9. Racial Justice (Smash White Supremacy)

Give the gift of your ACTION for my 34th birthday!

My birthday is coming up on June 26… My mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and really what I want is for more and more of you to get engaged in the fight against fascism.

So here’s an experiment: My 2019 birthday gift challenge.

If you want to wish me a happy birthday or just because you like jumping on board with a challenge or really because you also want to fight fascism, please join in:

  1. Pick at least ONE thing on this list that you will do this summer.
  2. Send me your PLEDGE by the end of June.
  3. DO your thing by the end of the summer!
  4. Tell me you DID it.
  5. Tell me how it FELT 🙂

Pick ONE specific thing (in any category!) in order to be counted in the birthday challenge… but you’re welcome to pick more than one!

Here are the options…

READ:

LISTEN:

FOLLOW:

GIVE:

ACT:

  • If you are in or near Washington, D.C.:
    • Join the #AllOutDC mobilization against white nationalism & the alt-right on Saturday, July 6th. Read here for details and follow @AllOutDC for updates.
  • If you are in or near Boston:
    • Please prepare to counter-protest the so-called “Straight Pride Parade” called for Saturday, August 31. Read here for details on the organizers’ far-right roots and follow this Facebook event for updates.

 

SEND ME YOUR PLEDGE BY THE END OF JUNE — AND COMPLETE YOUR COMMITMENT BY THE END OF AUGUST OR SOONER!

I will keep track and report back.

I hope this works.

I love you!

3. Queer Stuff, 5. Connection/ Community

Preaching for Pride Month

This piece is adapted from a sermon I wrote to preach at Sojourners UCC Church in Charlottesville on Sunday, June 9. I was invited to speak in honor of Pride Month about queer-inclusive faith communities. I began by reading the poem “WHAT THE QUEER COMMUNITY SHOULD HAVE TOLD US” by Kai Cheng Thom, a trans woman of color writer, performer, lasagna lover, and wicked witch.

I first read this poem years ago and thought yes, that’s what I need to hear. That’s what I need to hear over and over again.

Once when I was in college, we had a student and faculty queer mentoring event I barely remember except for Dr. Karen Singleton, a queer Black woman therapist, answering a question about what she wished she’d been told growing up about being gay.

She said: “I wish someone told me it was going to be fun. It’s really fun.”

20-year-old me breathed that thought into the depths of my body. I wanted that feeling. I wanted that fun.

I’d known I was queer for a long time before coming out. I didn’t know being queer would be so much fun. I didn’t know it would be so worth it. Worth everything. The pleasure of queer love, sex, romance. The indescribable feeling of feeling like myself.

And the other feeling layered on top of that, the feeling we call Pride. Not hubris, but pride as a good thing, pride as celebration. Telling my new coworkers about my wonderful girlfriend and her two wonderful daughters. Putting “queer femme” in my twitter bio. Visiting my favorite queer beaches and dyke bars.

The origin of Pride Month is the 1969 Stonewall uprising. Trans women of color fought back against police violence at the Stonewall Inn gay bar in New York and that’s the origin of what we honor each June.

So Pride isn’t just about coming out.

It’s about fighting back.

It’s about the acts of resistance that directly dismantle systems of oppression and liberate us and our loved ones.

Protest. Organizing. Activism.

It’s not just about who we are. It’s about what we need from the world in order to best be who we are, in order to love and thrive and have so much fun. And it’s about what we need to change in the world in order to best meet those needs for ourselves and all who come after us. Queer liberation challenges and changes the status quo.

So what does it mean to celebrate Pride as people of faith? What does it mean to celebrate Pride as a faith community?

My comments today primarily focus on this second question. I will weave a story in three parts, through three communities: the one in which I came of age before I came out; the one through which I re-entered my faith as I was coming out; and the one I yearn for now.

I am Jewish, so my experiences with personal faith and faith communities come from there.

 

1: Coming of Age

The community in which I came of age shows us the limits of liberal inclusion.

I grew up in a liberal community outside of Boston, Mass. I was a teenager in the middle of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell era at the turn of the 21st century. My large public high school had a Gay Straight Alliance and featured queer student speakers in our annual Diversity days. I had access to seeing, meeting, and learning from lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, and genderqueer people. I loved these opportunities and drank in thirstily every drop of queerness made available to me.

But no one ever told me it was fun to be gay. They told me gay teens were at risk for being targeted, bullied, rejected, depressed. They told me gay teens were often looked down on and had a hard time.

The desires surfacing in me made me nervous.

In the same sex ed class where I decided I wouldn’t have hetero-sex in high school because I didn’t want to risk getting pregnant, I also decided I would not come out in high school. I would not be a lesbian. I decided I was fine with being secretly bisexual and I would just focus on having crushes on guys and acting straight.

I didn’t want to be gay in high school. Not because I didn’t want to be gay ever or because I thought gay people were gross, but because I wanted to be a high achieving high school student and get into an elite college before going through what sounded like a very painful potentially volatile coming out process.

I did. I dated boys and didn’t come out and did get into an elite college.

Throughout high school, I was active in Conservative Jewish youth group, a branch of Judaism with a history of condemning same-sex sexual behavior that at the time of my adolescence allowed neither gay rabbis nor same-sex marriages. There was a lot of hetero dating going on in youth group, and examples of homophobic teasing targeting boys and girls that I’ve decided not to detail here. I don’t remember any conversations with adults about sexual orientation, until one weekend my senior year when they brought in Scott Fried, a  gay Jewish HIV-positive writer/educator who arrived full of affirmations and assurance. He told us over and over again: “You are sacred and more than enough.”

You are sacred and more than enough.

The antidote to shame is not tolerance or inclusion. The antidote to shame is enthusiastic affirmation.

You are sacred and more than enough.

I am sacred and more than enough.

It wasn’t everything, but it was a start.

 

2: Coming back and coming out

The community in which I re-entered my faith as I was coming out shows us the benefits and limitations of affirmation.

I got to college, and eventually, I took space from my faith.

Although the Jewish Conservative movement had adjusted some towards LGBT-inclusion, such incremental steps did not appeal to me. I wanted queerness. I yearned for queerness. I’d heard by this point, you may remember, that queerness could be super fun. And I believed it. To join a faith community again, I needed a space vibrant with queerness.

I was invited to a weekend retreat called Jews in the Woods. Before Friday night worship began, we went around in a circle to share our names and pronouns. We had workshops on consent, and many informal conversations about gender and sexuality. Through these retreats I met people based in Boston who would bring me into the Kavod Jewish social justice community when I moved home after college. This pluralistic community was rich with queer people and queer culture and queer faith and even queer sexuality.

It was with the Kavod community in Boston that I discovered the Sexual Orientation Spiderweb. Without the time — and the props — to walk you through it here, I’ll just say I found it on an online discussion board for people who are asexual, or don’t experience any sexual attractions. The sexual orientation spiderweb is a way to diagram a person’s different degrees of intensity for different kinds of desires, like desires for touch, sex, love, romance, and emotional intimacy, desires that may be oriented towards different kinds of people, like men, women, genderqueer people, butch dykes, femme queers, you name it. Literally, you label the spiderweb yourself.

The sexual orientation spiderweb was so much fun. It was fun to discover, fun to use, fun to teach. And it was really, really fun that those same people discovering it with me were also by my side as we observed Shabbat and holidays together within our faith community.

What we found in the sexual orientation spiderweb was a tool to help us identify, name, and express our own sexuality. It helped us gain clarity about what sexual connections we did or did not want to pursue in our lives — it also helped us feel Pride.

But let’s return that conception of Pride I explained earlier…

Pride is about what we need from the world in order to best be who we are, in order to love and thrive and have so much fun. And Pride is about what we need to change in the world in order to best meet those needs for ourselves and for all who come after us.

The Sexual Orientation Spiderweb and the other community-building education work I did with Kavod met some needs of visibility and recognition. It showed this community was diverging from Jewish institutional histories of active and passive homophobia. It met the need to build a faith community committed to the explicit sacredness of queer people and queer love.

But there were so many tangible needs we weren’t meeting, and weren’t prepared to meet. We were not changing the material conditions of our lives, and we certainly weren’t changing conditions for people outside our own beloved community.

 

3: Yearning

The community I yearn for now is both pro-queer and anti-fascist. It is taking action to make changes not just amongst ourselves but in the world at large.

Content note: In this next section, I talk generally about fascism, and specifically about the white supremacist attacks on Charlottesville in 2017.

During and after Charlottesville’s 2017 Summer of Hate, people who knew me in the Northeast before I moved here kept asking, why had I changed my focus? Why, when I used to be focused on sex ed and supporting queer youth, was I now talking mostly about fighting white supremacy? Why the apparent pivot?

I want to take artistic license here to say it was not a pivot at all but rather a clear extension of my sexuality work, but that is not the full story, is it? The summer of 2017 was actually much more than a pivot for so many of us. It was — devastating. Traumatic. Life-threatening and life-changing and life-defining and horrible and terrifying and wrong. It was a fight against an active genocidal agenda that’s been brewing for centuries and decades and years and escalating right under our feet in a way I personally hadn’t fully faced until I stood literally face to face with those fascists, and witnessed their racist rhetoric and sexist slurs and homophobic taunts.

Because while my work and much of Charlottesville anti-fascist organizing has appropriately focused on how white supremacist anti-Black racism underlies American fascism, neither white supremacy nor fascism is one-dimensional. Racism, misogyny, anti-semitism, islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and more are intricately linked together in the web of lies that forms the foundation of fascist justification for a genocidal authoritarian hetero-patriarchal White ethno-state.

I pivoted because I learned. I learned that my own survival as a queer person and Jewish person depends on more than affirmation and education. I learned that a community that affirms queerness is better than a merely tolerant one, but is still not enough. Affirmation is not enough. Loving queer people requires defending queer people, which requires action against people who want us dead.

This past week, 50 years after the Stonewall uprising, the New York City police department apologized for raiding that sacred queer space. But this apology from the NYPD, from an institution responsible for so much lethal and life-destroying violence against queer and trans people in the past 50 years, is not enough. We are still in danger.

In the same week as this NYPD apology for homophobic violence half a century ago, news broke that my own home city of Boston, Mass. received a permit application for a so-called Straight Pride Parade planned for this August.

As written at ThinkProgress: “The organizers behind Boston’s Straight Pride Parade should concern you: Some of the organizers are close to neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.” And here is more background on their “ties to violence and hate”.

This Straight Pride Parade seems yet another attempt to gain a platform for fascism.

Do we allow fascists to use our communities — and our identities — to push for genocide?

Do we allow fascists to normalize themselves as identitarian activists?

Do we allow fascists to parade unopposed?

No, my beloved community, we do not.

I have a lot more I want to say about this so-called Straight Pride Parade. Feel free to ask me about it, and keep an eye out for future writing too. For now I will say again: This “straight pride parade” seems yet another attempt to gain a platform for fascism.

Pride month celebrates the history of riot, resistance, protest, activism. The history of community action for survival. The history of community defense of spaces in which we gather to express ourselves, to connect and to love.

Let’s celebrate Pride by fighting fascism.

I yearn for faith communities that define being pro-queer as being anti-fascist.

I yearn for faith communities that fight together, faith communities that organize together, that build each other up to keep fighting, that organize to support others who are fighting.

As faith communities, we know how to organize: a committee, an event, a meal, a carpool. We know how to greet each other and meet each other and teach each other. We know how to sing. We know how to study, learn, practice, apologize, repent, and regroup. And because the fight itself isn’t always fun, when it’s stressful and murky and dangerous, we know how to nourish our souls and find joy together so that we can hold onto hope and do what is needed. Because there is so much that is needed.

I yearn for faith communities actively challenging and changing both internal community dynamics and the material conditions of the outside world.

And if what I’m saying feels vague and you want more specifics, I’m happy to talk and connect you with others. Because there are so many options and we need a little back-and-forth to come to something that’s right for you.

Because Pride is a commitment to fight for our survival, and our survival is under attack.

Because, in the words of Kai Cheng-Thom:

You are worth saving

& you are worth holding

& you are worth teaching

& you are worth more than political theory

& you are not disposable

& you will not be thrown away

Thank you for everything you have done, and everything you will do, in your personal lives, and together as a community, to smash fascism and dismantle white supremacy and defend our sacredness and build a world where the people currently most targeted have what they most need.

Thank you.

Graphics via Rev. Susan Minasian & Sojourner’s

5. Connection/ Community

More Poems, 2/8/2019

Ouch

Sometimes i feel like a sack of nothingness

Like i am too tired and heartbroken to know who i am as a person

Or maybe that is who i am as a person

And i just don’t want to know

 

Last week i thought, maybe i’m dead already

And this is Hell

I found that thought very comforting

Or maybe it just let me detach

From the hardness

For a moment

 

I’m not writing this poem to comfort you

So i’ll end here

And just say

Ouch

I hurt

Miserable

There’s a place inside me that hurts a lot

There has been

Since i was ten, i guess

That’s the first i can remember

Of this

Overwhelming misery

Amidst

The mirage

Of cheer

 

That girl

She wanted something

And then that something was

Miserable

But supposed to be

Joyful

So she thought she was wrong

Always wrong

To be so unhappy

Instead of being wrongly unhappy

She tried to be happy instead

Never

Ever

Succeeding

 

What was really successful

was

Bifurcation.

She got really good

At seeming happy

And joyful

And caring and loving and giving

And all these wonderful things

Things she really wanted to be

 

And

Always

She was in pain

A part of her in misery

And shame

 

Not to brag, but

Even then she knew

Part of that misery

Was

Sexism and capitalism

Maybe she didn’t have those words but

She knew but

She could not escape but

She wanted to fight and

That’s good

Still miserable

But better

 

Miserabetter

Wrong

The thing is

This girl

This miserable girl

She’s not so nice, tbh

She’s mean

People tell her she’s mean

People get their feelings hurt

If she’s honest

If she’s sad

If she’s cranky

If she’s trying to get attention

Get seen

People don’t like her

She does it wrong

And then she doesn’t get seen

Doesn’t get taken care of

And then she’s sad again

Even more

She just

Doesn’t

Know

What

To

Do.

 

So she goes away again.

She figures

She is the problem

So she hides

Under

The cheer

The kindness, the generosity, the warmth

The things that work better

To get attention

To get validation

To get comfort.

 

She doesn’t want to get in the way of that

That comfort

That’s a good thing

She wants to reach for it

She wants to ask for it

How

How, that’s her question

How?

 

Charlottesville

When I get Triggered back to That Summer: A Poem of Feelings in 10 parts

  1. Guilt

I feel guilty for not going bigger.

I feel guilty for not doing more, getting louder, getting angrier, being more creative, giving more, getting more, getting seen, getting attention, making more of a difference.

I feel regret.

I feel a yearning to do better.

I feel disbelief that today is now and not August 13th.

Why can’t we be back at August 13th.

Why can’t we be back at July 13th.

June 13th.

May 13th.

Why can’t we do this differently.

I don’t want to feel regret anymore.

I want to do now exactly what I should be doing.

And I feel I should be doing more.

 

  1. More

More for Charlottesville.

More for the Jewish community.

More for the Black women and Black queer people who are leading the way.

 

  1. With

More with Charlottesville.

More with the Jewish community.

More with the Black women and Black queer people who are leading the way.

 

  1. Now

Now when I have papers to grade.

Now when I have an exam to proctor.

Now when I am overwhelmed.

Now when my friends are overwhelmed.

Now.

 

  1. Still

Still, I am still.

Still, I sit with not a motion.

Still, I want more from myself.

Still, I feel the triggers rise and fall and rise again.

Fuck it.

 

  1. Fuck

Fuck fascism.

Fuck Nazis.

Fuck white supremacy.

Fuck you for telling me that my anger is the reason I am not being as effective as I could be.

Fuck that.

I’m not angry as a strategy.

I’m angry as a reality.

And YOU are the reason I am not being as effective as I could be.

 

  1. Sorry

Sorry, maybe that was too much.

It’s not you.

It’s the Nazis.

Sorry, it’s not you, I really really want you by my side.

I do, I do, I really do.

Please let’s work together.

There’s so much we can do!

 

  1. Please

Please don’t be mad at me.

Please don’t dismiss me.

Please don’t push me away.

Please don’t reject me.

Please don’t abandon me.

Please, pay attention.

Please, understand.

Please, give yourself the space to rage.

And work, and rage, and work, and rage.

 

  1. And

And love.

And work.

And rage.

And love.

And grieve.

And rest.

And love.

And hope.

And heal.

And love.

And fight.

And fight.

And love.

 

  1. Love

I love her every day.

I miss her every day, when I’m away.

I am better when I’m with her.

And she says the same about me.

Why would I not be there, then?

There, now.

With her, now.

I love her so much.

I feel so lucky.

I love her so much.

I’m yours.

8. Sex Ed... Sexual Violence Prevention... and Gender Justice

Comments at Suffolk Panel responding to Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings

Today I was on a panel to discuss sexual violence & the recent Supreme Court confirmation, and I spoke about rape culture, fascism, and survivor-led activism. Thank you Duane DeFour for joining us at Suffolk and for the analysis of perpetrator behavior you brought to the discussion. ***If anything above resonates with you, please make a contribution to the fundraiser I’m doing for Wagatwe Wanjuki, an anti-rape activist who has taught me so much.***

First I want you to know that what happened was wrong. What Christine Blasey-Ford described — the assault against her, as a teenage girl, by the teenage boy she says was the same person the government just gave a lifetime appointment to the US Supreme Court — that was wrong. I’m not a lawyer and the law is not our only arbiter of human behavior. From a developmental perspective, from a moral perspective, attacking someone, restraining them, sexually assaulting them, behaving in such a way that the person being targeted rightly fears death — is wrong. I want everyone in this room to know that. I want every Suffolk student to know that — and every person who has ever attended a party. I want every man to know it. I want every woman and nonbinary person to know it. I want every survivor to know it. It was wrong.

And perhaps, at the same time as knowing that it is wrong, you also know it feels familiar. You know that it happens. You know that this particular scene, of a couple guys isolating and attacking a girl at a party, happens. You know that this kind of thing, this thing that we call sexual assault, happens. You know that it happens to teenage girls in high school. You know that it happens to young women in college. You may or may not know that it’s actually most likely to happen to queer women and trans people. You may or may not know that it happens, too often, to men too. It may or may not have happened to you.

If it has happened to you, I’m sorry. I believe you. And it’s not your fault.

It is, first and foremost, the fault of the person who perpetrated an act of violence against you. And it is, too, the fault of what we call rape culture.

Rape culture is the term we use to name that sexual violence is not a series of isolated events, but rather is a systematic and systemic intentional agenda to use sexual violence as a form of social control.

By saying rape culture is systematic I’m saying it is organized, coordinated, that many different parts of rape culture work together to produce our lives as they are now. By saying rape culture is systemic I’m saying it is pervasive, it is everywhere, it shapes all of us. By saying rape culture is intentional I’m saying it’s on purpose. It is not an accident. It is not an accident that guys at parties isolate and attack their chosen victims. It is not an accident that other guys at parties don’t stop them. It is not an accident when the cops don’t stop them. It is not an accident when they are not punished.

Rape culture is on purpose because it serves a purpose, and we cannot be fully effective at stopping rape culture unless we are also ready to admit and address the purpose it serves. Rape culture is a systematic and systemic intentional agenda to use sexual violence as a form of social control of women and queer people in the service of White Supremacy.

Rape culture upholds White Supremacy, and White Supremacy relies on rape culture. The work of ending rape is also the work of dismantling white supremacy. And, right now, with utmost urgency, the work of dismantling white supremacy is also the work of stopping white supremacist fascism.

My disciplinary training as a developmental psychologist is about understanding human development as ongoing mutual influences between the individual and context. I will anchor us in an analysis of the current developmental context in which we operate, and then I will affirm the power of individual agency in making much-needed change.

The context in which we develop, in which we are currently developing — is constituted and constrained by historical time and place. One of the defining features of our current historical time and place is the sharp rise of white supremacist fascist ideology & action.

Rape culture, sexual violence, and men’s violence against women are core components of the white supremacist fascism on the rise across America.

  • Some white supremacist factions have rape culture and men’s entitlement to women’s lives and bodies as their core defining feature — this includes the men who call themselves Men’s Rights Activists, as well as the men who call themselves involuntary celibates. As if women owe them anything.
  • Some white supremacist factions rely on rape culture as a rhetorical threat to distract you from their real agenda. When the fascists claim that Mexican men will rape us, they don’t actually care if we are raped or not. They just want us to fear Mexicans. We won’t give in to that false fear. When the fascist claim that affirming the right of trans people to use the bathroom that makes them most comfortable will give cis male predators an excuse to enter the women’s bathroom to rape us, they don’t actually care if we are raped or not. They just want us to fear a society that affirms the existence of trans people. We won’t give in to that false fear. It is rape culture and white supremacist culture that damage our personal and interpersonal development — not communities that affirm and protect trans people and immigrants. Communities that affirm and protect trans people and immigrants are good for us all.
  • Some white supremacist factions rely on rape culture inherent to centuries of white supremacy on this continent, meaning the ways in which White male colonizers use sexual violence to attack and abuse Native Peoples, and the ways in which White male capitalists use sexual violence to control, profit off, and abuse Black enslaved people. When we fight to end sexual violence on these lands, we must first and foremost fight to end sexual violence against Black and Indigenous women — abuse which continues to this day.
  • And while in some ways these white supremacist factions are distinct, they are not entirely separate either. The giant violent white supremacist attack on Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 was called quote “Unite the Right,” and that was one of many attempts to do so. The fascists are racist and Islamophobic and xenophobic and transphobic and homophobic and anti-semitic and they are also very, very sexist rape apologist perpetuators of rape culture.
  • So, that is where we are. This is the world we are living in. A world in which 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. That means many of us in this room were survivors before we even came to Suffolk. I’m sorry, I believe you, and it is not your fault.

It is not your fault, and yet it is now a part of your life, a part of your development, a trauma for you to process and survive and respond to in whatever ways you choose. So before I close, as promised I want to talk about individual agency. I want to talk about the role of survivor-activism in bringing about much-needed change, to end rape culture, to dismantle white supremacy, and to stop fascism in its tracks.

I’m grateful for the people who went to DC to put their bodies on the line in solidarity with Christine Blasey-Ford and in protest of confirming a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court for a man who has testimony against him as a perpetrator of sexual assault. What was the purpose of these protests and what did these activists do for us?

  • The most ambitious goal was, of course, to stop the confirmation. Making the hearings as uncomfortable as possible, making the voting elected officials as uncomfortable as possible, and swaying public opinion all had the potential to stop the confirmation. Even though that did not happen, the activism itself is still worthwhile.
  • For years, the Movement for Black Lives has called on us to disrupt business as usual. Do not let a violent exploitative system operate with ease. Do not quietly continue with a consistently harmful status quo. Disrupting business as usual is thus another important purpose of protest.
  • The activists attempting to stop the confirmation and disrupt business as usual were also doing something specifically for us. They were holding space for us, holding space for survivors to know that someone thinks this is wrong and cares enough to do something. I was here teaching classes at Suffolk and did not go to DC, and I’m grateful to those who went and held this space for me.
  • The activists were also in DC specifically to honor the testimony of Christine Blasey-Ford and the testimony of Anita Hill before her. Holding up and honoring the precedent of Anita Hill’s testimony is important. White feminists and white survivors, myself included, must remember with every word and every action that the history of survivor-led activism is a history of leadership by Black women and women of color.
  • So when we honor the survivor-led activism in DC, we must honor the entire history of women of color survivor-led anti-rape activism. Centuries of history that includes Kimberle Crenshaw and Anita Hill and Tarana Burke and Ericka Hart, as well as people who launched their activism as students, speaking up about college sexual violence, like Wagatwe Wanjuki and Emma Sulkowicz.

Rape culture and white supremacy are terrible terrifying defining developmental features of our time. And. So are we. We are also defining developmental features of our time. We have agency. We can fight back.

So, to survivors: I believe you, and I believe in you. I believe in your power and I believe in your ability to take action. Thank you.

***If anything above resonates with you, please make a contribution to the fundraiser I’m doing for Wagatwe Wanjuki, an anti-rape activist who has taught me so much.***

8. Sex Ed... Sexual Violence Prevention... and Gender Justice

Believe women. Believe non-binary people. Believe survivors.

  1. When women say “no,” believe us that the answer is no.
  2. When women say “this isn’t good for me,” believe us that this isn’t good for us.
  3. When women say “hordes of powerful racist sexist abusive men are enacting a political agenda of mass genocide in pursuit of a white ethno-state,” believe us that, in fact, hordes of powerful racist sexist abusive men are enacting a political agenda of mass genocide in pursuit of a white ethno-state.
  4. When women say, “you aren’t listening to me,” believe us that you’re missing something.
  5. When women say, “he could just acknowledge it and apologize,” believe us that there is a reasonable possibility of apology in this situation even if you have never imagined anyone would ever apologize for perpetrating that harm.
  6. When Black women say, “White women perpetrate particular patterns of racism and racist harm that have to be stopped,” believe them that White women perpetrate particular patterns of racism and racist harm that have to be stopped. I am one of those White women, and I believe them, and I am working to stop that harmful behavior.
  7. When a trans woman of color says, “my life is being threatened and I can’t take it anymore and I need you to care about me and do something,” believe her that her life is being threatened and she can’t take it anymore and she needs you to care about her and do something. Figure out what you can do. I’ve been there before and I wish I had done more, and I’m working hard on being able to do more next time.
  8. When Black trans women say, “stop epidemic violence against us and center us in your anti-racist/ queer/ feminist organizing,” believe them that we need to stop the epidemic violence against Black trans women and center Black trans women in our anti-racist/ queer/ feminist organizing. I am one of those organizers, and I’ve seen how resources get taken away from Black trans women over and over and over again, and I’m not okay with it.
  9. When trans women say, “we are women,” believe them: trans women are women.
  10. When women who are activists say, “we are being targeted by state surveillance and unjust arrests,” believe us that we are being targeted by state surveillance and unjust arrests. And then join us in the activist work too, in spite of or maybe because of those risks.
  11. When women who are parents say, “we need housing and healthcare and childcare and public education and college scholarships and a living wage,” believe them that they and their families need all these things and more. Parents who aren’t women need them too. People who aren’t parents need them too. Just saying.
  12. When Black women say “pay Black women,” then pay Black women. And fund Black women’s organizing.
  13. When women say “I’m queer, and it’s complicated,” then believe us that we’re maybe not gay and maybe not bisexual and we are queer and it is complicated and that matters and then ask more questions if you want to learn more and then believe the answers to those questions, too.
  14. When women say, “that will hurt me,” believe us that it will hurt us, even if you do not understand how.
  15. I’m a White cisgender femme writing this, so if I said something wrong here, believe Women of Color and believe trans women and believe non-binary people over me. Please and thank you.

I could go on.

Oh, I could go on for so much longer.

What would you add?

Move your money – fund trans and queer women of color-led organizing:

Trans Women of Color Collective

Third Wave Fund

Sister Song

Astrea

The Network/ La Red

5. Connection/ Community, Charlottesville

To the fierce freedom fighters of Charlottesville: Thank you, I love you, and please take care of each other

The Rivanna River in Charlottesville

Here are some words I shared at a beautifully generous birthday/goodbye gathering that my dear friend G hosted during my last week in Cville. Thank you again to the people who were able to come to that gathering, and also to everyone who wasn’t there, I hope you know that these words are for you, too.

I never expected to fall in love with Charlottesville, and then I did.

I came to Charlottesville two years ago from Boston via New York City, very excited about my new goal of having no more than five friends. I wanted no more than five friends so I could actually see my friends multiple times a week. I couldn’t imagine a world in which I could have loads of friends and STILL actually see many of them multiple times a week.

I also came to Charlottesville with the plan to stay out of local organizing because I’d be here  for just a year or two. It was the inauguration scared me into action. Several times in January I almost packed a backpack to get on a bus back to New York City. Living alone in a small Southern city where I knew a few of my coworkers and no one else — I didn’t feel safe and I definitely didn’t feel effective in keeping anyone else safe. I thought, if something happens, or as things continue to escalate, I need to know people. I need to know the people who are ready to respond.

And then, of course, I found you. I’m deeply grateful to have found you, to have been with you as things happened and kept happening and kept escalating, and to get to know you and be a friend to you to the best of my ability.

N, thank you for bringing me here. D, D, L, G, B, L, J, A, and so many others – thank you for getting me through. Jalane, I love you, thank you for bringing your full self into my life. M and I, thank you for hanging out with me, and please remember that you have a team of people near and far ready to rally for whatever you need, and I am one of those people.

And, to all of you, thank you:

  • Thank you for being my friends.
  • Thank you for caring about me.
  • Thank you for letting me care about you.
  • Thank you for letting me fight with you.
  • Thank you for your labor and your leadership.

Now, I’m also going to ask you for some favors. Five requests, if you will.

  1. Please take care of each other: Check in on each other. Thank each other. Feed, nourish, and affirm each other. Hug each other, when you have consent.
  2. Please talk to each other: About your feelings, your needs, your plans, and your story.
  3. Please tell your story: Find agency in the process of framing what’s happening here in your own way. Tell the world as much as you can. Get trained to interview with reporters, or send your thoughts to the Solidarity Cville blog (just, you know, as two examples).
  4. Please ask for help when you need it: Even if that’s multiple times a day. Ask as specifically as you can. Ask as many people as you can. Ask someone to help you ask for help. Individually and collectively. For your personal life or for your community or something else. Please ask. It’s so important and it can be so hard.
  5. Please tell the people you love that you love them. I wish I’d done more of that here.

On that note, I have moved cities before, and I know how it can go. We grow apart as we are in touch less and less. I won’t get to see you every week, but I will still hold you in my heart as my friends. Please remember:

  • I love you and I believe in you.
  • I want to hear from you.
  • I want to know what’s going on, anything you want to tell me.
  • I want to be helpful to you — I want to hear your requests for help even if you don’t have the bandwidth to catch up, so please text me or ask for a phone call. I want to know what resources I can leverage from afar to be actually helpful to you, and I want to make time to talk to you.

As I wrap up, I am going to offer an apology. Or at least the beginning of it.

I’m sorry for the messed up things I did while here, and I’m sorry for embedding myself in this community and then walking away. I may not owe you this apology but in my corner of the Jewish world we have a valued practice of giving proactive apologies and I know I harmed people here with my words or actions or silence or inaction, and I’m sorry.

If you want a more specific apology from me at any point, please tell me. I’m here to listen to what you want me to know, and I’m here to acknowledge my errors and be accountable in ways that I can. I care about my impact on you and on this community. I care about you.

I leave you with gratitude for the blessings of friendship you’ve given me. May your friendships with each other and the ways in which you take care of each other become ever stronger.

Thank you, fierce freedom fighters of Charlottesville. I love you, and I am forever indebted to you.

 

6. Youth Development & Education, 8. Sex Ed... Sexual Violence Prevention... and Gender Justice

5 Ways Sexual Objectification in Mainstream Media can Impact Adolescent Viewers

This piece was originally posted on May 3, 2018 with the Society for Research on Adolescence.

Adolescents learn about themselves, their bodies, and how to be a person in the world in many ways — from each other, from their families and schools, and also from popular culture. While most of these sources of influence can be facilitated intentionally by parents and educators, what happens in popular media cannot be controlled. However, parents and educators and other people supporting the positive development of adolescents can take an active role in helping young people understand and navigate the impact of popular media. To contribute to that process, this blog post examines one aspect of sexism in popular media: sexual objectification.

Sexual objectification of women means treating women as sexual objects. Sexual objectification is when people are treated more like things (as in, physical objects) than as people who are complicated cognitive social emotional human beings. Focusing on parts of a body is one example of something that is sexually objectifying; another example is presenting bodies as interchangeable.

The American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls released a 2007 report about the impacts of media that sexually objectify women and girls. This report lead to further research in communications, cognitive psychology, human sexuality development, and other interrelated disciplines. Dr. Monique Ward then authored a review of the empirical research on this topic published 1995-2015.

Ward reviewed empirical studies published from 1995 to 2015 that identify effects of exposure to sexually objectifying media, through experimental lab studies or through everyday life. In Ward’s review, she found that exposure to sexually objectifying media can contribute to:

  • Self objectification: When people perceive or treat themselves as sexual objects. (How do I look? What will others think when they see me? Do I measure up?)
  • Body dissatisfaction: Endorsement of a cultural body ideal dissonant with how people see themselves, that makes people unhappy about their own bodies (although idealized body standards may vary cross-culturally)
  • Sexist beliefs: Seeing women as less than human, seeing women as interchangeable, erasing women’s inner lives (e.g., thoughts and feelings), and having negative judgments of sexualized people.,
  • Tolerance of violence against women: Blaming women for their own sexual victimization. Expressing attitudes that support rape and sexual harassment and actually engaging in sexual or gender-based harassment.
  • Objectified sexual experiences: Boys exposed to sexually objectifying media are more likely to focus on the body size and shape of girls they want to date and are more anxious about their own appearance. Youth of all genders may be more self-conscious of their body while engaging in sexual activity.

How prevalent is sexual objectification? Ward reported that sexually objectifying portrayals have been found for:

Knowing these potential effects of sexual objectification in media can equip teenagers to better critique and resist the media they consume. Furthermore, teenagers need to be aware that watching a movie or following a television series is not a benign hobby — everything we do shapes our experience of ourselves and others. Sexual objectification is just one of the many ways the impact of sexist media could be considered. There are other forms of sexualization discussed in the APA report, as well as other aspects of sexual scripts, toxic gender norms, and rape culture to consider.

Young people can also use this information to advocate for change. They can choose to support the Hollywood actresses naming their own experiences of sexual assault behind the screens through #MeToo and saying #TimesUp on sexism in the entertainment industry, both on screen and off. They can advocate for educational opportunities to help buffer the effects of pervasive sexism and sexual objectification, such as ways to build media literacy skills and ways to access comprehensive sexual health education that can strengthen their development of embodied sexual agency. They can also choose to support shows with complex, agentic characters like the Black teenage girl scientist-heroes Meg and Shuri in A Wrinkle in Time and Black Panther, respectively. Youth themselves can make choices about what messages they are exposed to and how they respond to those messages.

Note: The literature on sexual objectification for the most part takes a binary approach to gender, assessing the impact of sexualized media on girls or boys, often within a heterosexual framework. More research is needed to understand the impact of sexual objectification in media for queer youth, trans youth, and youth with non-binary gender identities. Furthermore, a growing body of literature addresses intersections of gender and race, for example, in how feminine and masculine body ideals and physical desirability itself is strongly racialized within the context of American popular culture that idealizes Whiteness.

6. Youth Development & Education, 7. Research & Academia

How to Support the Adolescent Activists in your Life

UVA students standing in front of an image of Thomas Jefferson, holding a sign that reads "200 years of white supremacy."

This piece was originally posted on March 16, 2018 with the Society for Research on Adolescence.

We are watching them mobilize across the country: youth fighting for gun control; youth fighting for a Clean DREAM Act; youth fighting against police brutality and structural racism. Here are ways you can offer support to the adolescent activists in your life — and maybe also help a young person along the pathway to plugging into these social movements for change.

1. Provide Access to Knowledge — the kind they don’t (often) teach in schools

Stephen Russell, Anna Muraco, Aarti Subramaniam, and Carolyn Laub conducted focus groups with student leaders of high school Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) to talk about empowerment, and they asked participants what aspects of their GSA involvement helped them become empowered. The study found that youth talked about “having and using knowledge” as one key aspect of empowerment. Useful types of knowledge included information about their rights as students and how to advocate for their rights within the school system, and facts that they could use to dispel discriminatory homophobic beliefs. In addition, GSA leaders benefited from knowledge about different approaches to organizing and activism, and how to connect the work they were doing together to broader social movements that they are now a part of. (Side note: Emma Gonzalez, one of the Parkland student activists, is President of her school’s GSA.)

2. Foster Critical Consciousness — reflect and act, act and reflect

Knowledge is not always sufficient to motivate action and change. Paulo Freire’s theory of critical consciousnessidentified the dynamic relationship between reflection and action — we need to think critically about the world, take action within the world towards change, think critically about what we learn from those actions, and return to further action, iteratively. Matthew Diemer, Luke Rapa, Catalina Park, and Justin Perry used a survey study of predominantly Black and biracial high school youth to identify three components of critical consciousness:

  • Critical reflection on perceived inequality involves “critical analysis of socioeconomic, racial/ethnic, and gendered constraints on educational and occupational opportunity.”
  • Critical reflection on egalitarianism means “endorsement of societal equality, or all groups of people treated as equals within society.”
  • Critical action entails “participation in social and political activities to change perceived inequalities.”

3. Help youth Organize! — build collective power

Youth don’t have to act alone! Critical action — and critical reflection, too — do not and perhaps should not have to be seen as isolated, individualistic processes. Ben Kirshner and Shawn Ginwright identify youth organizing as a powerful developmental context to promote thriving among youth of color, with regard to individual development, community development, and promoting social movements. They define youth organizing as “a form of civic engagement in which young people identify common interests, mobilize their peers, and work collectively to address quality-of-life and human rights issues in their schools and communities.” In other words, it’s about young people connecting with each other and collaborating to leverage power towards achieving the changes that they need for themselves and the people around them to thrive.

Providing youth access to knowledge, fostering critical consciousness, and helping youth organize are ways for adults to support youth activism whether as a parent, teacher, youth group leader, or simply through an informal connection with a certain young person. Youth are leading us towards necessary social change. We have the opportunity not only to applaud them, but also to equip them to become their most fierce and most effective selves.

8. Sex Ed... Sexual Violence Prevention... and Gender Justice

Tips for men confused/overwhelmed by #MeToo and #TimesUp

You have a role in this work. You have a responsibility to yourself and to people you care about. You are needed.

  1. Start journaling. Seriously, you’re going to need a resilience practice, and you’re going to need some space to get to know your own feelings. At least 10 minutes daily.
  2. Follow some feminists. Read what they write and share. Make sure it’s not a fake feminist, like a rape apologist or a TERF. Choose women of color. Wagatwe Wanjuki and Ijeoma Oluo and Lourdes Hunter and obviously Tarana Burke, for example.
  3. Tell women that you’re working on it. Not for cookies, but as an FYI. And I don’t mean women in general. I mean some specific women in your life whom you care about. Say to them, this is really impacting me, and I’m committed to learning more. I want you to know that I care about you and I care about doing better.
  4. Support survivors. Queer survivors, trans survivors, male survivors, women and anyone who has been targeted by sexual violence. If you are confident and humble in your ability to not be an asshole, you can possibly be helpful. Maybe you can make yourself available to listen. Maybe you can help with just some of the labor of life. Put some food in someone’s freezer.
  5. ORGANIZE. Connect with other men to build towards shared goals. I want white men especially to organize against white supremacist patriarchal violence. And. . . also I really don’t. I mean, I do. I’m just worried you’re going to mess it up. And you will. But maybe you have to. Please listen, when you do mess it up. And then try again. Please try again. Keep learning and keep trying.

I want you to be successful at this. I even want to help you be successful. All our lives depend on it.