“We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” -James Baldwin
When it comes to whether rape jokes are acceptable or not, whether ableism exists, whether sizeism exists, whether I am a bad person because I flinch when a strange man touches me, whether I am a bad person because being in a club surrounded by very loud music and men whose hands I cannot see terrifies me. When it comes to personally being asked to give up things, even things I very much love and believe in, so that I can do what seems to me to be the right thing.
Sometimes I speak out about my own experiences and it is hard. It is really, really hard. Sometimes it costs me more than I want to have to pay. Friendships, or romance, or even the possibility of romance. Sometimes I speak out and I suppose there are men who think I do this for attention, which is the most ridiculous criticism to level at someone because every time we speak, we do it for attention. Every time we act, every time we do anything, as human beings, we do it because we want somebody’s attention. There is no secret in that. There is no shame.
Sometimes I speak out about my own experiences of sexual violence. And there are women inevitably who say, ‘honey you need therapy.’ These women will always be there. This is what women say when they are triggered. This is what women say when they are upset. This is what white women say when I lean on them too heavily even if they are leaning on me just as much. This is what women say when they want to put me back in my place. For most of my life, I agreed with them on where my place was. I agreed with them that my place meant below, beneath, somewhere small and far away.
Sometimes I speak and men say ‘you should value yourself more.’ I am trying to learn how to say, hey look, I live in a society that says I am worth less than 1/16 what you are. You have spent your life told you are special and wonderful and worth much more than your mistakes, but me? I have spent my whole life being told that my measure is whether I can get a man to love me. I read books about relationships so men can read books about politics. I have made myself smart about dating because men never will. And the men who benefit from my emotional intelligence will make fun of me behind my back for not being smarter about world affairs. I think sometimes about the Political Science classes I never took because I was trying to avoid cis male students. I think sometimes about how long it took me to be comfortable with cis male bodies in the room.
I think about how hard I have worked just to survive. How many years of struggle just to convince my intestines to accept food. How even now I am up against a wall of doctors saying my chronic illness is not their problem to accurately diagnose let alone treat. Fat women fall through the cracks. Chronically ill people fall through the cracks. People say ‘love yourself more’ and I say, I love myself plenty, that is why I have chosen not to do what you tell me and crawl away to die someplace you cannot see.
Sometimes I speak, but I am thinking about the 300 or 500 pound person who is not in the room when I am speaking about being fat. I am thinking about the girls being sex trafficked when I speak about growing up a child of abuse. I am thinking about the teenager who reports her gang rape to a police officer who does not believe her, and so I talk about being raped and trying to report what happened to me. I am thinking about the people that you might throw away. I am not speaking for them. I am speaking about us, I am speaking for us, for these groups I have found myself part of. I am trying to be an advocate. I am trying to do right by them. The way no one ever did right by me.
That’s not entirely true. Women wrote and wrote for years and I read what they said and I fed myself on their words and I survived. We give what we have to the next generations. Especially women like me who are childless. Especially women like me who hate our bloodlines but have found a mother bear in ourselves. I am the woman who children can trust. I am the woman children find in public places, sit down next to and tell me about their abuse. I do that for adults and I do that for children too.
So I speak.
Not because I am violent. Or aggressive. Or an attention whore. But because. Somebody has to care. Somebody has to love these people more than they love themselves. And I guess I am one of those people.
My life has turned out a whole lot differently than I dreamed. But I hope I have done this one thing right. Just this one small thing.
So, no. We cannot respectfully disagree about whether rape jokes are okay, or that one boss who hugged me during our hiring meeting, or that one other guy who stared down my shirt at our hiring meeting, or that other supervisor who expected me to caretake a fellow employee because I’m a girl and I guess that’s what I’m supposed to do, or that guy who touched my ass for no reason, or that guy who tried to cuddle me even though he was a total stranger, or that guy who kissed me because I was crying in public and he thought he could get away with it, or..or..
I have realized this past year that there are men I like and men I love. I have been gentle with myself, as much as I knew how to be. I have tried to move slowly. I do not let men touch me. I am trying to learn to heal. I am trying to set boundaries. I am trying to accept that if I say what I wish to, which is that no man will fuck me ever again unless he loves me, sooner or later I will meet someone who will. I am not sure whether I believe that. I am not sure how to.
I have realized. But there are things which most men disagree with me on. And it is difficult for me to maintain our relationships. Because I have been taught men matter more than me. I have been taught white people matter more than me. I have been taught to consider myself lucky that they would even deign to speak to me. And therefore I have learned to have zero boundaries, where men are concerned.
Somehow every decision I make about men feels like a mistake. Every time I try to set my boundaries. Every time I say ‘I care about you but please don’t treat me that way.’ Every time.
I dream that someday it won’t be that way. Someday a man will be as committed to fighting sexism as I am, even if that means he must give up some things. Even if that means he must speak when he is afraid it might cost him many things.
I am a brave person. Among other things. Foolish, maybe. Foolhardy. Cruel. Impossible to love, at times in my life. Though I have loved.
I don’t need him to be as brave as I am. Only to fight back alongside me. To recognize the humanity of the people he has spent his whole life learning are less than he is. Because I have spent my life learning that too.
This is all I need from everyone who has power over me. It would be enough. At least, it would be a start. A new start for a new year.