Hanging dangles are ugly and they have no place in America. They are a stain on God’s intention and any remedy or mainstreaming of this terrible affliction should be highly scrutinized.  I propose that we require anyone seeking a prescription for Viagra to get a signed authorization from their legal wife, who must be an adult, fertile woman of child-bearing age, and who can give specific details about the use of Viagra within a marriage to produce children.

Let’s stop the unnecessary inclusion of broken dicks into society! Who is with me?

The Fight

I love boxing. The sport of boxing is incredibly entertaining. There is nothing like two grown men hitting each other above the belt for no real reason until one of them passes out. It’s the best.

Until you actually think about it. And then it’s really fucking stupid.

I didn’t realize that anyone gave a shit about the Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao fight. I have been calling Comcast for the past six days because my internet has been acting up and I’ve been hearing about the fight every time I call. But it wasn’t until yesterday that anyone actually said something about having a friend or cousin related to Pacquiao. Suddenly that’s every person on Facebook and the fight matters.

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And, according to every person on Facebook, Floyd Mayweather is an alleged wife beater and a terrible person. (I don’t know him and I can’t speak to this.) He definitely deserved to lose a boxing match against Manny Pacquiao, right?

But Mayweather won.

The guy who supposedly punches his wife on a regular basis unjustly won a punching match against someone who gets punched professionally. Floyd Mayweather is a horrible person because he punches people that aren’t supposed to be punched. Is that what we are supposed to understand? Is that the real outrage? Because it sounds like a bunch of bullshit.

I’m ready to call the sport of boxing what it is: really fucking dumb. There is no reason that two grown men, who don’t really know each other, should beat each other up and, most importantly, get paid to do so. That’s really fucking dumb.

We, as humans, and especially as Americans, have a lot of shit to fight about. We have a lot of reasons to throw punches. Our last year has made that pretty clear: Police brutality. Racial inequality. Labor justice. Campaign finance. Marriage inequality. The gender pay gap. There are lots of reasons to be angry. There are lots of reasons that we should be resorting to violence.

But resorting to violence isn’t the way to go. If we have learned anything in this past week from our news outlets, and from our white friends on social media, it’s that violence is stupid. Am I right? Violence doesn’t solve anything. Especially when it happens in Baltimore. So, with that in mind, the sport of boxing is stupid. Punching each other in the face isn’t the way to go. Trying to make demons or heroes out of paid boxing champions is stupid.

I might get a little push-back here but let me say something first.

You can’t tell me that Manny Pacquiao is a hero out of the Philippines. Do you know how many heroes out of the Philippines there are? Do you know how many parents and grandparents and single mothers have protected their children through wars and earthquakes and typhoons? Do you even know the population of the Philippines or where in the world The Philippines actually exist? Probably not.

So don’t tell me that people who punch each other, even if they came from an impoverished country like the Philippines, deserve to be heroes. People who punch people aren’t heroes.  Boxers aren’t heroes.

A hero is someone you know. A hero is your neighbor or your grandma or a local firefighter. A hero is someone who has a direct impact on your life. Heroes are real people that you can shake hands with or feel a direct impact from. Heroes are real people.

Boxers aren’t heroes. Boxing matches are shitty representations of two people who don’t really care for each other and who don’t really have a fight to pick with each other, fighting for a cause that means nothing. They are the worst of all fighters.

If you want a hero, find someone who stands for something. If you want to know about a real fight, go ask someone you love, ask them what they are fighting for and ask why.  There you will find a hero and you’ll find something to fight for.

Twerking: Our Words Matter

I turned on National Public Radio in my car to hear local and national news.

I heard a word that I’ve never heard before: “Twerking”

As an educated person, with a degree in English Literature, this new word intrigued me. If NPR is using it, it must be a real word. Right? I’d never heard it before.

At the first stop light, I did what every English Nerd does with a new word: I grabbed the Webster’s Dictionary from the backseat of my car and searched frantically.

Nothing. No twerk. No twerking. Tweet, tweeter, tweezers, twelve, twenty, twerp, twice, twiddle. Twerk wasn’t there.

Hmmm. Maybe “twerking” was a new word from some wonderful obscure novel I hadn’t heard of yet. Maybe it was like “Muggle” in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter Series or “Sneetch” of Dr. Seuss fame. I turned up the radio to catch the rest of the story. Something about Miley Cyrus. Something about an awards show.

video killed the radio star MTV

It wasn’t until I sat in front of a computer, and could search the word “twerking,” before I actually understood it’s definition.

There it was. It was a part of mainstream headlines. CNN. NPR. It wasn’t from a book review. It was headline news.

(As defined by UrbanDictionary.com and quoted from the website), Twerking is defined this way: “Also known as dirty dancing. When a woman slams her bottom on a mans pelvic area while dancing. The man can also lunge his pelvic area forward for a harder bang. This is usually performed in a dance club along with upbeat music.” Example sentences include: “Damn, her ass was twerkin’ on my junk, I hope she didn’t feel my shlong.” And “I saw you twerking with that girl. That ass was bouncing all over you”

Aside from The Urban Dictionary, there is no other dictionary in the world—in print or online—that recognizes the word “twerking”. CNN and NPR ran lead stories this morning using “twerking”in the headline, a word that is not recognized by any academic or professional institution.

The Onion has poked fun. Bloggers have made some comments about the raunchy performance. The socially-enlightened have mused about the cultural context of Ms. Cyrus’ dancing. Actor Will Smith and his family were visibly aghast as they sat in the audience for the presentation. We can talk forever about slut-shaming, womanhood, white-black issues and our young female icons.

milet cyrus

I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about words.

I’m not saying that made-up words are bad. Shakespeare’s use of the word “swagger” in Midsummer Night’s Dream is a wonderful way to use a new word. In the context of Act 3, Scene 1, swagger was an onamonapia presentation of what was happening in the scene. Swagger made sense. Words have context. Words mean something.

As a poet and a writer, words mean something to me. As a person who updates her Facebook status and sends emails, I’m pretty sure that words mean something to other people as well.

I received my degree in English Literature from UC Davis less than a decade ago. It was before Facebook and social media. Myspace had barely begun to break ground. We used newspapers and magazines to read articles; they weren’t just for packing boxes while moving. People thought carefully about what they said. There was something about the tangible feel of print on paper that made journalists careful about the words they chose.  Clearly, those days are gone.

video killed the radio star

I have been worried about words. I have been weary about media. I had hoped that there was still some level of journalistic integrity left in America.

We need journalistic integrity in America more than we have ever needed it.

Today, I have lost all hope.

As a country, we have riches. We are privileged. We have clean water. We have incredible infrastructure. There is food on our grocery store shelves. Not all of our citizens are receiving the trickle down, many remain hungry, without water and food. That’s a shameful tragedy. As a nation, we have our share of problems. Still, as a nation, we have much, much more than most people who live on this earth with us.

Included in our riches, we have the luxury and necessity of a free press.

We have a constitutional precedent that no other county on earth has. We have, written into the law of our land, the first amendment of our constitution, an amendment that sanctions words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

When our forefathers wrote that we should have freedom of press, it wasn’t for the word “twerking”.

Today, we live in a world climate, a world that our forefathers could have scarcely imagined. We live in a world economy. We live with a world awareness. We live in this world together. We live altogether on this earth. America and its media cannot deny its power. America has a means that most of the world doesn’t have and cannot even fathom.

What Egypt is going through today, is what we are all going through, because it is something we can all have an impact on. What Syria is going though, is something we are also suffering. Where there is hunger, there could be food. Where there is disease, there could be inoculation. Where there is war, there could be peace.

We have more knowledge than ever. We have more access than ever. We have more technology than ever. We have more understanding than we have ever had on earth.

For the first time in the world’s history, we have 24/7 access to the rest of the world.

Today, in the greatest world-power on our earth, in the country with the greatest constitution, in a place that has the most unprecedented, historical access to words, in a place where words are handed to citizens by our government”s gospel, in a place where our media is protected by law, our nation’s sanctioned media decided to lead the day’s stories with Miley Cyrus and the way she dances, using a word that most people had to look up on the internet and that doesn’t exist except in slang.

The media is degraded. The excuses are terrible.

No more excuses. We could do better. We have to do better.

Words matter.

Belle Curve

This is a true  story and it seems so stupid now. I’m an adult and I have found a way to stay perpetually jaded. There are so many matters of consequence. And I don’t even remember her name. But I will never forget her.

I will call her Belle. She was kind and soft and beautiful. And she was so much smarter than me.  She was so much smarter than the rest of us. She became our hero because she saved our asses. It was more than ten years ago.

I took a biology class in Junior College. I had slacked off for a few years and it was the equivalent of my third (maybe fourth?) sophomore year of college. I had finally gotten my shit together and had applied to transfer to a few “real” colleges. I had stopped sleeping with my teachers and had started getting good grades. I had been accepted to a few universities on contingency. If all went well, I would be a literature major at a university in the fall. But I had to keep my grades up.

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There were several of us in the same situation and we all had to keep our grades up. We were young and this was what mattered then. For me, it was all that mattered then. It was my way out. I would go to college. It was what my parents wanted for me. It was my way of growing up. It was my ticket.

The biology class was a mandatory prerequisite requirement. I had to pass. It was the second science class of my adult life and the only class that I ever took that was graded on a curve. The teacher set the curve, not by the standard bell structure, but at the highest level achieved for the class. If a test was out of 100 and the highest grade was a 98, then the test was out of 98 and the grades followed accordingly.

The curve would have been a fair and flawless structure if it weren’t for Belle. She always got the top grade and it was always at least ten points more than second place. We knew because the grades were posted on a list outside the classroom, by top grade and last name. Belle got an A every time. The rest of us got Bs or worse.

We studied as a group for more than a week before the final test. It was worth 20 percent of our grade and we were taking it very seriously. Belle showed up after the third or fourth session to a collective sigh. It was an open study group. She meant well and she really wanted to help.

After a few sessions with Belle, we all knew we were fucked. Most of the rest of us were planning to go on with our lives studying art, theater or literature. She was going into forensics. We just didn’t get it. We didn’t speak the language. She spoke the language.

It was the night before the test and it was past midnight. I don’t remember who spoke first. We had all had too much coffee. Some of us had had too much to drink. Someone finally said what we had all been thinking. “Look Belle, if you just got five or six questions wrong, all of us would get better grades.” A discussion followed. Belle looked like she had been shot. We called it a night and went home.

A week later I got an email that I had gotten an A on the test. I immediately felt sick; I knew that I had gotten several questions wrong. It was my last test of the semester but I went back to the campus because I had to know.

The list was on the door. Belle got a 90 out of 100. She was the top score. I got an 88 and so did most of the study group. As I stared at the numbers, as a took in the list, I knew that Belle threw it. There was not a question on the test that she would have struggled with. She tried to help us with every possible question. She knew the material. She knew all of it.

As I stood gaping at the numbers, staring into absolute abyss, the class assistant came up behind me. He said, “She left the last ten questions blank. She didn’t even answer them.”

Belle didn’t do it to make friends. We were all going to different colleges in the fall. She knew we wouldn’t see each other again.

It was the spring of 2002, the first spring after the towers fell, and, as far as we knew, the world was on its knees. The spring sun, and the smell of flowers, had barely started to permeate after a cold, dark winter. We were young people in a world that had gone off the rails. Young men from my fall’s philosophy class, only the semester before, had already been sent to basic. We just didn’t have the stomach for failed systems any longer. We were growing up.

I was reminded of Belle as I was reading about the protests in Istanbul. There is an uprising in the country of Turkey. Parents and their children showed up at Gezi Park, a city park in Istanbul, like Julia Butterfly Hill’s apostles, they ate  sandwiches and held their ground as developers tried to destroy the trees in favor of a strip mall. They stayed there. They stayed and waited until the police came.

 uprising

And the police came.

I read a blog written by a Turkish yoga teacher who was in the park when the Turkish police got there. As some of the police were launching tear gas and brutalizing mothers, fathers and small children, a few of the uniformed men quit their jobs on the spot, handed in their badges, and joined the protesters.

As I read the article, I was reminded of Occupy Oakland; I was reminded of UC Davis, my alma mater, the university that I eventually graduated from. I was reminded of heroes.  I was reminded of Belle.

Belle could have finished her test. She could have answered every question and she would have gotten every answer right. She was better than us. She had the upper hand. She had the power. And she owed us nothing.

But sometimes, even though we aren’t obligated, or won’t benefit, or don’t have any responsibility to make a sacrifice, sometimes, even then, we decide that the “we” is bigger than the “me”.

Belle sacrificed her upper-hand because she knew that it was the right thing to do. She knew that the system was rigged. She knew that her forfeiture would mean nothing to her, she knew that there would be no consequence for her, but, she knew that it would mean a lot to those around her.  Belle gave us the gift of mercy.

That’s what it was: mercy.

A decade ago, throwing a test was valor. For me, at the time, it was heroism. Today is different. What people are facing today was not what my parents prepared me for. They didn’t expect this. I didn’t expect this.

We all expected mercy.

I’m struggling with the words to end this blog. We live in a different world. Sometimes there are no words.  Sometimes there is no mercy.

But sometimes there is.

When We Fight

I cringed yesterday as a watched my Facebook feed turn red with support for same-sex marriage. I literally squinted at my computer screen and withdrew. Cringed.

 

For many in the LGBTIQ community, the past four years have been stained with episodes of depression and despair. The passing of Proposition 8 was devastating to people all over the country. For many in the gay community, especially for those under the age of 40, the passing of Prop 8 was the first experience in being viscerally aware of what it feels like to be a marginalized population. Between 2008 and 2010 I lost three friends to suicide.

The passing of Prop 8 gave license to gay bashers all over America to be more outward with their views. Suddenly, they had popular support. Prop 8 gave credence to their discriminatory views, whatever form it took. When I worked on the campaign to defeat Prop 8 I had been spat on, cursed at and chased. Once Prop 8 passed, nothing changed. I was frightened. I was scared for my friends, for our lives and for our mental health.

Then something really strange happened to me. About a year ago, I stopped noticing that I’m a lesbian. There are days when I completely forget that I’m gay. It just stopped being an issue. I moved to Nevada County, California and, while I’m sure there are anti-gay people in the county somewhere, they must have better things to worry about than my gayness. The Tea Party and the NRA have a huge following in the county but no one seems to give a shit that I’m gay. No one has tried to run me off the road. No one has flinched when my partner and I hold hands. No one has started a sentence with “I don’t hate gay people but…” and we had Christmas dinner with Baptists. It’s just not important that I’m gay. And I like it that way.

I like it that no one is spitting in my face. I like it that no one calls me a fag or a dyke or tells me that I just “haven’t met the right man.” It has been years since someone has followed me to a Starbucks to intercept me before coffee and scream at me that I’m going to hell. It’s delightful.

Too bad it can’t last.

When gay issues are nationally covered and highly publicized, when people are talking about gay rights, when Facebook goes red for gays, suddenly, I have to “be gay” again. I have to be gay. I have to pump my gay gas, pick up my gay groceries, and cook my gay dinner. I have to put on my pretty gay face and be on my best gay behavior because, when we are in the news, each one of us is a damn spokesperson for the whole gay community. It’s not just Ellen anymore.

I enjoyed my time being a “next-door neighbor”, instead of “the lesbian next door.” I really liked being “the lady who gets a small coffee” instead of “the dyke who gets a small coffee.” It was nice to be “the woman who volunteers on Wednesdays” instead of “you know, the lesbian.”

We queers get to have a few days of national news coverage as Justice Sotomayor does her best not to roll her eyes while a bunch of confused and misled lawyers use moronic arguments against equal rights for gays. We get to listen to NPR report on the support for and against gay marriage. We get to read our friends’ Facebook feeds and see their quirky uncle’s belligerent comments about “faggotts”. We get to see pictures on the internet of protesters in front of the Supreme Court. We get to remember that we’re gay.

 

According to a Gallup poll, in 1996 , 27 percent of Americans said they supported same-sex marriage. Today, by contrast, more than half, 51 percent, of Americans report that they support same-sex marriage. We would have won if we had gone back to the ballot in California. We could have proved that we have the public support needed and we could have overturned the ban on same-sex marriage in California by popular demand. It’s too late for that now. And besides, we still would have had DOMA to contend with.

So here we are. The Supreme Court of the United States of America.

When it comes to the courts, public support for same-sex marriage shouldn’t matter. The Supreme Court of the United States isn’t there to support popularity contests. They are there to uphold our Constitution, the supreme law of our land. And it just so happens that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

There are a number of ways that this Big Gay Supreme Court Battle could go.  If the Supreme Court were to do its job, it would rule that all bans on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution and would implement a sweeping verdict that would protect gays from this violation—in all fifty states. The United States Constitution is the blanket under which all other laws in the United States are implemented. All citizens of the United States of America are protected by the US Constitution and it is the job of the Supreme Court to ensure that no laws violate that protection. With regard to institutionalized discrimination and constitutionally protected equal rights, United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry should be this generation’s Brown v Board of Education.

 

brown v board of education

 

But, if the Supreme Court does its job, or even if they half-ass it and apply their verdict only to California, if the Supreme Court overturns Proposition 8, California’s ban on same sex marriage in any way, shape, or form, us gays better be prepared to be gay every single day for a good long while. Even our friends who are not gay should be prepared to be gay for a while too. Because there will still be discrimination. There will still be hate.

When the verdict comes out, presumably in late June, everyone in the LGBTIQ community better be ready, really ready, to take on the responsibility of that verdict. If history is any indicator, we can be damn sure there will be a backlash.

And we will need to be ready for that. We will need to be ready for whatever ensues. We will need to talk to our children and our families. We will need to talk to our friends. We will need to talk to our communities. We will need to be prepared.

It’s just that…it’s just…you see the thing is…when we fight, we use our words. When they fight, they chain us to barbed wire fences.

And I’m not sure how to be ready for that.

 

 

 

 

 

I am a UC Davis alum. I am an Aggie. I am the 99%.

With regard to what happened on the UC Davis campus on Friday: I am a UC Davis alum. I stood on the very site that students were pepper sprayed. I stood there, in 2003, and fought for women’s rights. I stood on that spot and spoke out for social justice. I stood there and rattled against the Iraq war. To watch what happened there and see students sitting peacefully on the same spot, a place where I was allowed to experience free speech, and bare witness to my fellow Aggies battled against, pepper sprayed, by the UC Police, an agency paid for with student money, is not just an insult to my education and college experience, it is an unequivocal trespass on civil rights.

 

There are beautiful, intelligent students that attend school at UC Davis. The university has an incredible history. But instead that very wonderful fact making international news, what my alma mater is now known for is the war that the administration and UC Police waged on student protesters. All those responsible for the school’s new reputation need to resign or be removed. It is only fair to all of us who have worked so hard to make UC Davis a place of truthful and beautiful education.

 

I have supported the Occupy Wall Street Movement without a moment of hesitation. I have done so with my principles, my words and my actions. I understand the need for protest at this juncture in history. Regardless of the fact that we have, for too long, relied on infinite growth to prop up our lives, now that the last crumbs of civilization are being scooped up, the have-nots are seeing even more clearly the need for community, equality and sharing. When the poor and disenfranchised advocate for such things, and are met with violent opposition to maintain the status quo, all people, even those not sure about the future, need to be vigilant about the present.

 

People in this country who don’t feel like an involvement in the current protests could be helpful, I offer you this poem by Martin Neimoller, holocaust survivor:

 

“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

 

Do not, for a moment, stand by. Do not acquiesce. Do not hesitate. We are the 99%.