OH MY GOD DANVERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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There is always a loss when we are the oppressor

In a discussion about the article “Why Straight White Women Perpetuate the Patriarchy” a friend asked, essentially: “how much can we push back against/reject patriarchy and its hand-me-down privileges without simply living a life of sacrifice?” This was SUCH an important question that I want to share a version of my response.

Several years ago I was grappling with this on many fronts: how do I challenge existing systems and reject privilege without just creating a life of suffering? I don’t believe radical change comes from suffering or sacrifice or punitive self-abnegation. The truth is, no existence or community to which we should aspire is dependent on pain. For me, the answer was to allow myself to feel, notice, experience the suffering that was created BY the system that benefited me. So that I could become genuinely uncomfortable (slowly, incompletely, progressively) with that system. Then, challenging it would be a relief and not a sacrifice.

My media discussion group is an example of that practice. If I had just said one day “I will stop watching all media that’s oppressive to anyone” I would have experienced it as sacrifice, I wouldn’t have been able to do it, and I would have started making excuses and resented the people I was “supporting.” But, as I increased my awareness and attention, racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/classist/etc media actually felt oppressive to ME. I de-normalized those experiences and they became a cause of suffering. And I created a community that would support me. Then, I found alternatives to e.g. all-white TV shows and I no longer felt like it was a sacrifice.

I believe very deeply that experiencing the benefits of an oppressive system is, in its own way, a kind of alienation from the world and a danger to our need for human connection and compassion and empathy. There is always a loss when we are the oppressor. Once we feel that–however imperfectly, however momentarily, in whatever limited sphere–then radical change becomes a relief from suffering and the question is resolved.

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This is just to say

Yesterday I cut up a plum and one second later T. walked out of his office and picked up a few slices. He popped one in his mouth and then yelped “OH!! SORRY!” and absolutely FLUNG the other pieces back onto the cutting board.

I stared at him. He said, “I thought, PLUMS, yummy so I snitched them and then I REMEMBERED THE POEM!! You were planning to eat a plum and I TOOK IT!”

William Carlos Williams, you live on in the tiny details of domestic life.

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I want to tell you what Ghostbusters means to me.

I want to tell you what Ghostbusters means to me.

The movie comes out in 1984. I am ten. I see it in the theater with my dad, a rare thing in a house with no television, and we love it. My dad, who is a scientist, especially loves that famous line: “Back off, man! I’m a scientist!” We say it a lot, around the house, about what to have for dinner and other tiny conflicts, and we laugh and laugh. I think I might be a scientist when I grow up and I’m so delighted that a famous movie has a scientist hero.

Fast forward a few decades. The internet, I suddenly realize, makes it possible to see the whole glorious scene in which the scientist declares his mastery. A bare minute on Google, and I watch a brief video clip containing this dialogue:

Venkman: Alice, I’m going to ask you a couple of standard questions, okay? Have you or any of your family been diagnosed schizophrenic? Mentally incompetent?

Alice: My uncle thought he was Saint Jerome.

Venkman: I’d call that a big yes. Uh, are you habitually using drugs? Stimulants? Alcohol?

Alice: No.

Venkman: No, no. Just asking. Are you, Alice, menstruating right now?

Library administrator: What has that got to do with it?

Venkman: Back off, man. I’m a scientist.

I feel, literally, like I’ve been hit. I feel it in my gut, my own memory twisting, the realization that something I loved was in fact a pure expression of disgust and scorn for me. I understand that I’ve spent most of my life believing that we were in on the joke together, Venkman and me, the Ghostbusters and me, the 2 million Google hits for “back off man i’m a scientist” and me. I learn, belatedly, that we were never together. I was never in on the joke. The joke was always on me.

I know in this moment that I will never watch this movie again. I can’t bear to see how much it hates me, and I can’t decide which would be worse: option A, knowing this, I can’t love it any more; or option B, knowing this, I still do.

In 2014, when we first hear the preposterous claim “an all-female Ghostbusters is destroying my childhood, feminism is destroying my childhood,” I remember that gut-punch, the poison seeping into my happy memories, and I think: That’s right, you fuckers, feminism destroys your childhood, that idyllic time when casual misogyny masqueraded as love, and you didn’t even know what it was like to be in the story as anything other than a punchline.

Here is what the new Ghostbusters gives me, as I sit in the theater with a group of friends and a good audience: a compassion and respect that allows an unexpected generosity of spirit. Every time the theme swells I bounce in my seat. Every time an original cast member makes a cameo there’s an “ahh!” and a pattering of applause throughout the theater. For the first time in several years, I’m remembering what I loved, not what didn’t love me back.

Plus, I mean, Holtzmann.


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Day 4: part of a series on taking action

Day 4: Find, or make, community to sustain your activism, your heart, your well-being. The world is overwhelming, violence is overwhelming, hatred and suffering are overwhelming. Find artists who speak to you, who rile you up in the right ways, who affirm your sense that justice and respect are indeed the values of your heart. Keep an eye out for others who are silent but might be ready to speak. Check in with a friend, join a group, attend an event, have a conversation. Do not expect that you, isolated, can form a solitary outpost against the entire weight of centuries of oppression. Find allies, comrades, co-conspirators against injustice. Don’t go alone.

At yesterday’s event at MIT, we closed with words from Associate Dean DiOnetta Jones Crayton. She quoted a poem by Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Imagine what responsibility, what obligation, would come with this power! Yet it IS this obligation that falls to us. For this we must prepare ourselves. The time is now.


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Sunday afternoon moment of peace

Book is SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES, by F. H. Batacan, considered the first Filipino crime novel.


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Action in a time of grief

(Posted on Facebook after the Orlando killings.)
Straight parents who are wondering if they can do something to help on this devastating day: Yes! You can explicitly normalize LGBTQ-ness to your children. If you’re not sure how, I have suggestions for every age and style! Please feel free to ask. I would love to talk to you about how to be comfortable. If you have any hesitation, I guarantee your kids will be chiller than you are. (I offered this on twitter yesterday and someone took me up on it–a wonderful conversation!)

It’s never too late or too early. Kids are ready to hear about love, about learning who you are. And they need to hear it from you, both so they know other people are okay, and so they know that THEY are okay if they are gay. Trust me, your daughter is no more likely to be “confused” about whether she’s gay than she is to be “confused” about whether she prefers a smaller allowance and an earlier bedtime. Your son is no more likely to be “confused” about whether he’s a girl than he is to be “confused” about whether he actually wants to pick up his room and finish his homework and take out the trash without being asked. Kids are who they are: this will not be the time when your slightest suggestion transforms them utterly. 🙂

The only thing you can confuse them about is whether you’ll love them, love their friends, love your neighbors, no matter who they are.

Here are just a few ways to teach your child to love, and teach them that they are loved no matter what:

1. Read them books, and later give them books, with well-represented LGBT characters.
2. When you imagine their future, use language like “if/when you fall in love with a man or a woman…”
3. Matter-of-factly identify LGBT families. If you would talk about a friend’s mom and dad, talk about someone else’s moms.
4. If you don’t know (or don’t know that you know) any trans people, learn and talk about public figures, or read books about them. “I Am Jazz” is a great picture book.
5. Never out trans people without their consent, but if you have a friend who’s okay with it, you can say, “X is a boy, but when he was born, many people thought he was a girl”.
6. Always offer your child the same options you respect in others.

These are all expressions of love. Your child NEEDS to learn this love, perhaps for others, perhaps to understand that you love THEM. I’ll be blunt: it’s easier than figuring out how to tell your kid that someone slaughtered fifty people who were dancing.

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