On Holiday

For the last few days I’ve been on something of an emotional vacation. I’ve been off from work for a while, and for the first time in nearly a year I finally feel relaxed. I’ve been filling my days with luxuries like going to the Farmers Market and other local events. I’ve been able to exercise every day, and have finally organized my closet. Most cathartically, I’ve been cooking. It’s funny, because I used to hate cooking (mostly because I was so lousy at it), but now, I find that it gives me the space I need to really breathe. The most taxing part of my day now consists of studying for the GRE.

I was driving home after running errands, thinking about all the things I could make with the vegetables I bought today. I was mindlessly singing along to some whimsical folk song about love, and I thought about what could have been—what could still be. Family. Food. Crafts. Could that be my life?

 

I feel like I’m vacationing in the hometown of my life: suburbia.

These last few days have felt languid and rich. Food really does taste better when you have the time and energy to lovingly prepare it. My skin has looked and felt healthier, partially because I have drastically cut my sugar and caffeine in-take, and these reductions have hardly been noticed because I do not feel the need to constantly be on. I read all of articles and watch all of the videos that friends send to me. I cut up an apple and eat it in the comfort of my kitchen, watching Democracy Now!.

When I smile, it doesn’t feel like a mask. It feels like me.

 

For every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this. Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. But some natives—most natives in the world—cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives… (from A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid)

 

I talk about my own privilege, but it’s not easy to express. I have been doing these things: taking time off work, going to the Farmers Market, sorting out the clothes I owns and donating some, cooking with fresh vegetables, studying for the GRE. These things are some of the markers of the modern bourgeoisie. With no one to actively question me—with no one to whom I must be made accountable—I have fallen back on lazy, selfish days. I gobble them down as if they were a Niçoise salad.

But even here, there is something disquieting that suggests that this miniature life I led, attempted to put down, and have now picked back up, is nothing more than a façade.

The Socialistic bourgeois want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. (from the Manifesto of the Communist Party written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels)

This, I feel, has been and still is the goal of most modern, U. S. American people. It is tempting to believe in the real possibility of such a society, but such a stance ultimately denies the complexity and responsibility of reality.

My tourist trip into my suburban past has cemented my feeling and belief that happiness is well and good, but when there’s nothing behind it, there’s nothing to it. When one only chases happiness, it is at one’s own expense because there can be no true happiness without distress.

Seeing, hearing, feeling, knowing, can all be exquisitely painful, but with the hurt of experience or understanding comes so much more.

I am privileged and constrained by bourgeois instincts: they are the price and the gift.

 

I have appreciated this vacation very much. It has reminded me of who I was, who I am, and who I would like to be. I know that there is no going back—it is something I think about at times, but it’s not something that I want.

Happiness is important, but it does not compare to satisfaction earned from fuller understandings of the true depths of human resiliency and strength.

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The Ballad of a Ladyman

I watch this movie about Riot Grrrl, and over and over I hear that one of the main purposes of Riot Grrrl was to let women know that their voices are valid—that women’s voices should be heard.

Part of me feels empowered. Why do I feel marginalized as a woman of color so much of the time? It’s W. E. B. Du Bois’ double-consciousness, lit afire and irreconcilably fractured under the force of all that heat. To feel compelled to be so many people hurts sometimes, especially because I acknowledge that some of those disparate entities that make up me are so very privileged. “People should have to hear what I have to say,” I think, “because I matter, too!”

I also feel disheartened.

 

I thought it would be easy to study marginalized experiences of rape. “Easy” is not the right word, because I always knew it would be difficult. I just thought it would be difficult in other ways.

I had wanted my undergraduate thesis to be about how academia (vis-à-vis popular academic journals) portrays rape. I wanted to ask, “Who is seen as the victim? Who is seen as the rapist? Under what circumstances is a rape seen as ‘founded’? Who is left out?

That’s not what it’s about now.

 

Anyone familiar with academia knows that one is often called upon to explain the “significance” of one’s research. Anyone familiar with being marginalized knows that one’s own experiences and judgments are often questioned by others who hold values closer to those of the hegemony.

Whenever I meet someone new or experience things I have not experienced before, I try to take everything at face value. For example, I believe professors when they say that students must do all the reading to pass the class. I believe them until their actions do something that proves that they are somehow untrustworthy in what they say.

I believed the school officials who told me that I must produce a thesis that somehow contributes to ongoing discussions in my desired field.

 

I thought that the significance of studying how rape is represented in widely read academic journals would be self-evident. This is not to say that I thought I would never have to justify my academic interests, but rather that I cannot imagine a scenario in which I would need to explain why it is important to study the worldwide phenomena of violence targeted at historically disempowered classes of people.

For me, the answer is: Because all people matter, and some people hurt. We are morally obligated to help each other. We are ethically obligated to hear other people’s stories and take action to guard against others’ hurt.

 

I do not have the words right now to explain what happened that semester of fall 2011. Nor do I have the words to explain the way what happened left me feeling—the way I still feel when I think about it all. And, I think my inability to articulate is really stupid, because at the time it was so consuming. To be completely cliché, to think about it now feels like picking at a scab: it hurts and it seems like I should leave it alone, but mostly, I feel like it’s made me ugly.

I think that it made me see.

 

I had some amount of years, probably the first 10 of my life, that were extremely generous. I may have seemed reserved at times, but mostly I think I was just learning about everything. Looking back, so many things seemed exciting.

Somewhere I began to keep a secret place inside of me. It’s that secret place that blooms when I read Jamaica Kincaid. It’s in that place where I refuse to pray to the Father, because that is not my God.

That is the place where my true interests flourish—where my real thesis (not the current thing I’m working on) is striving to live.

 

In the end, I feel as if I am trying to grasp the essence of Riot Grrrl with a desperate ineptitude.

None of the fight has left me, no matter what my experiences have been. I have somehow become more unruly, more myself, maybe because I feel haunted by my life now and all of the lives I almost lived.

I hope that one day I won’t feel the need to squirrel away my true feelings. I hope that when that day comes who I am inside will not be bleached dead, wrapped in pearls, and suffocated by too many sweater sets.

One can only hope.

How/Who: Thoughts About Choice

“People ask me how you’re doing, and I don’t know how to respond. So, how’re you doing?” I ask my significant other.

When people pose this question about my s.o. in conversation, I pause awkwardly and mumble a bit of nonsense to buy time until I come up with something inoffensive. “He’s busy!” I’ll exclaim brightly, as if this sentiment is a one-of-a-kind treasure. The expression on the face of the question-asker usually does not reflect the ingenuity I feel I have used to come up with these banal and silly responses.

I think that people want me to say that my s.o. is well. This would be fine if people left it at that, but they sometimes want to know details, and I am a pitiful liar. It is easy to come up with evidence that someone is busy. It is much harder to try to convince a person that another person is well. Conversations are dormant minefields.

 

My s.o. admits that he does not know how to respond when people ask him how I am.

This is understandable. I hardly know how I am.

Am I well? I have good/fair health. I have a s.o. whom I love very much. I have a family that loves and supports me. I have health insurance in case I need emergency care. I have good, healthy food, and money to buy more. I generally feel safe where I live. I have nice things. I am rarely physically uncomfortable.

Plus, I am married to the person I love. I have the ability to marry the person I love.

So, yes, in a way, I am well.

 

June is Gay Pride month.

I got an e-mail about a week ago from a watchdog organization that entreated me to write to JCPenny in support of a pro-gay ad campaign they were running. The ad featured two men playing with two children and some type about how great having (a) dad(s) is. It made me wonder what the world is coming to when we’re asked to congratulate corporations for treating people as if they mattered, as if we were all equal. I thought about Greensboro and Rosa Parks and the ways that Black people are treated today. It frustrates me when people say “things have gotten better,” because, most of the time when people express those sentiments it’s like they’re really saying, “shut up and be grateful,” or “stop rocking the boat.”

This is not to say that I think that things have not “gotten better” is certain ways. I just think that we ought not to stop analysis there.

 

This question of wellness, of how we are all doing, is deceptively complex.

How are we, in a world so rife with injustice?

 

A more apt question may be: Who are we?

Who are we choosing to be?

Making-Up

Ideally I like to have 2 hours to get ready in the morning.

A fair chunk of that 2 hours goes into make-up application and choosing what to wear. Sometimes at night, before I fall asleep I think of what piece of clothing I would like to wear the next day, and then envision the various things I have that would look good with it.

I own costume jewelry, miniskirts, high heels, and bright eyeshadows and lipsticks in a multitude of obscene hues.

I have chased the idea of buying and wearing cosmetics and conventionally feminine clothes around in my head until I feel exhausted, but I never come up with anything even resembling any kind of answer.

I know that me, literally buying into conventional femininity is harmful.

Even getting past physical harm (known carcinogens and other such toxins in cosmetics; restrictive clothes that can lead to internal organ or back problems; and on and on), there’s that emotional part of it, because, face it, the whole making-up process is us, trying to make-up for our lack of conformance to hegemonic beauty ideals. Plus, these “beauty” rituals are super-one-sided, which goes back to various feminist/conflict theories that say that those not in power (i.e. minorities) must attempt to make-up for their deviance through subordinating rituals in order to win favor from dominant groups (like, say, wearing clothes that display our bodies in ways that are pleasing to the groups in power).

And, believe me, I tell myself nearly every day that my participation in (i.e. support of) beauty rituals makes it harder for people who reject them in favor of, well, being themselves. By participating, I display the taken-for-granted-ness of conventional, binary gender roles that ultimately subordinate females to males, nonwhites to whites, disabled persons to nondisabled persons, nonheterosexuals to heterosexuals, the poor and working class to the middle and upper class, and so on and so forth.

By participating, I am feeding beauty and fashion industries that support ageist, racist, ableist, classist, misogynistic regimes that have more power than any dictatorship, and that limit our range of what we think can be possible.

Still, to strip myself of the adornments of conventional femininity also feels as if I wish I could become a man. This, too seems like a rejection of my self.

So, I think about these things, and I mull them over, but I never come to any conclusion. I put these thoughts down because I know they will be there to pick back up.

 

Lately, I have started making bracelets (which is a generous way to say I have been tying cords into knots and stringing them with beads). As I am looking over all the beads I have accumulated, thinking of what colors would look interesting together, I think about my discarded artistic dreams—cast aside after too many brushes with the ageist, racist, ableist, classist, misogynistic “Greats.” I think about, how, after a semester of work, I used to produce things. Things people would hang in the rooms of their houses. Everything then seemed to be a great piece of art just waiting to be worked.

 

Now it makes me smile when I read a great article about sexual, gendered violence—the cleverness of good (application of) theory always makes me smile. But, I think, inside my heart is brutality and hatred and ugliness that comes from so much knowing. It’s easy to appreciate good academic works about horrible things, but those horrible things don’t go away for me. They stay about and I feel sad.

I think that this is what I am actually trying to make-up when I attempt to replicate a peacock’s colors on my eyelid, when I paint my lips bright orange or fuchsia, when I mix beads together until they call to my mind pictures of a bright blue Italian sea.

Some beauty, some good, some control—my attempt to counterbalance all the rest. To me, this is what making-up means.

Choices

I have never understood masculinity. Still, today, it does not make sense to me. It does not make sense to me, because, men, especially privileged men, are some of the most fragile people I have yet to meet, and I believe this is largely part of the legacy of conventional masculinity. My experiences with men, especially privileged men who feel the victim of some imagined “reverse” discrimination, taught me the danger in fragility. It is only now that I am beginning to comprehend the idea of strength in vulnerability (which is not at all the same as fragility).

Entitlement can play strange tricks on a person. It can make a person dissatisfied. It can make a person dangerous, because, how do you prove yourself when there is nothing to prove?

It baffles me when entitled, privileged people I know get upset because I am not behaving how they want me to. It angers me when it becomes apparent that there is some thing these people want from me, but their privilege/entitlement keeps them from articulating it. Privilege and entitlement can strip a person of the words, the gestures, the tools that are needed to authentically connect to other people.

There is no shame in asking for what you want, so long as you understand that you might not get what you want.

Compromise.

Because, life is a choice. To live is a choice. That is why we must remember to choose life through choosing goodness, happiness, and love. There is a great expanse of space in life, goodness, happiness and love—there is so much space there that these things don’t always take an ideologically conventional form, but this, too, is life, through spontaneity.

 

The walls that are constructed and reinforced with conventionality are terribly damaging because we blindly rely on them and are afraid to move outside (or even within) them. Ultimately, they are a tomb.

To live is a choice. Choose life.

Fellow Travelers Wanted: Inquire Within

When I went back to school I wanted to study correlation rates between sexual stereotypes and rape. I believed very strongly, I still believe very strongly, that mass media’s portrayals of women means something for how women experience the world.

Sexual stereotypes, for those who have not devoted themselves to that particular mix of feminism and sociology, are hegemonic interpretations of different groups in terms of sexual practices. Put simply, sexual stereotypes are like regular stereotypes, only they emphasize sexuality. For example, the Black female stereotype of the Jezebel portrays a supposed type of Black woman who is so promiscuous as to be unrapeable. [An aside: Patricia Hill Collins outlines Black sexual stereotypes as well as their roots and consequences in her book, Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, & the New Racism. Really, this is a fantastic book that everyone should read.] Sexual stereotypes are born out of that space that gender, sexual orientation, race/color/ethnicity, class, and (non)disability occupy, and they reflect the way that dominant groups understand & control society.

 

A couple semesters ago I did a research project in which I analyzed season 11 of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, concentrating on the way that the characters in the show were represented. I have found both feminist and sociological literature that argues that L&O: SVU helps to dislodge rape myths. Rape myths reflect the controlling nature of a patriarchal society that places the entire onus of sexuality on women and includes such gems as, “if you weren’t a virgin you can’t be raped,” “why did you go out with him if you didn’t want to have sex,” “you shouldn’t have been drinking,” and on and on.

It should come as no surprise that I found an abundance of stereotypes in season 11 of L&O:SVU, but rather than finding a wealth of sexual stereotypes, I simply found flat-out racial stereotypes. Latinas only presented as janitorial staff or in the context of drug-running/gang activity. Black women as prostitutes or refugees from Africa.

 

I think about these things sometimes, and at times I feel very heavy. It is difficult to explain to people I know and people I meet what sociology is. What gender studies is. What it is that I’m interested in. It is strange to see the uncomfortable looks people give me, especially when they’ve just finished an unsolicited tirade about how fruity (and therefore awful) California is (seriously, it is not okay to launch into some xenophobic, heterosexist rant. Ever. Keep it inside, people!), and especially when that is their response when I tell them what I’m majoring in.

But, it seems to me that this burden I feel is a direct result of my social location. There is so much pressure on women to be pleasant, by which I mean, quiet, brainless, well behaved, attractive—all the qualities of an award winning show dog.

 

Now, I feel myself coming unmoored from pleasant. The tendrils of stability and convenience are rolling themselves up. I feel unsettled, and on the verge of a great adventure. Heading for territory well traveled but not often charted.

I know there are others out there who have traveled, are traveling, will travel this same path. Still, I hope that you will come with me, so that we might be companions in this lifelong journey.