Be a Good Ally

I took a five-and-a-half hour bus ride out of Istanbul to get to the Gallipoli peninsula.

For those five-and-a-half hours, I had a long conversation with a man also studying abroad through the same program as myself. We had talked a bit before, but had never had the time to just sit and get to know each other. He’s an environmental engineer and I’m a writer, but we talked far more about real world issues we were each trying to solve through our chosen profession.

He knew about racial profiling and understood that racism is still alive today. He knew that when I was canvassing over the past summer, it must have been more difficult for me to be walking around as a woman. I told him it was worse for the canvassers of color who were stopped by the police. He was sympathetic and understood that he has privilege as a straight, white, cisgender man.

But, though he said he supported gay marriage, he would not actively pursue the issue because:

 it wasn’t his issue.

By this point in our conversation, I had explained how I do not believe American governments on any level (from local to national) are actually committed to making positive change. I told him that I wanted to use my creative writing to write better media representations of women, people of color, the queer community and any intersection or variation of the above. He was receptive to my ideas and was clearly considering his own opinions on the matter because he told me he wished he were more informed and could give a stronger opinion.

This is why his response that certain issues were not his issues floored me. By all accounts he was an ally. Not just to the queer community, but to the feminist community and to people of color. He understood that oppression is a contemporary issue that needs to be immediately addressed. So how can he see the problems of the world, know people who are affected by these problems and still believe he is only obligated to care about his issues?

His issues are environmental. I respect that. The earth needs an ally too. However, he is not a good ally.

Being a good ally is more than acknowledging issues exist. It is more than saying you support gay marriage or women’s rights. You can say all you want, but if in the end you won’t do anything because you believe you are somehow exempt from responsibility toward helping people who are not your own, you do not understand what an ally is.

The reason I believe American governments are not moving toward equality is because my friend’s reasoning is the norm. Progressive people are saying they support gay rights, anti-racist policies and gender and sexual equality for women but they are not doing anything about it. And if the people on the ground aren’t doing anything about it, how will our government know we are serious about what we say?

Be a good ally and put action to your words. Do more than tell the world you won’t sit back and let bigotry continue. Stand up and don’t let bigotry continue.

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New Girl: Fighting Sexism with Humor

 

There’s a big difference between sexist comedy and comedy against sexism. Now, I typically avoid comedies as I find them more offensive than funny. But I finally got around to watching the first episode of New Girl and my initial reaction was a very well thought out meh. Could be better could be worse, but at least I didn’t hate it.

However, although I didn’t find most of the jokes particularly funny, I kept turning them over in my mind trying to figure out if the show used sexist comedy or not. I mean, the pilot perpetuated gender roles with Jess being the “emotional woman” watching Dirty Dancing and crying for a week over her break up with her boyfriend. But the show was more than I expected and had more to it than I initially thought.

I’m not going to analyze the entire pilot right now, but rather look at one of the show’s running gags that shows the pilot of New Girl is using comedy to fight sexism, not perpetuating sexist comedy.

If you have not heard of it already, let me introduce to you: the douchebag jar.

Now, as I have only seen one episode I am not commenting on the series as a whole or how sexism is treated even beyond episode one. This is solely a comment on the pilot and the use of the douchebag jar.

What I loved about this gag is that the humor was not when the character Schmidt did something that was sexist and considered “douchebagery” (which would have been sexist comedy) but when Schimidt’s room mates called him on his behavior and made him put money into the jar (comedy against sexism). We’re not laughing at Schmidt’s antics so much as groaning that he has the audacity to act in such a way as to take off his shirt to show off his abs, for instance. Instead, we’re laughing that he gets punished for his behavior.

In short, sexism isn’t the joke and that is the best comedy this pilot could have brought forth.

 

One More Person Against Bigotry

Once you begin to see that sexism is not the boogeyman crazed feminists invented to give themselves a cause to shout about, suddenly sexism is everywhere. It’s on the most mundane commercials, your favorite t.v. show, the clothes you wear, the joking comments your friends and family make, it’s in the grocery store, the pharmacy, the classroom, the office. Sexism becomes omnipresent because you’ve chosen to see how the world truly operates.

When my best friend first started talking to me about feminism years ago, she was so scared and angry about the way she had lived blind for most of her life to the oppression that plagued her and everyone else in her life regardless of their sex and gender. And every so often, my own rage builds up and drowns out all hope that the world can become a world of equality. Because if I’ve learned one thing from being a feminist, it’s that no human rights issue is isolated. I cannot care about women’s issues without caring about queer issues and I cannot care about queer issues without caring about issues of people of color, and I cannot care about issues of people of color without caring about economic justice. And then all of a sudden you’re not just fighting one system of oppression: you’re fighting the entire system.

It feels so overwhelming sometimes.

But just yesterday, I was out shopping with a few other international students and one of them commented that I look young for my age. She said “But that’s good. It’s always good for women to look young. More so than men.” I told her that this says a great deal about the sexist way women are at the center of the cult of youth and beauty. And she said, “I hadn’t thought of that before.”

I didn’t say she was being sexist or that she was bigoted for her comment, I just explained what her comment meant. And because she was open to the idea that sexism exists, even in small offhand comments, it means there’s one more person thinking about sexism and ways to combat it. That means there’s one more person on our side to fight hatred and oppression in the world.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to bring issues to someone’s attention. And when you do, you don’t feel nearly as if you’re alone fighting against the world.

Hate is not a Perspective

I’m studying abroad in Istanbul! I’m in Istanbul right now and will be in Turkey until June and I tell you this to put this story into context.

Istanbul From Space with Place-Names

Our whole study abroad group of Americans went out into the city the other night for us to get accustomed to the city and know the transportation. We wind up at a club around 11:30 or so and I don’t drink and I rarely dance. The bass music was jarring, but not any worse than I was expecting,even as it rocked its way up through my bones.

But it wasn’t the volume of the music that left me seething. It wasn’t the flashing lights.

It was the misogyny of the music and the music videos. Blasting in my ears was date-rape song blurred lines, songs about dicks and  grabbing hold of your own sexy lady for a night of manly fun. The songs were American, but I didn’t know half of them. Still, I knew enough to hear the words and feel violently ill. The music videos were just as bad if not worse. It’s nothing new for music and music videos to sexualize women, so I know this isn’t groundbreaking news. But, in any other situation I would have had the opportunity to leave. However, I’m in Istanbul. I don’t know my way down the block let alone the public transit two hour commute back to campus. I don’t speak much Turkish. So I stand and I seethe and no one approaches me until finally other girls in our group ask if I want to leave.

As we hail a taxi, someone comments on how the club was too empty. I say it was full of hate and misogyny. One  of the girls laughs, not a mean spirited  laugh, but an awkward laugh because she doesn’t know what to say and she’s amazed I’m being honest. I’m crying now from so much pent up emotions and a Turkish student who accompanied us to the club says he never thought of it from that perspective before.

He was trying to help, but hate is not a perspective you can validate or invalidate. Hate is a fact. Yes, you can choose to notice it or not, but that doesn’t make it any less real or impactful. But it’s simple to see hate as just a way of looking at the world: half full or half empty. In other words, if you choose to see a hateful world that’s your problem and your judgment should be adjusted accordingly.

This is why it’s so difficult to speak candidly about oppression against any marginalized group! Far too often you’re invalidated and told that you’re just misinterpreting the situation. Shift your perspective and suddenly the awful racist comment is just a joke. Or the sexualization of women (and specifically women of color) in music videos is just clever marketing for their target male audience. Suddenly you are the overly sensitive one, ruining the rose-colored glasses of those around you. How dare you see the world for what it is and want to make change.

But though I felt awful crying in front of people I met just the day before, I felt validated that I had stood up against hatred and did not shy away from telling the truth. Hate is currently an ugly truth of the world and it cannot be combated until it is recognized as a real problem that needs immediate attention. If anything, those who deny hatred and bigotry need to shift their perspective.

 

We Can’t Segregate “The Gays”

My brother and I don’t talk as much as we used to. Granted, I’m out of state in college for most of the year, but even when I’m home we have a list of subjects we cannot talk about.

  • feminism
  • gay rights
  • race
  • trans* issues
  • gender
  • politics

The list goes on. I love my brother, but we can’t talk about anything that matters and so we just don’t talk. I know I’m not the only one who has conservative family members and I need to ask if anyone has advice on how to have these conversations.

This morning I made the mistake of talking with him about gay rights. I haven’t been home since March 2013 and the last serious conversation I remember us having face-to-face since was trying to show him feminist frequency where he told me he didn’t have to listen because “she’s an ugly feminist.” That conversation blew up into a screaming match and, thankfully, we’ve both learned to much calmer.And we are very calm. We make it a point not to attack the other person only their beliefs. But that doesn’t matter when the subject matter is personal.

When we began the conversation this morning, my brother said how sometimes peoples’ lives are too different and therefore they cannot co-exist without fighting. He gave gay rights as his example. Though he said he believes “those people” are people too and shouldn’t be denied housing or employment, he also believes we should not exist in his line of sight. If a gay couple lived on a street where he was thinking of buying a house he wouldn’t move onto that block. He wants “those people” on one side of town and the rest of the world on the other side where there would be no contact. In his view a country that is homogeneous in race and ethnicity is the most stable country.

I told him that was segregation and he said “Yes, I don’t deny that. I’m honest about what I believe.” And he is honest, I have to admire that, but he kept saying “those people” and he knows I’m queer. That was the most hurtful comment. If he does not want to live on the same block as a queer couple, does he not want to live in the same house as me, a queer woman?

I do not mean to place myself as a victim or as a perfect person under attack, but I explained that separate spheres would inevitably be unequal. In the gay/straight binary, straight is valued more (rightly so, my brother claims, because straight people are the majority–as if having the majority is the deciding factor on what is valued). Because straightness is praised, straight individuals have an easier time getting and keeping a job, and straight (cis-gender) couples, if they are married, have an easier time buying a house and living their lives. Just by being straight, my brother has untold advantages he believes he rightly deserves. Even if he did not mean to cause direct harm to other people, that is what he is doing by protecting his privilege and believing gay people should be pushed into a separate sphere.

Segregation is never the option. I cannot believe this is a topic of conversation in 2014. But it is. And more importantly it should be, as I am well aware racial segregation is still a major issue, and I’m sorry I do not have the time to devote to that in this blog post. All the same, segregation based on sexuality is just as bad and just as prejudiced. Instead of having the conversations to overcome hatred and reach an understanding, my brother and so many others who share his views, would rather gay people go be gay and do their “gay shit” as he says where he cannot see it. There is no dialogue and no room to change this opinion. Straight is right. Gay is wrong.

He says that if he ever has children he does not want them growing up in an environment where they would see queer people. He hates “gay shit” and in his perfect world gay people would not exist. I am glad he knows being queer is not a choice, but it doesn’t matter if he wishes we wouldn’t exist.  Other than myself I don’t think he knows anyone who is queer and he is ready to pass judgment.

I have never felt more devalued as a human being than during this discussion. I was saying words and it did not matter. He was right. I was wrong. And I stood there and we spoke calmly like adults. I was screaming in my head, but I didn’t tell him that “those people” are “my people” and even more they are people and that should be enough!

Segregation is a form of hatred. And my brother acknowledged it as such. He said that “Well maybe it is, but at least I’m honest. Other people will lie and say they love everyone. I hate most people.”

How do you debate that? Please, if someone knows, tell me. How do you debate when the person is coming from a perspective of hatred and admits it? There’s nothing to win and there’s nothing to prove. There is no debate and I know I can act the adult if I must and remain under control, but why? If someone can tell me how to debate this please let me know.

My Body My Decisions

For years I wanted to cut my hair short. Not because I identify as queer but because I love short hair. I think short hair is beautiful. I think short curly hair is beautiful and that is the look I wanted.

My brother hates short hair on women. He believes an attractive woman has long straight hair and that this is somehow the ideal. The last time I was home in March I told him I was thinking of cutting my hair short and we talked about how if I stayed in GA for the summer then I wasn’t allowed to cut my hair. This was our deal, for all that it was worth, though I didn’t plan on sticking to this agreement. I didn’t take it too seriously.

Yesterday I cut my hair to my chin, nothing radical, but a good six inches of hair was hacked off and lay in clumps on the floor of Great Clips. And I knew that no matter how much I loved this new style I did not want my brother to see. He would not approve and I would be less-than in his eyes.

But when I Skyped my mother, she of course called my brother over to see my hair cut. He told me flat out: “Your hair is too short.” He asked me: “Why???” Why would I ever do something with my body that he thinks makes me less attractive to men? I wonder.

It didn’t matter that my room mate told me my hair looked adorable, or that my mother told me I looked beautiful. My brother felt he had the right to command my body and my decisions.

So I told him flat out: “I want to hit you right now. You have no right to say what I can and cannot do with my hair.”

He told me, “But I don’t like it.”

“That doesn’t matter. Your opinion has no bearing.”

“None?” He spoke in a soft voice, confused.

“No, I don’t care what you think.”

Silence. For a few moments neither of us spoke as we had nothing more to say until we said our rote I love you’s and hung up.

I am not going to lie, it felt great to tell my straight, white cissgender brother that his opinion does not matter. It felt great to silence someone who so often has the power to silence others. Maybe I am being petty, but even for something as small as a haircut, I am standing my ground and standing up for my rights as a woman.  On a much smaller scale, this is what the war on women comes down to: men believing they know what is right for a woman. And whether it is reproductive rights or as simple as a haircut, no one knows what is best for you, but you.

There is no one standard of beauty. I do not need to adhere to my brother’s  ideas of what a woman should be because they revolve around a world of heteronormativity. But even if I were straight, my decisions are my own and no one has the right to demand I change how I wish to present myself.

 

 

“That Escalated Quickly”

I was at a barbecue the other night and the woman who hosted it is married to a man who a big comic books fan. We talked about Man of Steel, our favorite superheroes and if he had comic book recommendations. When everyone was sitting around eating, he asked me if I would like to see his comic book collection. I was so excited about this, but everyone around us started laughing and making jokes of “that escalated quickly”. I want to show you my comic book collection is obviously code for I want to have sex with you.

I felt like I was back in elementary school where I was terrified to have guy friends because the entire playground would bully you mercilessly about you getting married.

Now I’m an adult, surrounded by other adults and its the same mentality: men and women can’t be friends by this logic. There is an unbreachable divide that says men and women can only be in a relationship if it’s a sexual one and any conversation is just hidden sexual tension.

I think this especially applies to how people view me because I am the innocent one. I am the one who never talks about sex, boys, girls or romance and that means that there has to be something about me that is corrupt and that people can pick at. This is wrong on multiple levels. One, sex is not corrupt. Two: there is no reason to ever put anyone on a pedestal; it’s not admiring them, it’s waiting for them to fail so you have a right to rage against them. This instance was both sexist and heteronormative, as everyone assumed I was straight and was interested in him sexually.

The whole situation was so uncomfortable and just a moment ago I felt very at home and at peace with people I felt I could talk to.

No one at the BBQ knows I’m asexual, but it’s so heteronormative to assume that if I’m having a conversation with a man that it means I’m attracted to him. And the worst thing was that he played into their jokes. He never did show me his comics and said something about how maybe we should wait for the second time we meet. We could seriously be friends and he was more comfortable playing along with the jokes and stereotypes at our expense than looking into the friendship we could have.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with my summer room mate about sexuality and how it’s so awkward to bring up your sexuality without the risk of either making yourself or someone else uncomfortable. It’s not a normal topic of conversation. But not talking about being asexual, especially in situations where people assume that I’m straight, leads to me feeling isolated and childish. I’m sure other members of the queer community can relate.

Sexuality is strangely treated as a marker of adulthood. Yet when you first get sexual feelings you’re not an adult but a hormone crazy kid. Sometime in college, or beyond, you somehow transition to adulthood and having sex is a part of that transition.

So where do asexuals fit in? I know I’m still at an age where people can look at the absence of a partner and tell me that I’m making the right decision to focus on my school work instead of dating. But when I leave college? Will I always be less of an adult because I’ve never wanted someone’s penis or vagina?

I don’t swear. I don’t drink. I don’t have tattoos. I don’t smoke. These factors coupled with being asexual mean that I’m the innocent one and therefore the perpetual child. Again there is the element that I need to be corrupted. There is something about this “innocence” which unnerves people. Why else make jokes about things “escalating quickly”?

Asexuality isn’t innocence any more than having a sexuality is maturity. There is no correlation or causation. I’m just as much an adult as most anyone else my age.

It’s time people stopped associated maturity and adulthood with sexual experience. It’s sexist and quite literally incorrect. I’m adult because I take responsibility for myself; what I do or don’t do with my body holds no bearing.