This is a social construct.

Ever since the election I can’t stop thinking about social constructs. When I was in school we often joked about how first years were obsessed with the idea that gender was a social construct. It’s true, but just because something is a social construct doesn’t mean it has no real world consequences.

And yet, as I see executive order after executive order passed limiting everything from immigration from predominantly muslim countries to hiring of federal employees, I can’t help but think about how we collectively create much of our own reality. Without the consent of the governed, Donald Trump is nothing but a man writing his personal opinion on some paper. Democracy doesn’t work unless we all agree to act within it’s constraints.

But this isn’t just about Donald Trump, but also the system that gave him legitimacy. It’s about capitalism, an economic system that thrives on the exploitation on low-wage and unpaid workers. It’s about how we understand success in this system. Our collective understanding of success is about financial gain and acquiring assets such as homes and vehicles. It’s about money itself. The value of stocks in the stock market is more often then not influenced by public perception of the well-being of a company. As more of our banking goes online it becomes clear that money is nothing more than numbers on a screen.

I think about this while I sit at work day after day. I think about how some days I am sick or exhausted or depressed. I think about the sunny days when I would rather be outside finding beauty in our world. I think about how if I didn’t have my job I would be able to pay rent or buy food or afford health insurance. In a capitalist system our ability to exist is literally determined by the labor we provide. It disadvantages so many women, people of color, poor folks, and people with disabilities.

So why do we agree to these structures? After all, our participation is essential to keeping these institutions powerful. What if we all chose to withdraw our consent from oppressive systems that we exist under? What would the world look like?

For the most part I think we either don’t realize our own power within these systems, or else are afraid about what follows that kind of revolution. We stay with the devil we know because we can’t imagine what a more egalitarian system would look like, or because we have achieved small success in this system and don’t want to forfeit our privileges.

And yet I think as more and more people become dissatisfied with our society, it will become our responsibility to construct new realities where we value people more than labor, and relationships more than monetary gain. Where we understand identity politics to be less about the individual and more about our collective definition of what labels represent. Where we understand how different facts and theories have been shaped by their historic context, and where we allow them to change as we do.

I think it is hard to change how we imagine the world and I think it takes a lot of time. But I also believe we all have the power to create change. Through art and theory and conversation and protest we put our ideas out into the world and allow them to germinate and be influenced by others, and slowly transform what we understand to be truth.

That is what it means to be a social construct. And idea is built by many and with it comes consequence.

Some thoughts on the election, in no particular order 

1. I woke up this morning in the arms of my girlfriend, and I thought “how could anyone hate this thing we have, this sweet early morning thing we have, this warmth against my spine flowing to my heart, this love which has opened up wells inside me, so I always have more love to give?” How could they hate us?

2. My mom told me that she couldn’t remember being this distraught since JFK was shot. She’s not a very political person, but she wept when Hillary lost. I hope she sees a woman president in her lifetime.

3. I want to be empathetic to those who feel disenfranchised by American politics but I’m angry that their vote came at the expense of so many lives.

4. I want to be able to utilize my anger, but my heart is broken and I am tired.

5. I can’t stop thinking about my wrists, and how close my veins are to the surface. We are, all of us, so fragile.

6. “Misfortune had made Lily supple instead of hardening her, and a pliable substance is less easy to break than a stiff one.” -Edith Wharton

7. Sometimes guardian angels are the people organizing protests and writing petitions and organizing resources and offering money and to walk people home. They are everywhere if you are looking for them.

8. We did not start “making things political.” Sodomy laws made death a punishment for being gay in America. Until 2003 you could be arrested for being gay in 14 states. When white people came to the United States they brought black slaves and committed endless atrocities against them. They committed genocide against Native Americans for land.  Disability was treated with institutionalization which was often violent. Marital rape wasn’t criminalized until the 1970s, around the same time women received the legal ability to apply for credit separately from their husbands. All of this was legal. They made our bodies political, and our ancestors had to fight for our freedom. We are still fighting. We will not stop being political until we are all liberated. (My liberation can not ever come at the expense of anyone else’s).

9. For all the disagreements I had with her, I feel for Hillary Clinton. The sexism she experienced (has experienced, is experiencing) on a national stage has been an unsettling reminder of how we value ambitious women. I hope I channel her steely perserverence. I hope somebody has hugged her and told her she matters.

10.  You matter. You are valid. You are good. You are not monstrous or disgusting. You are not dangerous, except to the heterosexist white supremecist ableist transmisogynist system. You are a brilliant offering to the world around you. Your resilience is inspiring. Your vulnerability in the face of hate is breathtaking. You are cared for and loved. It is not alright now but I will fight to make it alright to you, wherever you are.

All my love,

Marnie

Cults, existentialists, and Sci-fi… oh my!

A brief introduction to what we’ve been reading this summer:

Marnie

To be honest, this summer most of what I’ve been reading is fanfiction. I wasn’t super into fanfiction as a teen, but I’m so glad it exists because where else can I find an epic fantasy series about good versus evil and love and redemption, that also has queer characters? Or just a short romantic comedy book where the characters are casually queer? Or one where there is a whole friend group of queer people, as actually happens all the time IRL, and there aren’t any homophobic characters at all? Do you know where I can find these books? Are you writing one of these books? I will read it!! Tell me where it is!!! I’d love some books that reflect my reality, but possibly featuring dragons.

Books Marnie read:

The Girls by Emma Cline

download

You’ve probably seen this book around your local bookstores recently. The Girls has gotten a lot of hype since it came out, and I’m always spotting it in New Releases and Bestsellers, but hey you guys! That does not mean this is a vapid fluff book. It is part thriller about a young girl, Evie, spending time with a local cult in the months leading up to a grisly murder, but it is also a story about a teen girl trying to explore her identity and sexuality, and find her own power. It feels out the insecurity of being a young woman in a way that feels very honest and not gimmicky. It explores an intense friendship between Evie and cult member Suzanne, and the line teen girl friendships can straddle between platonic love and romantic and sexual attraction. The Girls takes place in 1969 but still feels relevant.

The book is also interwoven with scenes of adult Evie meeting another teen girl and witnessing the same insecurity and need for approval that she experienced. These sections are much quieter, but I liked how they seem to subtly suggest that very little has changed for teen girls. You all should read this book so I have someone else to talk about it with!

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

9780061988240_custom-e701e1e3a02f3cf3d1bb5f7ae76c2ba77c5c1d63-s200-c85

This was my first book by Allende and I could not put it down. Island Beneath the Sea is a historical epic that spans the French and Haitian revolutions and the purchase of Louisiana by the United States through the eyes of a plantation owner, Toulouse Valmorain, Zarite, a woman who was born into slavery, and the cast of characters that come in and out of their lives. It is packed with magical realism and is alternately beautiful and brutal, joyful and tragic. It is a book about humanity; the limits of human resilience, and the cruelties that people are capable of.

As an American I feel like most of the stories about the history of slavery are very U.S. centric, so it was a very different perspective to read about how French citizens living in Haiti dealt with changing legislation regarding abolition and citizenship for black and mixed race individuals. I think Western Europe’s history with slavery and racism is often erased, and this book really laid bare some of the attitudes and cruelties inflicted by the French, as well as the culture divide between France and it’s colonies.

Xenogenesis Series by Octavia Butler

 

These books were weird, but as a scifi nerd I loved it. The series takes place after a nuclear war that has made Earth inhospitable for humans. However, humanity has been saved by the alien species, the Ooankali, who will save humanity — but for a price! The first book follows Lilith, a woman who has been chosen by the Ooankali to awaken other humans who have been saved, and help them adapt to coexisting with the alien species on and Earth that will no longer sustain machinery. The following two books follow the pursuits of her children, as they create a new species- part alien, part human. There is a lot of commentary about gender in these books, which is different in the Ooankali than it is in humans. However, most of the plots revolve around breeding and there is some homophobic text that dates these books. I was also a bit uncomfortable with some of the ableism that came across in the alien’s attempt to “improve humanity.” Despite all of that, I did enjoy the series, and especially how it made visceral the grotesqueness that the humans in the book feel in reaction to the utterly alien Ooankali. It felt like a good commentary on how people respond to difference.

Funny note: I got these from the library and the weird 80s covers were SO FUNNY and so infuriating.

Lilith is explicitly a woman of color, and yet the cover looks like some weird lead in to a pulp novel about white lesbians. Also there is just a vagina with a woman’s face coming out of a hill. What is the deal with this???

In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero

41di5xVtktL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

I had to take a break from Orange is the New Black back in June, but luckily I was able to fill that space with this lovely memoir by cast member Diane Guerrero!

In the Country We Love has the easy to read tone that you’ve come to expect from celebrity memoirs but DAMN is it honest. Guerrero is upfront and personal about the struggle she faced as the daughter of undocumented immigrants, who were deported when she was just 14, leaving her to figure how to live without them in the United States. She discusses her struggles with depression and self harm, as well as the estrangement she felt living 4,000 miles away from her parents. She also talks about her relationships, as well as her love of performing. The book is targeted at a young adult audience, so the writing is not always the most complex, but it is compelling throughout, both a tell-all and a call to action. She describes meeting President Obama, and what compelled her to be honest about her parents immigration status, after hiding her situation all her life.

Diane grew up in Boston, so I enjoyed a few twinges of joy when she mentioned being in places that I am so familiar with, while also gaining a new perspective on the heartbrekaing realities that families face so close to my home.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling

download (2)

My sweetie bought be the new Illustrated version of HPSS and we’ve been reading it aloud this summer. Somehow I didn’t notice how incredibly melancholy this book is throughout when I was a child?? And it’s even sadder with some of the beautiful illustrations drawn by Jim Kay (although of course Tumblr has converted me to black Hermione and mixed race Harry, so it’s not quite the dream).

What is sadder than child Harry Potter who has been neglected all his life being surprised when people actually like him? Or Harry seeing his parents in the Mirror of Erised and not recognizing him because his abusive guardians never even showed him a picture of his parents. 

Come on JK. That’s just rude.

Hannah

If you’ve ever talked to me about my reading habits you probably know that I like to choose a “theme” each summer around which to plan my book list, or to choose an author and read his/her entire oeuvre. The summer after third grade I decided to read every piece of Holocaust-related historical fiction that I could get my hands on. The summer after eighth grade I decided to read up on the genocide in Sudan. The summer before I started college I discovered Virginia Woolf. The next summer was In Search of Lost Time… you get the point. My idea of a good summer is to basically find the most depressing and/or most long-winded novels possible, and to read them in my backyard with a cup of hot tea in the hot sun. Is there such a thing as literary masochism? I think I have that.

Books Hannah read (anyone who can guess the theme gets a prize):

At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Others by Sarah Bakewell

Bakewell_AttheExistentialistCafe_Final

What better way to celebrate a cheery summer day than to ponder being, nothingness, and the utter meaninglessness of human life? Answer: well, lots of ways. But this is the way I chose. For a subject that may seem frightening and inaccessible to many, Sarah Bakewell offers her readers effortless prose that are not only clear, concise, and down-to-earth, but also just plain thrilling! Alright, I know that most of you probably wouldn’t use the word “thrilling” to describe a twentieth-century philosophical movement that basically asks the question: what is the point of life? and answers: there is no point!, but let me tell you, it’s this leftist atheist lesbian’s idea of a good time. What happened in Paris in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, in the aftermath of one of humanity’s darkest moments, was an energetic intellectual exchange between public intellectuals that helped define modern notions of humanity, ethics, and civic responsibility. In a world where God with a capital G no longer seemed to promise peace, understanding, or a way out, the philosophers of the “existential café” sought to create a roadmap for living an ethical life. If this isn’t a good enough reason to read Bakewell’s book, then let me also just remind you that one of the leading figures in the existentialist movement was none other than SIMONE DE FREAKING BEAUVOIR, one of my personal heroes and the author of one of the most important feminist treatises ever written:

The Second Sex (Le Deuxième sexe) by Simone de Beauvoir

product_9782070323517_195x320

Originally published in 1949, and translated into English in 1953, The Second Sex became a foundational text of the French second-wave. When Simone’s book hit the shelves, French women like herself were still getting used to the fact that they could finally vote. That’s right, France didn’t give women the right to vote until 1944 ! Considering the fact that first-wave feminism had focused much of its intellectual and activist energy on the fight for suffrage, the question now became: what next? Using the philosophical foundations of existentialist theory to build her argument, Simone de Beauvoir not only explored instances of gender inequality in contemporary French society, but conceived of a daring theory of human development: one in which humankind’s most shameful acts could be traced back to the oppression and exploitation of women. Using biology, psychology, human history, anthropology, and even autobiography as her tools of analysis, Simone made it clear that women were considered “the second sex” not because of biological destiny or God-ordained inferiority, but because of the intentional and systematic oppression of women carried out by men over the course of centuries (THE PATRIARCHY).

I’m still working my way through this mammoth text (in the original French), but I promise that this won’t be my last word on the subject.

P.S. If you’re planning on picking up a copy in English, make sure to get the most recent edition, translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. The original edition was translated, of course, by a man. And of course, he fucked it up. So just get the newest version, okay?

Mémoire de Fille by Annie Ernaux

ernaux

I feel like a little bit of an asshole adding this one to the list, because it has yet to be published in English translation. But rest assured, Annie Ernaux’s works have been translated in the past, and I have no doubt that her most recent novel will soon join the list. Mémoire de fille, like all of Ernaux’s novels, is a work of memoir. In order to express the subjective distance that Ernaux feels with her past, she writes about her younger self in the third person. In this case, she is describing her first sexual experience at the age of 18, during her first summer away from home (1958). What I love about Ernaux’s writing is that she chooses a life event, something that made an impact on her psyche, and instead of telling a chronological version of said event, she circles around it, until finally landing in a place that feels unresolved, but yet somehow complete. While admitting to the pitfalls of subjectivity and the fickleness of her own memory, Ernaux also does what few women authors of her time (and ours) were allowed to do: to see her life as valid subject matter for serious literary exploration. In the process, Ernaux reveals shocking truths about being a woman in her time – and ours. For a little teaser, here’s my own translation of the first paragraph:

“There are some people who are submerged in the reality of others, their manner of speaking, crossing their legs, lighting a cigarette. Enmeshed in the presence of others. One day, or maybe one night, they are swept away by the desire and the willpower of one particular Other. The person they thought they were vanishes. They dissolve, watching their reflection act, obey, carried away by the unknown current of things. They are always one step behind the will of the Other. He always has a head start. They will never catch up.”

We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrl to CoverGirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement by Andi Zeisler

51rvdOQ1naL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

I’ve spent the last year of my life steeped in stories of the second-wave, and I’ll probably spend the next five years becoming even more steeped, which is exactly why the title of this book caught my attention. Isn’t there something so seductively radical about the bra-burning energy of the 1970s? Do you ever ask yourself: what happened to all of that energy? Andi Zeisler, cofounder of Bitch Media, takes readers through the aftermath of the second-wave, revealing the ways that the children of our bra-burning foremothers carried the torch, let it burn out, and at times, doused it in the cool waters of capitalism. Though the first part of the book, dedicated mostly to media representations of feminism, has plenty to offer to pop-culture savvy readers, I found that Zeisler’s writing really took off about halfway through the book, when she starts exploring the complicated intersections of popular feminism and capitalism. The book is thought-provoking and entertaining, and particularly relevant as #feminism surges into the mainstream.

August is a Wicked Month by Edna O’Brian

url

So yeah, I pretty much decided to reread this book for two reasons: the badass cover, and the fact that it was August. I had found this novel on one of those lists of books to read before you die, purchased a tattered used copy (apparently it’s out of print), and read it at the age of fifteen or sixteen, much too young to have any idea what was going on. I’m glad I gave it a second chance, because O’Brian’s writing is stunning, and the portrait she paints of being an Irish woman in the 1960s is, well, devastating. I can best describe it like this: take The Great Gatsby, change the author to an Irish novelist writing in the 1960s, and change the main character to a young divorcé and mother named Ellen, and that is August is a Wicked Month. After her ex-husband takes their son to the countryside for a week of camping, Ellen decides to catch a plane to the South of France, where her only plans are to sleep with as many men as possible, and buy a nice white dress. I wish I could say that things turn out as planned, but then, it wouldn’t be the novel that it is. Just read it, okay?

And finally, because every good themed list needs a book that makes you ask the question: which one is not like the other?…

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

412732

I was back in Colorado for the week, and my parents and I were going camping. Somehow, Simone de Beauvoir and friends just didn’t seem quite right for the woods, so I decided to bring Ol’ Jack along. Jack and I go way back. I saw the original scroll of On the Road at the Denver Public Library back in 2007, ended up reading it during my sophomore year of high school, and continued picking away at his collected works throughout my teenage years. Fast forward to senior year of college, when my feminist conscience is really starting to rev up. I make a pact with myself that I will no longer purchase any book written by a straight white male author, and that I will try my best not to read any books by SWM, purchased or borrowed, if I can help it. I also decide that Jack Kerouac is on my long list of misogynistic assholes whose work does not deserve the attention it has received. Eventually I realized that this was a difficult way to approach life (and literature). I still stand by my book-buying pact, because I can easily borrow those books from the library and spend my money on authors whose voices I feel more urgently deserve to be supported by my dollars. But I recently had a change of heart where Kerouac is concerned.

This summer, the Centre Pompidou in Paris put on an absolutely stunning exhibit called “The Beat Generation.” Almost a decade after I originally saw it, I was faced once again with Kerouac’s famous scroll. There were video screens hanging above it, playing footage of Western landscapes seen from the windows of passing cars. Woodie Guthrie songs were playing on the speakers. I wept and wept and wept for the landscapes of my home. As I walked through the exhibit, I remembered how utterly entranced I had been when I first encountered the works of the Beat Generation. Their womanizing and appropriating of other cultural traditions was flagrant and is still completely upsetting. But/and they also created work that had a serious impact on American culture. Long story short, if you’ve never read Kerouac, and especially if you have any sentimental ties to the American West, you should give Dharma Bums a try. Kerouac is (mostly) celibate throughout the novel, so it’s a little easier to swallow than some of his other, less restrained literary escapades.

 

The Leftovers

Trigger Warning: This post contains discussion of suicidal ideation, major depression, and self-harm. I appreciate the vulnerability of our readership; and encourage you to practice self care when reading this type of post.  Continue reading “The Leftovers”

Keep Your Heart Open

I’d like to apologize for the radio silence these past few weeks. It’s been a hard few weeks to be a person here in the world. Our hearts have been heavy in response to the violence in Orlando, Tel Aviv, Turkey, Istanbul, Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and I’m sure a few more places that I am missing. There is so much to say and yet so few words are forthcoming. I don’t know what I have to offer in response to these tragedies.

I am sad. I am tired. I am doing my best to help in my own small ways though it does not feel like enough. There is always a voice in my head asking “what else can I do? what else should I do? what else do I have the responsibility to do?” I am scared often for the people I love, in this world where people die because of ideological reasons, for their identities, for simply existing in public.

Sometimes I am reminded that despite the breadth of human history, there will always be questions that don’t have neat answers. I wonder if my ancestors felt this in response to the tragedies of their time. I wonder if they chose to act, or if they turned their eyes and closed their hearts, to protect themselves from the confusion and pain.

I hope to keep my heart open, even in these heart-breaking times. To be affected by injustice, even when it is not close to home. To not allow myself to be complacent. To keep helping in my small ways, and hope that if enough people chose to act in small ways, it can become large scale change. I hope that you will too. I hope you will keep talking (and shouting) about injustice, keep donating money and time, keep being kind to those around you, and choosing to accept when you are wrong.

I’ll leave this small post with some articles and a poem that I have found useful these last few weeks.

Love and peace to all of you.

13450903_10207723009046638_7761803364796029608_n

Full Transcript of Jesse Williams BET Awards Speech 

Racism in America FAQ

Philando Castile Was A Role Model to Hundreds of Kids

In Praise of Latin Night at the Queer Club

#PulseOrlandoSyllabus

LGBTQ People Can’t Have Safe Spaces But We Still Need Community

After Attacks on Muslims Many Ask: Where is the Outpouring?

Mourning on Ramadan: Breaking My Fast With Queer Muslims After the Orlando Shooting

Love is all we have

There are no words for what happened in Orlando last night; or rather there are too many and none of them are quite right.

There is the fact that I have already seen people asking not to politicize this tragedy, saying we can not blame the hateful ideology of a presidential candidate, or gun laws for what happened. It’s true there is no one thing that convinces someone to take a gun and use it to kill people he perceives to be “different” and “wrong.” But this didn’t happen without context. There are many ifs. If he hadn’t been able to access a weapon that can kill many people in a short period of time. If he hadn’t been exposed to political agendas that say that LGBTQ folks don’t deserve basic rights and heard the underlying message that queer folks, trans folks, and people of color don’t matter and don’t deserve to be alive. If if if.

There is the grief for the queer folks who died while celebrating their identities. It’s pride month. It was latin night at Pulse. It is a time of joy and community and conversation about how to make our communities stronger. There is grief for the families and loved ones of these queer folks, and the knowledge that family often looks different in the queer community. There is imagining the fear of not knowing if someone you love was hurt because you’re not “next of kin” on government forms.

There is anger that this could happen. Why did this fucking happen? Why did this have to happen? Why has this been happening in smaller, less publicized ways for years and why hasn’t it been stopped? Why is my queerness perceived as such a threat that people debate if me and my community deserve basic rights and safety? Why are trans women considered threats when they want to pee, when they are part of a community that constantly has to worry for it’s own safety?

There is fear for those I love, for copycat attacks that will follow, for losing more queer people, who are just trying to live.

There is a sense of impotence for what I can not change, and for the privilege I have that means I am less at risk for these kinds of attacks because I am white and middle class and cisgender.

And there is love. Love for my queer community. Love for the people who are already organizing vigils and donating blood and writing their representatives. Love for the others afraid for their own safety. Love for the grieving and the bereft. Love for Muslim folks in the U.S. (especially LGBTQ+ Muslim folk) who already are the scapegoats for so many tragedies.

It can feel trite to quote Martin Luther King Jr but since reading about the shooting, what has circled in my brain is this:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

We have to continue to love each other as hard as we possibly can. The root of justice is love. The root of our community has always been love. In heartbreaking times like this, love is all we have.

It’s An Exercise

The summer before my senior year of college I decided to live in a dorm at my school, and do a little bit of project work for my boss. It had been a rough year for me, but tempered with a lot of therapy and self-discovery. Therapy is great for self-discovery, but only if you don’t mind feeling like you’ve been ripped open at least once a week. It’s like losing the top layer of your skin; everything feels red and raw and it hurts if anything touches it, but it heals pretty cleanly.

One day I was working with my boss, when I made a joke to the effect of “lol I’m the worst.” You know, the kind of casual, self-deprecating humor that people use a thousand times a day. But my boss stopped me, and looked me in the eye and said “now say something nice about yourself.”

I was taken aback. Didn’t she know it was a joke? I didn’t actually think I was the worst. But I still couldn’t come up with one good thing to respond with.

I had never realized how those jokes could add up, until they became the lens in which I viewed myself. Someone who was annoying or loud, or generally the worst. The things I said in public became the thoughts that circled my mind, like vultures zeroing in on a kill. I’mtheworstI’mtheworstI’mtheworst.

I’m sure you’ve heard the idiom “no one can love you until you love yourself.” It’s been pointed out many times how harmful that line of thinking can be to someone with a mental health issues who doesn’t love themselves, to believe that then nobody can love them. But I think there is still some wisdom there. Until you learn how to appreciate the fact that you are worthy of love, it is hard to believe that anybody would truly love you.

I decided I would stop saying negative things about myself, or at the very least, I would counter it always with one good thing. I needed to break up the pattern of self-abuse, and start believing that I could be good enough.

A few months ago I was out with some of my old friends, when one of them started apologizing for being indecisive. I told her it was fine, we are all just people, and we have quirks that make us who we are. I suggested we all list one thing that we think of as a flaw about ourselves. Everyone could think of one easily. Then I said “now let’s do an exercise where we all say one nice thing about ourselves.”

Everyone got immediately uncomfortable. They fidgeted and made fun of me for being corny. Answers were tempered with “I guess I’m not that bad at….” and “maybe I’m okay at this.” Some refused to answer at first. One friend said in jest “I’m really good at tricking people into being friends with me.” This dragged out over many uncomfortable minutes because I didn’t want to let it go. I wanted everyone to find the thing in themselves that they were proud of.

These were smart, accomplished, funny, hard-working, beautiful women, some of whom I’d known and admired for most of my life. If they couldn’t think of one thing  that they felt proud of, who could?

Their experiences and mine don’t exist in a void. When you spend your whole life hearing you’re not skinny enough, not pretty enough, not smart or straight or white enough, not gender conforming enough or able-bodied enough, it becomes entrenched deep within your mind, until it feels impossible to untangle. Some days it always lurks at the top of your mind, and all you can think is “I suck I suck I suck.” Other days it comes as a surprise. “I thought I was past that, I thought that was healed.”

I don’t know if it ever quite heals. But as an exercise, I try to be actively being kind to myself. I try to not compare my accomplishments to others, because there was a time when my depression was so debilitating that I couldn’t  focus on much beyond “get out of bed” and “ask for help.” I do my best to feel proud of how far I have come and what I have accomplished. I try to reach out to friends who get it, so we can mutually complain or laugh or just feel understood. Community, I am learning, is an essential part of healing, and of living.

What if instead of downplaying our accomplishments, we let ourselves be proud of them? What if when we felt good about ourselves, we said it out loud? What if we told others that we are proud of them, or that  they are brilliant, interesting, and beautiful?

I think love is an exercise. It’s something we have to practice, until we get it right. It’s something that takes energy and time. And it’s something we have to do for ourselves, in addition to doing it for others.

Last week I put on my favorite blue dress and went for a walk with my wonderful girlfriend. I told her “I feel so pretty today.” She said “it’s nice that you like yourself so much.” It made me smile. Maybe it’s unusual to hear people compliment themselves, but I think it’s an exercise we should do more often.

Queer Exhaustion

Recently I have started to believe I am suffering from a severe case of queer exhaustion.

It comes from being the only queer person in a room. Or being outed at work to some co-workers I don’t know that well. Or having a well-meaning straight person tell me repeatedly that her kid “definitely isn’t gay” but he really cares about “those issues.” Or reading news about anti-LGBT legislation, that seems to be growing everyday.

At a recent party I was joking with my one other queer coworker about Mean Girls, and how we were both “too gay to function.” A straight coworker who was standing there immediately replied to our laughter with “You know I never said gay as an insult, even when I was a kid.”

Okay? I thought. Congratulations, you’ve reached the most basic level of human decency by not using someone else’s identity as a slur. Then I realized, maybe he thought we were saying gay as a joke, to make fun of ourselves. Maybe our long hair had tricked him into thinking we were straight women, laughing at “the gays.” I’m still not sure what he meant.

All of these incidents are tiny and from people with good intentions, but they add up and take a toll on my spirit. I’m tired of being used by straight people to make them feel like they’re good people because they are nice to a queer person. I’m tired of being erased by people who don’t think a woman who dates women looks like me. I’m tired of feeling like I then have to explain to these people why what they said was hurtful in my work place, and in my personal life, and to strangers I just met.

I am incredibly grateful that I came out at my liberal, historically women’s college, where the queer population is large and varied. Being queer has first and foremost been a joyful identity for me. I love being queer. If I could go back in time and choose my sexual orientation, I would pick being queer every time. It is the lens in which I see the world, and the vehicle that has pushed me into being a more compassionate person, and the means through which I have found my amazing partner. It’s like finding out there is a fourth primary color that everyone knows about, but pretends doesn’t exist. I didn’t come out to people outside of my college, because I wanted to protect that feeling of joy. But then I decided I wouldn’t downplay the person I was in order to make other people comfortable.

One of the tenets of my femme identity has always been practicing compassion and empathy for others. Even before I knew what femme identity was, I liked to be someone who others knew they could go to with their feelings and not be judged. For me, the basis of all relationships is the ability to be vulnerable with another person and trust that you will be received with love. When I started to think about being femme, not just as a way of presenting my gender, but as a way of being, I started to think about how I can practice empathy, not just with folks I’m close to, but also with people who hurt me and disagree with me.

And it’s hard. I am trying to learn how to be compassionate with those who offend and also give myself the room to feel angry when I am erased or tokenized or when I give my trust to someone and feel let down. Sometimes it involves explaining to people why their good intentions can still cause pain. Often it involves retreating to my queer community, to be reassured that I’m not being “too sensitive.”

Right now I am trying to learn the boundaries between caring for myself and allowing other people room to make mistakes. It can be exhausting when those mistakes are made with something I hold dear, like my queer identity, but I believe it is ultimately worthwhile.

The Resiliency of Flowers in Spring

On Sunday it snowed in Boston and my heart broke a little bit.

Daylight’s savings has passed, the sun has set after 6pm, and in the cemetery where I work flowers have been sprouting up in irregular patches, surprising me with glimpses of white and purple on my lunchtime walks. I spent an afternoon on the Boston Common in a dress and no tights, and came home with a light sunburn, marking the shape of my sunglasses on my face.

And despite all that, on Sunday it had the audacity to snow in Boston.

When I woke up on Monday morning to the sight of 4 inches of snow carpeting the ground, I immediately thought of the snowdrops and purple crocuses that had been so eagerly growing as the temperatures had begun to rise. “Goodbye little friends,” I thought. “Maybe you’ll come back again in a few weeks.”

And yet today as I walked from my car to the office I saw something remarkable.

My little flower friends had survived! And even more impressive: there were more of them! Not even a mid-March snow storm could keep them down.

The resiliency of flowers in springtime astounds me every year. Emerging from the long, dark season of winter, where staying in bed feels like a better option than everything else, where we put on layers and don’t let skin touch open air, hearing more dark weather is coming is pretty soul crushing.

Similarly, being a queer femme committed to social justice and liberation, waking up to hear the North Carolina passed a bill that would allow discrimination against LGBT people, or that Kourtney Yochum has become the 7th transgender person to be killed this year, after a winter of hearing vitriolic racism and sexism coming from presidential candidates and watching 1/4 of the queer women characters on TV die, it can feel a little hard to not break down and cry for the state of the world. It can feel like the injustices are piled so high, that there is no way to break through. Like maybe we will never see the sun again.

But the flowers do it. They survive the thing that should kill them over and over again, and they come back, as beautiful and necessary as ever. They rebuild a world that seems to have died and announce that spring is here at last.

So much of my femme identity has been inspired by flowers. They are fragile but resilient. They are vibrant and beautiful, but also necessary to our ecosystem. Flowers have seasons where it’s their time to grow and when it’s their time to go back to the earth, and protect themselves. Also they grow in groups, which is never a bad idea for femmes.

It takes a lot of strength to be able to be vulnerable with others in a way that allows you to take in the sun, but might also allow you to get hurt. It can be challenging to take up space with vibrancy and color in a world that wants you to look or be a certain way. It is hard work to put beauty and love into the world when you know someone will call it frivolous and there is a chance that it might put you in danger. It is scary to dream of a better world when you feel like you are surrounded by hate.

Luckily we have springtime to remind us of what it means to be resilient. To show us what a beautiful world is coming if we believe in it, and keep believing, no matter how long the winter.

We’re making some changes!

Hello Femme as in Fuck You readers,

Thank you so much for following this blog, reading our work, and giving us your feedback! We’re young writers, and having folks interact with our work means the world to us.

When we made this blog back in November we didn’t anticipate how generous our readership would be with sharing our words, or that we would have a readership at all! Some folks have told us they’ve shared our blog with their parents, or their friends, or that our posts have helped them start conversations. That makes us so happy, and to make sharing easier we have decided to change our name.

We love Femme as in Fuck You as a title. We love that is unapologetically angry, and that it refuses to accept stereotypes of what femme should be. However, we do understand that having profanity in our title affects the extent to which folks (including ourselves) feel comfortable sharing the blog. It’s our goal to create conversation, so after many months of back and forth, we have decided at last to retire our original name in favor of something a little more family friendly.

From now on we will go by the name femme for femme. We chose this name because it describes us, just two femmes writing to each other, and to other femmes of the world.

Thanks for all the love and support. We hope you keep on reading!

Your BFFemmes,

Hannah and Marnie

image