Finding the Helpers

Trigger warnings: Rape, sexual assault, mysogyny

Full disclosure: I am beginning this by rage-posting. I’m so angry. I’m not going to go back and proofread my anger, so now that’s a thing you know. I just heard on NPR that Betsy DeVos is beginning a plan to implement a roll-back of the protections available on campus to survivors of sexual assault. That alone made me really mad. Why would you do this? Who is this benefitting? Literally no one.

The NPR story started out by citing Candice Jackson, “who leads the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights” basically said that rapes reported on college campuses are almost completely the result of both parties being drunk and one regretting it and also of women claiming that they were raped after a break-up with their boyfriend.

(This is the NYT article where I got some of my info. I couldn’t find the specific NPR story.)

Not only is her view of rape horrendously heteronormative it completely plays into the stereotype that most women lie about being raped. This is completely untrue. It’s a lie that angry men tell when they want to rape women without getting in trouble.

I am. Furious.

The facts are that less than 2% of all rape accusations are false. Pressing charges against a rapist is a long and difficult process that many survivors decide to avoid. WHY WOULD SOMEONE LIE AND THEN SUBJECT THEMSELF TO JUDGEMENT AND PAIN AND POTENTIAL HUMILIATION AND VICTIM-BLAMING??? THEY WOULDN’T.

Additionally, if someone is drunk and cannot understand EXACTLY what they are consenting to their consent is impossible. Notice the lack of gendered language. Any person who is too drunk to fully and comprehensively and completely (how many synonyms do I need to use before people understand?) understand what they are consenting to then they are too drunk to give their consent. It is the responsibility of the active partner to make this judgement.

Both/All people have been drinking and are not sure that their partner(s) can consent? Don’t have sex. Just to be absolutely clear that no one is having sex without understand exactly what’s happening. I’m not victim-blaming. This is the message that we, as an entire society/nation/world should be sending to everyone else in the world.

Not sure if they’re too drunk? Don’t have sex with them. Don’t rape them.

This is not a difficult concept. Here’s the Tea Consent video that is a really easy metaphor to help people understand this. It’s not the clean version that I show my students.

But this isn’t even what mad me the most angry. No. Possibly because I hear this argument all the time, but this blatant disregard of facts and people’s lived experience isn’t even what made my commute home edged in red. What made me truly and profoundly angry is that DeVos is seeking out the opinions of multiple different groups before she makes the concrete decision. This should be a good thing, right? No. Because the foundation of this action is a disregard for women’s voices. I say women because the majority of rapes are reported by women. That by no means means that men do not experience rape. Male rape survivors just tend to be much less likely to report their assault. I could go into why that’s a result of the toxic masculinity that we are constantly plagued by, but that’s a topic for a whole other post. Or series of posts. Or a fucking book.

So, DeVos is reaching out to survivors (good), alleged offenders (less good), and “Men’s rights advocate” groups (flames. fire burning on the sides of my face. smoke). “Men’s rights advocates” are a bunch of self-entitled, ignorant, pissbabies. “Men’s rights advocates” have no right to have input into this issue. They are part of the systemic problem that culminates in the rape culture we are surrounded by. 2017 is an ugly circus of fools and hatred.

So, that was my drive home. Just rage for 40 solid minutes. And a semi that almost ran me off the road, because the driver was drifting in and out of their lane. So that was super helpful for my mood.

But I can’t sustain this. I refuse to live my life constantly angry about all the crazy shit that’s happening in the US and the world. I will not let myself stew in it and do nothing. I will continue to call my elected officials. I will protest and do what I can to fight for what I believe is right. But something else that I can do is more personal.

When I get super frustrated and angry I try and do something positive for myself, and one of the things that helps me is to look for the helpers like Mr. Rogers said.

By now I’m sure most people have heard/seen the Mr. Rogers story about his mom telling him to look for the helpers. In case you haven’t, here’s a link to the video. It’s an awesome sentiment, and one I find very comforting. I try to be a helper when I can, and to look for and acknowledge them when I need to.

So here’s my first helper:

This last weekend was the LGBTQIA+ Pride festival in my city. I was there helping at a booth for the first part of the day and then got to walk around and look at all the booths. This was the biggest Pride event here in the last three years at least. There were kids and families and groups of teenagers and older couples and everyone was just wandering around in this amazing atmosphere of acceptance. One of the booths was PFLAG and their trans support group, Transformations. One part of the booth was just a big sign that said “Free Mom Hugs.” And there was a middle-aged woman there who would give you a hug if you wanted one. (Writing it out like that it sounds kinda creepy, but it really wasn’t I swear.) I know generally and also anecdotally from some of the youth who I work with that hugs from a supportive parent aren’t always readily available for youth who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

It’s something like 40% of homeless youth identify in some was a part of this community. It is not uncommon for family support to change or to disappear when someone comes out. And sometimes a hug from a safe and supportive figure can make a big difference even just for the next hour. I love hugs from people I feel very comfortable with. And as someone not surrounded by people who I feel comfortable hugging very often (most of my family lives over an hour away), I understand (in a limited way) just how much difference a hug from Mom can make. So the helper I found today is that woman standing there waiting for someone to come along who needs a hug.

Have you found any helpers recently?

 

PS: I’m sorry that I used the word fuck and referenced Mr. Rogers in the same post. And if my mom reads this, I’m sorry you read me saying fuck.

Gender and Health: Thoughts on how Preconceived Gender Bias can Be Physically Harmful

Friends! Hello! It’s been ages since I’ve written anything. Work has been crazy, but now it’s summer, and I can finally breathe. I want to start by acknowledging the fact that not only is my title really long, it only barely begins to scratch the surface of this issue. My thoughts below are entirely centered on this article that I have just read about trans women/transfeminine individuals experiencing period and PMS symptoms:

Yes, Trans Women Can Get Period Symptoms

Specifically, this sentiment jumped out at me:

Whether it’s in a conversation with our medical providers, friends, or even immediate family, trans people  – AMAB folks in particular –  have historically been met with violent opposition when discussing their feelings and medical needs.

We’re often told we’re exaggerating things, seeking attention or sympathy, and that our reality can’t possibly be as we describe it. Sometimes these verbal assaults turn physical.

AMAB = Assigned Male at Birth

This sentiment (other people denying the severity of menstrual pain) was not surprising to me, because I am constantly reminding the classes I see that debilitating periods are not normal. A person should be able to go about most of their daily routines while on their period. If PMS or menstrual symptoms are so painful that you can’t get out of bed or cause you to vomit because of how much pain you’re experiencing or in any other way make it so you can’t function for a day or more you should talk to your doctor. What I don’t say is that you might have to convince your doctor that you’re not exaggerating, or you might even have to switch doctors until you find someone who believes you. The downplaying of women’s pain is systemic in our health care system. This gendered bias does real physical harm to some women and non-binary AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) individuals. I think that it is this and the toxic nature of masculinity in our society combined that culminate in this experienced “violent opposition” that trans people tend to experience when “discussing their feelings and medical needs.”

I want to take a second to take a step back and explain that I am a cisgender woman, and I have a degree in Women’s and Gender Studies. In no universe do I believe that this makes me an expert on trans experience. I want to acknowledge that my thoughts on this are largely theory-based, and if anyone has any type of constructive criticism of anything you’re about to read please do not hesitate to let me know.

According to Sam Riedel, the author of the article I’m talking about,  trans people are often told that they don’t know what they’re actually feeling, exaggerating for attention, and seeking sympathy. This sounds familiar. Women are constantly told this bullshit. We are ignored and told that we’re too emotional to handle things or make good decisions, and our bodies are used against us constantly. Women with trans experience are not excluded from this. By the very fact that they are women they are susceptible to this damaging and inflammatory rhetoric. Pages and pages of books and articles have been written about this treatment of women, and so I’m not going to dive any deeper than that. What I do what to think about is what Riedel says about AMAB trans experience specifically.

Riedel says that AMAB trans folks specifically “have historically been met with violent opposition when discussing their feelings and medical needs.” I think that we can probably find the root of this in the toxic masculinity that we force on (more than) half of our population. This, either overtly due to transphobia or inadvertently due to internalized bias and genuine misunderstanding of trans-ness, gets projected onto AMAB individuals regardless of their gender identity.

Boys aren’t supposed to cry. Men don’t really feel pain. Man-up. Men don’t talk about (or have) feelings. Men don’t need doctors – just walk it off. All of these ridiculous things are said all the time. This rhetoric is so ingrained into our subconscious that it even affects the way we care for children. Immediately comforting a girl toddler when she falls and hurts herself but waiting to see if the boy toddler cries or is bleeding before he receives comfort. People who are assigned male at birth and/or perceived to be male or masculine constantly experience pressure to be strong and stoic. Men and boys who don’t meet these expectations are often ridiculed or even punished for failing to fit into the mold. Violence is an inherent part of masculinity expectations, so it’s not a big leap to assume that a person ignoring and subverting these expectations because of their gender identity would experience a heightened risk for violence for talking about their feelings or their medical reality.

Trans women are experiencing bias on two fronts. They are discriminated against for being the women they are and they are punished for refusing to follow the rules of the label they were given when they were infants. This culminates in trans people not receiving the medical care they need, which is a systemic problem in all areas of health and not just menstrual. This dearth of care is putting people in the hospital and is forcing others to experience sometimes debilitating pain silently.

I wish I had a concrete solution to this. How do we make medical providers confront their bias? How do we train clinic and hospital staff on the specifics of trans health when we face budget cuts and a deprioritization of informed healthcare? I spend my time going into middle and high school classes talking about issues related to this, but even now I’m occasionally met with push-back and defiance of scientifically proven fact. My job is often vilified and has begun to lose funding. We live in a scary and uncertain time.

As always, please let me know your thoughts.

~Tristin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Day Without Women

If a day came where all women somehow temporarily disappeared the world would come to an abrupt and messy full stop. I truly believe this. This Wednesday, March 8, 2017, is International Women’s Day, and the Day Without a Woman strike is planned. Women are encouraged to take the day off from paid and unpaid labor, avoid spending money unless it is in/at a women-owned business, and to wear red to shoe solidarity. I really appreciate that the organizers acknowledged that not all women will be able to take the day off, and they have come up with ways that women can be supportive even if they can’t take the day off.

I have given this strike a lot of thought over the last weeks since they announced the plan. I am very conflicted as to whether or not I should take the day off, but I have reached a decision. I will not be taking the day off. I support the strike and all of the women who are able to honor it. I know that it will be a sacrifice for many, and direct actions such as this are so important. The world noticed the Women’s March, and it made a difference. I think that this strike will be similar. However, I work in somewhat unique circumstances.

As a Health Educator I believe that the work I am allowed to participate in is an integral part of the resistance. I know that I am biased in this, but that doesn’t mean that I believe it any less. I work in an organization with around 30 employees. Three of them are men. We also have one male volunteer. There is no doubt in my mind that each one of them is very much aware and sympathetic towards the fact that women are very important in the work we do. The majority of us work directly with clients under the age of 25, most under the age of 19. If we all took the day off a large group of a variety of vulnerable populations would feel the loss. But they already feel so much of the inequality and bias and neglect that the rest of the country exhibits on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, they are strong and they are resilient. We work with extraordinary young people, and I am constantly learning from and awed by them.

And this is exactly why I’m going to work on Wednesday. After our staff meeting, which is as much self-care and support as it is anything else, I’m going to meet with a regular group of 6th grade girls to make art. We’re making boards that represent all of the best things they see in themselves. And it was a struggle for some of them to actually think of positive aspects of themselves. We work on self esteem and confidence and positive thinking. We practice self affirmation and supportive-community building. Many of them don’t have support systems outside of school, and they get to come to group and laugh and have fun and remember that they are loved and that they are important. And I’m going to be there with them.

For all of the women participating in the strike, I support you. For all the women who are unable to strike, I support you. For all the women who haven’t heard about it because they don’t have the privilege or time that I do, I support you. I’m going to be at group just like I am every Wednesday supporting the amazing young women that I have the privilege to work with. Because that’s what this is about for me. Women building women up and making them see just how amazing they are in a world that tries to tell them that they are deficient in so many ways.

We will demand that our voices are heard. We will show the nation that women are invaluable in our efforts to exist in the world and to maybe even make it a better place. We will resist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today We Marched

womens-march-flag

Today I went to the Women’s March in Des Moines, and it was awesome. The crowd was so passionate and enthusiastic. There was also a feeling of commonality and camaraderie unlike anything I’ve ever felt outside of a Pride Parade.

We left early this morning and headed to Des Moines in a dense fog, and the closer we got the more pink “pussy” hats we saw in the cars alongside us. Groups of two and three and five women were at the rest stop. An older woman in a pink pussy hat stopped to pose with a younger woman at the entrance to the restroom. And then we watched as she went and got in the car with her husband. They were on their way just as we were.

The excitement was palpable from the minute we stepped out of the car onto the soggy street. We followed a family with three young children up the hill to the Capital building, and I just kept thinking how they were learning so early to stand up for their rights. As we got closer to the crowd gathered listening to the opening speech I felt like I was back in grad school. I had my backpack on and was surrounded by hundreds of people who felt just like I do. There was anger on some of the signs I saw in the crowd, but there was also a lot of support and hope there too.

womens-march-hands-off

We learned chants and call and response and set off to march around the capital building. There were so many people there that I think the end of the line was just leaving as the beginning was coming back. There was an estimated 26,000 people in attendance. More than twice as many as expected.

womens-march-crowd
This was after we had made it back around to where the speeches were setting up, and we were completely surrounded by a sea of marchers. 

It has been a long and exhilarating day, and I’m not doing justice to how amazing this experience was. One of the speakers was an 88 year old woman, and there were tiny babies. All of those people were there because they agree that Predator in Chief is unfit. He and his administration of inexperienced, biased billionaires are a farce that will do a lot of harm. But we’re not going to just accept it as the status quo. We’re going to protest and demonstrate and march and talk to our legislatures. One of the biggest themes that I saw in the signs today is that we will not be silent. This march and the original D.C. march and all of the other marches around the globe sent an important message today. For the first time in months I have hope. It’s going to be rough. The damage has already started with important sections disappearing ogg of whitehouse.gov. But the attitude today was not that we were there to prove our point and then to just stop making the effort. This was just the beginning. I have a feeling that I’m going to learn a lot about about organizing and marching and protesting and direct action in the next four years.

I hope anyone reading this can find a way to participate. Even if it’s just keeping yourself informed and making phone calls to your representatives. Or showing your support online. This is a marathon and not a sprint.

I’m exhausted from the long day, and it is entirely possible that this post is a rambling mess as I’m not going to take the time to proofread it. But I’m still holding on to that feeling of hope. We can be the change. We have to be.

womens-march-selfie

 

Minimalism?

Minimalism. I recently watched a documentary about minimalism on Netflix. It’s called, “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.” And it made me realize that I am not a minimalist. (Also, side note: I felt like the documentary as a whole was full of privileged white men talking about how they quit their six figure jobs and sold all their expensive stuff, while completely unaware of how their economic and racial privilege actually allowed them to do this. That’s just my opinion. You should watch the documentary yourself and then come back and we can talk about it. Seriously.)

So, anyways. I’m not a minimalist. I don’t want to live in a bare apartment with one chair and only five shirts. I know this is a simplification (pun intended) of what the minimalist lifestyle actually is, and that it will mean different things to different people. That said, however, I want to use my version of minimalism to de-clutter and organize my life. But I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a minimalist. (Wow, I’ve said that word a lot in just two paragraphs.) So, I’m not going to label this new effort of mine, other than to say that the end goal is a clutter-free and organized space. And less stuff. But not no stuff. So..

I’m about to show you a picture that I’m not proud of. I’m embarrassed that I allow myself to clutter in the way that I do. It’s a character flaw that I’m working on. It’s also tied fairly directly to my depression, and how well I’m handling it. But I’m not saying that as an excuse. So, here we go. My shame:

clutter

Okay, stop looking at it. Scroll so it’s off your screen.

This is my house after the holidays. I did a lot of craft projects for Christmas including making an entire quilt in the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the crafting supplies appear to have exploded all over part of the living room and dining room. I also have a terrible habit of leaving clothes everywhere. But there it is. The before, if you will.

I’m planning on moving within the next few months to a smaller place, and I need to downsize, organize, and prioritize. A lot of ize-ing. And today begins the process. I spent all day yesterday watching A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix, and so I have absolutely no excuse as to why I shouldn’t make a ton of progress today (other than the fact that I’m blogging about it instead of actually doing it…). I’m going to post a New Years Resolutions blog post in a few days which will explain more of my 2017 goals and thoughts, but this is part of it. A lifestyle change, and not just a clean-up. (I have a lot of mixed feelings about resolutions.)

Okay, I’ve gotta get to work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temperature Afghan, Because I Live on the Edge

If you haven’t already guessed, I’m making a temperature afghan, because that’s a thing I do now. Crochet. I feel compelled to make fun of it, weirdly. Oh, yes, I crochet, because I am a nerd. But, yes, I am a nerd, and I’m comfortable with that label. Also, if anyone ever tries to tell you that crocheting or knitting is super easy, just ignore their lies. I learned to knit a couple of years ago, and was never particularly great at it, but I enjoy taking something that seems so small (yarn) and making it into something big and useful (the blanket, obvs).

So, what’s a temperature afghan you ask. Well, it’s a thing I saw on Facebook a few months ago where you make a color key where each different color represents a range of temperatures. Each day I take the high from my weather app and then crochet one line in that color. So by the end of the year I should have 365 rows. The color charts I kept finding didn’t accurately represent Iowa weather, so I made my own chart. Please see the very professional and polished example below:

temp-afghan-chart
Very Professional and Polished Temperature Afghan Chart

As the weather changes I’ll need to buy more colors, but Iowa is going to be pretty solidly within the colors I already have for a while. If I were doing the “real feel” I would need a ton of purple, but so far the high hasn’t been below zero yet.

So far it’s going well. I’ve managed to do one row a day for five days (I haven’t done today’s row yet). I’m a little nervous that once the weather starts to get nicer, you know, in May, that I won’t make time to do a row every day and I’m going to have to try and catch up occasionally. But, we’ll see. Here’s what I have so far:

temp-afghan-beginning

My mom has assured me that it will become less curly once I get more rows on, so I’m not letting it bother me yet. My mom learned to crochet from her mom, and so it’s a nice tradition that I’ve wanted to learn for a while now. And some day I aspire to learn more than just the single crochet stitch.

Today’s row will be “Jade” since the high for Cedar Rapids was 9 degrees fahrenheit. It’s the lighter blue color that the last two rows have been. Also, I’ve been sick for the last couple of days, and today I napped from 3:30-5:30. Laying down when it was full daylight and waking up when it was mostly dark was backwards and somewhat disorienting.  Today I’m grateful for sick leave at work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Talk About Periods

56df052b1e000087007037dd
Image Source: This Huffington Post article about why tampons are a human right.

Did the title of this post make you uncomfortable?

I have a really weird internal/emotional relationship with periods. Every so often I’m in a position where I am forced to confront the discomfort I feel when I think about being on my period. I’m a Health Educator. Part of my job is to talk to classrooms full of kids and young adults about periods. It’s important. If no one had taken my 5th grade self, along with all of the other 5th grade girls, and sat us down to learn about periods and puberty in school I would have known very little about it. As I’ve grown up and become a more aware adult I have learned a lot about what would have helped me when I was younger that no one ever told me, so I try and make sure to tell all of those things to the groups of students I see. I do my best to normalize periods and make sure that I never connect any kind of shame with these discussions. Because for a very long time I felt very deeply ashamed of this natural biological process.

I just watched this BuzzFeed video about free bleeding that is trying to raise awareness about the fact that thousands of women in the US face their periods without a guarantee that they will have any kind of period products. Pads and tampons and Diva Cups, and the other methods of controlling and catching period blood are expensive. Take a minute to watch their experiment.

I sat here uncomfortable the entire time I watched the video. How did it make you feel? They showed the blood on the puppy pads from their chairs, and I cringed every time. Because I was taught, accidentally and unknowingly, to be ashamed of my period. My mom is amazing, and she did her best to get me whatever type of period product I needed to make me comfortable. But I think that she is also very uncomfortable with periods. This was projected to me. The whispered conversations about whether or not I needed more pads. Not even liking to say the word tampon. I internalized these things, and spent years dreading the seven to ten days every month that I had to deal with this awful thing that happened to my body.

I remember very vividly the fact that the upstairs bathrooms of my high school only had partial doors on the stalls. For some reason they had decided to use doors that had one whole corner missing diagonally. If you were sitting it was fine, but if you needed to stand up to replace a tampon every person who happened by could see. I would hold off as long as I could before going to the bathroom. This made my cramps worse and also made me feel slightly sick.

But I always had the products I needed. One time my mom left work and drove across town just to bring me tampons because I didn’t want to ask at the office.

As an adult I have embraced my period. I am no longer afraid of the noise a pad wrapper makes in a quiet bathroom. I am not afraid to carry a tampon in my hand as I go to the bathroom at work. (I work in an office composed almost entirely of women.) I can ask other women if they have a tampon if I’m out. I boldly buy my box of tampons, pack of pads, and bar of chocolate at the register regardless of whether the cashier is male or female. But this was not always the case. I learned to do these things as an act of defiance. An act of rebellion. Why should I be ashamed of this? Everyone knows that menstrual periods happen. I refuse to be ashamed. I refuse to suffer in silence. I reject the idea that being on my period makes me less myself. I will boldly bleed.

And I have that luxury. I am privileged enough to never know what it’s like to not know where I’m going to get pads when I need them. I am in a position where I can talk with groups of students and try and project this normalization of periods. I can talk with groups of girls about what makes them feel embarrassed. Because it wasn’t just me who grew up mortified by this experience. We have a tendency to teach most young girls that bleeding is secret. It’s a private act that needs to be dealt with silently. But I will not be a part of that. I will teach that periods are just another part of growing up. Yeah, they suck, but you can manage this. Being in excruciating pain every month is not normal. Being in so much pain that you miss school because you can’t stand up is not normal. Cramps happen. An internal organ is actively shredding its lining and pushing it out of your body. But you don’t need to suffer in silence. There are a number of medical conditions that affect girls and women that make their periods unusually painful, and there are treatments for these. But because we surround menstruation in this culture of silence so many people suffer needlessly.

Speak up. Speak out. Have your period loudly until the people around you aren’t weirded out by it any longer. Support others who are on their period.

And if you can, donate period products to a local homeless shelter. If you are going to give a bag of supplies to a woman asking for help on the side of the street include pads and/or tampons. This is a necessity. Not a luxury. And no one needs to be ashamed.