Tag Archives: allys

Disconnecting Power Lines: “I Can’t Keep Quiet”

For me, and I’m sure many other victims of sexual harassment and assault, the recent #metoo movement has been a time of reflection. Also like many others, I’m coming to the maddening realization of how garden-variety, standard, all-in-a-day, etc so much of my harassment has been— to the point where so many of the experiences and faces blur together without conscious efforts on my part to really examine and untangle them. And the ones that don’t fall into the blurred together category, I’ve neatly compartmentalized because my relationship with the perpetrator was too complicated, but that’s its own post and not necessarily a Pandora’s box I’m interested in unpacking in its entirety for the general public at this point in time. In turn, that leaves me tempted to do that whole minimization thing I do so well for myself: I’m kinda lucky in a fucked up way; plenty of people I know and love have experiences they remember—and often relive—in vivid, excruciating detail because it was that horrific. But—as we all know far too well—there are always plenty of third parties out there who are all too ready and willing to minimize and invalidate our experiences for us, so it doesn’t quite make sense to do it to ourselves too. And for me, those are the experiences I remember most vividly.

The first time—on paper at least—was relatively benign. I was in third grade. I’m just old enough that that was back in the days when homes still had landlines and each student received a copy of a class roster listing everyone’s phone number. I was the shy, quiet kid who read books during recess, and there was a boy in my class whose favorite pastime was coming up behind me to interrupt my reading by whispering explicit and obscene comments into my ear to try to get a reaction. Where an eight-year-old even came up with some of the shit he pulled out, I have no idea. I don’t remember him ever actually touching me, but he was relentless, taking my silence (since my only recourse was that trite and terribly ineffective “just ignore them and they’ll stop” MO that adults liked to tout as the cure-all for bullying) as a challenge. And when he got the bright idea to use that class roster to call me at home one day, my mom—cluelessly determining that he “sounded like a nice boy” and I “shouldn’t be rude”—forced me to take the call with the ever-helpful suggestion that I just tell him I had too much homework as an excuse to cut the conversation short. Beyond that, my side of the story didn’t matter to her, and she shoved the phone into my hand and waited for me to comply. “She finally talked!” he crowed in delight to his laughing friends in the background when I flatly cut off his hissed, “I heard your pussy is really loose…” with my scripted excuse. I slammed the receiver down, bursting into humiliated tears. If I’d even repeated what he’d said in an attempt to let her know what was actually going on, she would have jammed an entire bar of Ivory soap into my mouth.

Around eight years later (give or take), we were shopping for my prom dress when a man came up, asked for directions to another nearby mall, and then interrupted before we’d even had a chance to fully answer, looking me dead in the eyes as he started tugging at his junk through his pants: “I’m sorry; you’re so cute, I just can’t help myself.” My mother had turned with a snort of disgust and walked briskly away leaving me to chase after her. She’d given me the silent treatment in the car on the way home, refusing to discuss it, and when I brought it up again years later, she denied it had ever even happened, scoffing that I “had a vivid imagination.”

Don’t be rude. Keep up appearances at all costs. Shove your shit wayyyy deep down… and make no mistake that it is one hundred percent your shit and you’re probably either wrong or wildly overreacting anyway. These were the messages planted into my brain early on. While they definitely took root, they never quite flourished there… but they did sprout just enough to keep me mostly either silent or compartmentalizing and rationalizing away my experiences after questioning or rebelling against them proved ineffective.

It didn’t help that many of those around me had accepted similar rationales seemingly unquestioningly: “At least you know you’re hot,” a friend tried to console me with a laugh when I regaled her with the tale of a particularly creepy catcaller who had followed me down the street for several blocks one morning… and the mailman who had exited a store moments after I had finally managed to shake him and cheerfully instructed me to “Put a smile on your face, baby!”

“You can just say ‘no thank you;’ you don’t have to be so mean about it,” another chided me after I witheringly rebuffed a strange man who had ground his denim-clad, semi-erect penis against my unsuspecting ass on a dance floor by way of introduction.

“Well, you didn’t say ‘no,’” the department chair of my graduate program reasoned when my friend and I came to him with complaints about another student in the program who had been harassing me and stalking her.

Getting people in my corner in these instances consistently seemed such a tall order that when a friend with benefits stealthed me, it took me roughly an hour to internally debate whether what had just happened was fucked up before silently shelving it away in the farthest corners of my mind… and another couple years before we stopped our on and off casual hook ups altogether. It was another three to four years or so before the internet came up with an actual term for the experience and finally validated my concerns, several months after that before I spoke it aloud… and it’s taken until now for me to write it down.

Last weekend as I lay in bed scrolling through social media, I came across a headline about Lena Dunham. Normally a topic that holds almost zero interest for me and I’ll keep scrolling, but this time, an accompanying screenshot caught my eye:

“Hey, babe,” I called across the room to my partner before clicking the link (and realizing that the story went a bit deeper), “Did you see that Lena Dunham just pulled an Elise*?” Elise was a former “friend” of mine who had earlier this year proven herself to be a master of gaslighting, invalidation, and narrative re-creation, so she was the first place my mind went upon seeing that screenshot.

I rang in this year of #metoo’s with another benign-on-paper #metoo experience. Know how I said I’m really good at that whole compartmentalizing and rationalizing away thing? My rationale for my New Year’s Eve experience went like this: “If only I’d remembered to pack pantyhose, none of this would have happened.”

It was freezing out, and there was no way I was going bare legged under the sparkly little bodycon sweater dress I’d bought for the occasion so mid-afternoon of New Year’s Eve day, I stopped at our local CVS to grab a black nylon barrier to ward off the chill. As I was checking out, I heard a “Hey, what’s up?” to my left. It took me a moment to place him as the dude I’d briefly met and nerded out over Black Mirror with at Elise’s birthday party a month earlier, and we made small talk about our holiday plans. His were still up in the air, but he’d been debating attending the party I mentioned as some of his friends planned to attend. “Will there be a bar there?” he wanted to know.

I shrugged. “No clue. I’m pregaming at my friend’s apartment down the street. But why don’t you take my number and shoot me a text if you decide to go?” The more the merrier and all that jazz, right?

As I was getting ready, my text alert sounded. Dude wanted to know my friend’s address because he’d decided to join us. Not sure how to broach the awkwardness of “I kinda just meant hit me up if you end up in the same public place, not an open invite to my friend’s home,” I decided it would be easier to just check with her… and being the warm, loving, and generally all-around wonderful person that she is, it took minutes for her to text back a similar “the more the merrier” affirmative. And at her house, the mentality of inclusiveness and celebration held. We all drank and shared in much-needed laughter and camaraderie, Dude appeared to be bonding with my partner and another friend of ours over music, and life was sweet enough to allow the unease that the dumpster fire otherwise known as our recent presidential election had left in its wake to fade into the background. It also gave me a reason to shove my phone in my bag for a much-needed reprieve from the vaguely passive-aggressive texts Elise had been sending my way. She was suffering from a bout of walking pneumonia—the severity of which was evidently outweighed by a combination of intense FOMO and annoyance that “No one at this point will come to me!” After Dude (who she apparently thought was cute, but Elise is one of those girls who tends to view most of her male friends as potential romantic options… even if it’s just to let others know that so-and-so has an unrequited crush on her that she feels so bad about because he’s so sweet, but she just doesn’t see him that way) had mentioned to her that he was crashing joining in on my plans, she was rallying to drag herself out to meet up with us. She chose to dutifully ignore my repeated “Are you sure you’re feeling up to it?” inquiries (my kinder alternative to “Bitch, stay home if you’re sick! My new health insurance didn’t kick in yet, and I don’t want your germs.”) and made sure to let me know, martyr-like, what a “bad part of town” I was evidently forcing her to come to as she reiterated her plans to meet us at the venue since she “never got [my friend’s] address.” (And no, she hadn’t asked for it; she’d been too busy trying to talk me into changing my plans to an alternative option that would be more convenient for her).

We made our way over to the venue where it was still another hour or so before she showed up with her roommate in tow and mumbled a not-quite-apology that the area wasn’t actually as bad as she’d anticipated as we snapped an obligatory selfie. Dude had presumably found his friends and wandered off. I spotted him again after the band hit the stage and launched into a full set of Bowie and Prince tribute covers and my friends (sans Elise who said she wasn’t feeling up to it) and I joyfully rushed to the dance floor. He was hovering, awkward and alone, on the fringes of our group, and as I looked happily around at my friends all singing along as we moved to the beat—“Put on your red shoes and dance the blues!”—we locked eyes, and I waved him over. After all, I’d kind of invited him, and (misunderstanding over the particular details aside) it had been an awesome night so far. We danced and sang along for several more songs, my partner in front, Dude behind, and me sandwiched between them, the crowd pressing in closer and closer. Usually, that kind of mass humanity is terrible for my social anxiety, but that night, I was unfazed, lost in the music…that is, until I felt Dude’s hand begin to creep up my black nylon clad leg and under my skirt to firmly grip my ass cheek (had I not stopped for that pantyhose, we’d have been skin-to-skin). I jolted and instinctively yanked the back of my partner’s shirt. Thankfully, it didn’t take him long to connect the dots before turning and announcing, “Hey, Dude, you’re pretty much humping my girlfriend into me.”

“Is that okay?” Dude asked inanely.

“Um… no, not really.”

I took that as my cue to exit stage left, and Elise was the first familiar face I encountered. She wanted to know if Dude had just tried to kiss me, and I replied that I didn’t think so; “he just got a little handsy.”

She pursed her lips, studying me for about half a second before pronouncing with a shrug, “Well, it’s New Year’s Eve. He’s probably just lonely.”

And at first—as conditioned as we are, and as commonplace as such experiences are—I mostly succeeded in shrugging it off too, determined not to let it ruin an otherwise great evening. It wasn’t until the next morning when Dude texted to ask whether I’d made it home okay and “is your boyfriend still mad?” following up with an afterthought inquiry of “how did you feel about it though?” that it began to peripherally occur to me how little my feelings were ever taken into account in such instances. Even then, I tried to be diplomatic and “nice” in my response that while it wasn’t necessarily cool, it didn’t have to equal awkwardness if we bumped into each other in a common area in the future. His retort of “That’s good to hear because you very clearly wanted it,” however, finally prompted me to come for him, guns blazing: “Oh, clearly. ‘Cause what woman doesn’t get off on being flagrantly objectified?”

He took the hint. I haven’t heard from him since, and anytime my partner and I have seen him around town, he’s quickly scurried off in the opposite direction.

Elise was another story. Checking in to see how she was feeling after pushing herself to come out, I remembered her comment about thinking Dude was cute and decided to give her a heads up— I wouldn’t wish that kind of toxic masculinity bullshit on anyone, let alone someone I considered a friend. I’m not sure what I expected, but the flood of shit she sent my way in response was something I never could have anticipated.

For a solid two to three hours, my phone vibrated incessantly with her barrage of text messages about how, “Real talk,” she “had seen everything,” had been “the only sober one there,” and “could understand how he would have gotten very mixed messages,” as “the flirting was turned way up.” She had been sure to add how “uber uncomfortable” it had been for her to witness “especially” since she had mentioned to me that she might be interested in him.

I tried at least five times to end the conversation, telling Elise I felt slut-shamed and frankly unfairly judged seeing as how she didn’t in fact have all the details as to how things had unfolded— which she shut down by prissily informing me that she “didn’t subscribe to this conversation being slut shaming at all,” and how dare I “push the feminist propaganda on her” when all she was trying to do was “help me by challenging my perspective.”

“Just stop talking to her,” my partner—who was never a big Elise fan and had been thrilled at the prospect of finally being able to unfriend and unfollow her on social media without threat of eventually being drawn into an inevitable tiresome conversation in which she approached him doe-eyed and asking for an explanation—said wearily, “She’s an idiot anyway.”

And after awhile I did, letting her have the self-righteous last word about how “the right thing to do” would be for me to call her and talk it over or meet up in person to which I conceded, leaving the ball in her court to let me know when she was free and feeling up to it (since I still had zero interest in exposure to those walking pneumonia germs). She never followed up about that… but she did start obsessively interacting with my social media a couple weeks later, acting as if nothing had happened. And once again, my only recourse was that old “ignore it and hope it stops” exercise in futility which—just when I started to think it might actually be working this time around—backfired hard when she “randomly” texted three months later (conveniently a few days before a mutual friend’s event) to say she missed me and oddly enough had just so happened to come across a draft of a message she had meant to send me “after all that weird stuff went down.” Spoiler alert: it was yet another paragraph of preachy, prove-herself-right sanctimony. Oh, and spoiler alert number two, she really didn’t appreciate my calling her bluff on the unfortunate phenomenon of intent vs effect where said “weird shit” was concerned… or my final answer that while I hoped we could be cordial if we bumped into each other, I no longer viewed her as someone I could trust or with whom I felt emotionally safe confiding anything real about my life. Her diatribe of defensiveness went on for another few hours before I blocked her for good. Undeterred, she tried again on Facebook messenger the day of our friend’s event. I reiterated myself and blocked her there as well which led to a Facebook status tantrum and shit talking messages sent to two friends (that I know of). Still, no one had any better ideas than ignoring… and for all her relentless digital discourse, Elise hung awkwardly in the opposite corner at our friend’s event that evening.

It went on that way for the rest of the year: I’d get a couple months at a clip of false security thinking she’d finally moved on before something else would happen. First, I got an out of the blue message from my out-of-state friend of nearly a decade asking if I thought Elise (who had met her once and apparently “written a novel” on her Facebook status about having an available room) might be a good fit for her as a roommate. Towards the end of the summer, Elise wrote my partner a giant Facebook message to pass along to me, and on Halloween weekend, my friend who’d been the recipient of her first shit talk message had some brand new shiny bullshit in her inbox to show me.

On their own and on the surface, written out like this, the details in and of themselves feel so petty and “beneath me”— I’m a mental health professional, for fuck’s sake! I “know better” than to entertain this kind of nonsense, and when clients come to me with similar stories, I even have a sage little speech at the ready about how reacting to such annoyances is the equivalent of giving one’s power away. But below the surface… I may need to re-evaluate a bit to make some space for the added complexities of the situations in which we feel like we have little to no power to begin with.

Dude’s behavior relegated me from subject to object— not only through the action of groping me, but in the footnote-to-an-afterthought approach of his inquiry as to how I felt about the situation. Elise’s readiness to immediately create a narrative that excused his behavior as “loneliness” while judging mine as sending him “mixed messages”—without bothering to fact check with either of us first—further perpetuated the stripping away of any semblance of power or autonomy I might have had in the situation. And each attempt to insert herself back into my world, each staunch refusal on her part to respect my wishes—insignificant and petty as her behavior in and of itself might have been—was another attack, another reminder that my feelings were unworthy of being taken into account.

That’s the problem with the “just ignore it” solution. Yeah, Elise was a shit excuse for a friend, self-righteous and judgmental with a disturbing lack of boundaries to boot. But she’s not Patient Zero; she’s merely a symptom of a much larger social issue when you break it all down, the product of conditioning in a longstanding legacy of rape culture. We’re desensitized into either shaming and blaming victims or keeping silent— and silent support doesn’t often translate in these cases. For me—though I never would have asked anyone to tell her off or shun her in some way on my behalf—I walked away feeling sorely tempted to misappropriate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for purposes of expressing my feelings on the matter (probably since a lot of people still listen to him): “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I remembered Elise’s words, but I also really remembered and struggled with the silence of the friends she reached out to— while as far as I know, no one really engaged, and the most they ever did was laugh about how “crazy” she was as they shared her nonsense with me after the fact, would it have been so hard for even one of them to point out to her how wildly inappropriate and disregarding of boundaries her behavior was? Or even just to ask her not to drag them into the middle of whatever issue she had with me? It would have felt far more effective and proactive than brushing it off with the joking dismissals that Elise was just “crazy” or “an idiot” (a tactic that, while well-intentioned, felt way too similar to those past dismissals whenever I shared my upset over yet another of those all-in-a-day violations)… and they wouldn’t have even had to be mean about it.

In a vague, roundabout way, I included Elise in my story when I added my voice to last month’s online chorus of #metoos:

And I felt more supported in the feedback I received on that than I had during this entire year… or possibly ever. Poetically enough, my favorite response came from Elise’s and my mutual friend’s girlfriend who had never heard the story as the couple had actually met for the first time that fateful New Year’s Eve. She wrote three words: “I believe you.”

And while I know she wasn’t the only one who had believed me, while I know the vast majority of people tend to prefer short and sweet, easily digestible soundbites to larger sordid sagas (so she was already getting off easier than everyone who’d seen it play out over the course of the year), she was the first to actually say those words without any debate or well-intentioned dismissal or request for further details.

So how does this all fit together? Dude’s actions were a clear participation in rape culture. Elise’s slut shaming then perpetuated it, with each refusal on her part to respectfully fade away serving as a small act of further victimization. As for the silence… the best I can come up with is that it’s another case of intent vs effect. While the intent to not engage with someone who so desperately craves a reaction is, in itself, logical, the unintended side effect of the no response from a victim often means a perpetrator will simply try harder. And the silence of those we view as our friends and allies—despite their best intentions—feels isolating and invalidating.

But we are witnessing a movement this year. And perhaps it’s no accident that the song that became the anthem of that movement when millions of women marched on Washington was the product of one sexual assault survivor’s poignant and powerful speaking out, giving voice to her experience, and declaring that she can’t—and won’t—keep quiet about it (and if you have yet to do so, click the linked text above and watch the video. It is goddamn breathtaking).

It’s taken me almost a year to write this down. But I’m finally done putting on a face, and I, too, won’t keep quiet for anyone anymore.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

© Kristin Despina for Acceptance Revolution, 2017

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The Importance of Solidarity in Sadness

Tennessee Williams once wrote that “When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.”
Another renowned and beloved Williams – the recently and dearly departed icon of our generation, Robin Williams – had another spin on that sentiment, one which has always resonated deeply with me: “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone; it’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.”
I’m not normally one to comment on celebrity news in general, particularly the stories of the more tragic variety, mainly because I’m not a big believer in living or suffering vicariously through the lives and tragedies of people I’ve never met. But this one is hitting close to home for me, and the subsequent outpouring of articles on depression awareness and suicide prevention that has come on the heels of Robin Williams’ tragic passing has intensified that.
When I first heard the news, I uncharacteristically posted about it on my personal Facebook page and Instagram account. My truth on the matter is this: Check in every now and then with the people in your life who laugh the loudest or seem the strongest, and make sure they’re really doing okay; they’re often the ones who cry behind closed doors and need support the most. As someone who takes on the role of either  lightening the mood or playing the rock for others depending on what the situation calls for, I know this firsthand. Even though I’m the type who stays on call pretty much 24/7  to provide support to the people in my life, not many check in with me to see how I’m doing, seeming to take the mentality of, “Oh, Kristin’s the strong one; she’s got this.” In all fairness, I don’t reach out for support when I need it either; the prospect of asking feels exhausting, so I drop off the grid and hide out in my room until it passes. I also tend to feel loneliest when I’m around other people and feeling ill at ease – ever the queen of “alone in the crowd” – even more so when depression strikes. And I can’t help but wonder if, perhaps, Robin Williams may have been in the same boat.
The other day, a friend and I took a little moment to remember Robin Williams over dinner, and she commented on an article she’d read that had upset her as it had clearly been written by someone who didn’t understand depression and seemed to take the oversimplifying stance that  somehow this tragedy could have been avoided if only his family had loved him more… which – to anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of what depression actually entails anyway – is a completely absurd conclusion. No matter how lonely and isolated I might feel when I’m going through my own dark times, I don’t think I’ve ever believed this to be the case, and I can’t imagine Williams did either. In his beautiful tribute to Robin Williams, comedian Russell Brand, too, says as much: “Robin Williams could have tapped anyone in the western world on the shoulder and told them he felt down and they would have told him not to worry, that he was great, that they loved him. He must have known that. He must have known his wife and kids loved him, that his mates all thought he was great, that millions of strangers the world over held him in their hearts, a hilarious stranger that we could rely on to anarchically interrupt, the all-encompassing sadness of the world. Today Robin Williams is part of the sad narrative that we used to turn to him to disrupt.”
When that aforementioned outpouring of articles began, I kind of obsessively read them. The sad irony of  how something so lonely and isolating that it feels like no one else could possibly understand it when you’re the one walking through it is actually so widely relatable and seemed to be hitting so close to home for so many people really struck a chord with me.
While there was the inevitable flip side of criticism with regard to these articles – which, to an extent, I understand, and in many instances agree with as far as the whole phenomenon of the social media attention whoring of vicarious suffering goes – I think in this case, we may have found an exception to the rule.  As someone who has both struggled with depression myself as well as seen several people I love battle it, I firmly believe it’s so very important for people to know that other people “get it” and that they’re not alone in what they’re going through. And – criticisms aside – the sheer number of people who are talking about it helps contribute to that. A dear friend of mind recently texted me detailing how sad and lost he was feeling in his own depression, and I responded – as you do – with heartfelt words of comfort and encouragement, all the while deeply admiring his courage. Being vulnerable enough to admit to another person that you’re not okay is one of the hardest, bravest things in the world… and sometimes, it feels too daunting to actually do so. Particularly if – like me – you’re everyone’s rock. Or perhaps, too, if – like Williams – you’re everyone’s beacon of joy and laughter. Solidarity in this instance matters so much, especially because the act of reaching out of those depths does feel like such an enormous effort. So personally, I’m all for people talking about this, increasing awareness and mindfulness about – as Brand puts it – “how fragile we all are, how delicate we are, even when fizzing with divine madness that seems like it will never expire,” and striving for kindness and compassion. No, it won’t magically bring Robin Williams back. And maybe it won’t change anything. But maybe – just maybe – you’ll help someone feel a little less alone and, even more importantly, a little more understood in their darkness. And that matters… sometimes more than we can even begin to realize.

 

© Kristin Despina for Acceptance Revolution, 2014


“One, But Not the Same”

I know I’m a good week behind as far as throwing in my two cents on this issue, and honestly, it wasn’t even something I thought I’d be voicing any kind of public opinion on at all. I don’t feel like I pay anywhere near as much attention to what’s going on in the world as I think I should, so it’s very rare you’ll hear me make any kind of comment on current events. Obviously, though, unless I had pulled a Thoreau and retreated to the woods somewhere for a couple years, hearing about the Zimmerman trial verdict this past week and all the varying viewpoints seemingly everyone had to share was pretty hard to miss … even if I’d been completely oblivious and ignorant of events (which, I’m pleased to report, I was not), I would have, at the very least, seen Trayvon Martin’s name, photo, and the popular black hooded silhouette graphic pop up in my Facebook feed enough times to connect the dots. Still, beyond a simple share of a short, sweet, to the point memorial article on the Acceptance Revolution Facebook page, I didn’t expect to weigh in on anything either way. But then I got to thinking and googling, and eventually, one thing led to another.

A couple months ago, I gave a little Facebook nod to Sam Killermann of It’s Pronounced Metrosexual for his thought-provoking article, “Being an Ally: Between a Rock and a Hard Place” , in which he discussed the difficulties of being a trans* ally as a cisgendered man, not only because of the “rocks,” aka the homophobic and transphobic hate mailers, but also because of the “hard places,” trans* people who feel that, as a cis person, Killermann “should stay out of the fight for trans* rights.” He discusses the expected impact of the hate speech and name calling, as well as the less-expected rejection by those whom he is trying to fight alongside. While I’m not yet “known” enough to have encountered either, that provided me with some serious food for thought.

With all the “I am Trayvon Martin” posts and profile picture changes to that black-hooded silhouette in displays of solidarity cropping up this past week , I remembered that article and started thinking about something that occurred at my Off the Mat, Into the World training a year ago as well. During one of the exercises, one woman at the training shared some of the struggles she faces as a woman of color and got understandably upset when another participant – a blonde, blue-eyed, upper-middle-class type – alleged that she could relate because her fiancé was black. In a check-in session later on in the workshop, the first woman passionately and tearfully explained her view of the difference between being an ally and showing support versus claiming to understand or relate to something that hasn’t been your own personal experience, and it made a ton of sense: expressing solidarity and support is one thing; claiming to understand an experience that could never happen to you personally is downright insulting to those facing that particular struggle … and in fact, I’m always careful to disclaimer anything I speak or write on that hasn’t been my own personal experience for those very reasons. With that flicker of memory in mind, I got inspired to google the phrase “I am not Trayvon Martin,” and – albeit late to the “party” – I stumbled across this beautiful post, courtesy of Colorado high school music teacher Bob Seay. His closing statements convey exactly the reason why I started this website, and, at least from my understanding of things based on his writings, why Killermann identifies himself as an ally as well. As Seay so eloquently put it:

“You don’t have to be Trayvon Martin to know this is wrong. You don’t have to be black, or young, or a ‘troubled student’ or a pot smoker to know this was murder. And you don’t have to be the parent of Trayvon Martin to know this was a gross miscarriage of justice.
Let me be more blunt: This type of injustice will continue until enough guys like me — guys who are not Trayvon Martin — have had enough of it and finally say ‘No more.’
You don’t have to be Trayvon Martin.
You just have to be human.”

The “Not Trayvon Martin” movement has evidently received its share of criticism as well. And although NYC columnist Daniel Greenfield’s points that if he were shot, “There would be no rallies for me and no t-shirts with my name on it. No one would be talking about how they are me or aren’t me … [and] no one would care what brand of candy I was carrying or what I was wearing or where I was going,” are probably pretty valid ones, I, for one, happen to disagree with his overall view of the issue, specifically his dismissal of these displays of solidarity, simply writing them off as “liberal idiocy [involving] white college kids apologizing for their ‘white privilege'”. On the contrary, I’m inclined to agree with Seay that it’s important to say “no more” to injustice everywhere, no matter who we are.

I am a white, working class female who presents in accordance with my assigned-at-birth gender role. I pass for heteronormative, so the only flak I’m ever going to take is from someone who finds out about and disagrees with my self-proclaimed queerness in regard to my dating preferences. I am not Trayvon Martin. Nor am I Gwen Araujo, Brandon Teena, Larry King, Angie Zapata, or any of the countless other trans* people who have been murdered simply for being who they are. But I know the difference between right and wrong, justice and injustice. I can recognize hatred and intolerance when I see it, and I have no qualms about saying outright that I believe educating oneself about differences and that which we don’t understand beats the hell out of making assumptions and snap judgments and writing people off any day of the week. So I happen to appreciate Seay’s view that, “You don’t have to be Trayvon Martin. You just have to be human.”

This is the first post where I’ll be including a video because I really feel that several of the lyrics in this song speak to the core of what I’m trying to say here better than I can express on my own: “We’re one, but we’re not the same; we get to carry each other.” And, in my opinion, if we’re really “doing it right,” we’ll recognize that, lift each other up, and realize that, truly, “Love is a higher law,” than anything else we can come up with. As far as I’m concerned – and call me crazy or naïve on this one – love and acceptance is what all of this is all about … and all that really matters when all is said and done.

© Kristin Despina for Acceptance Revolution, 2013


Personal Experience Spotlight: William (Bill) M. Alexander

I Am Who I Say I Am

    As a writer, names are a crucial step in the process of creating a good, well-rounded, believable character. Over the years, I’ve come up with dozens of characters. Probably close to the one hundred mark at this point.  And not one of them has been named by process of quick thought or random choice. I spend a lot of time thinking up their names, how they sound, and how they fit the overall sense of who it is I’m giving them to. Names mean a lot to me. That’s why I changed mine.

From a young age, I was overweight and had an overactive imagination and an assortment of oddball family members that made carnies seem relatable, both literally and figuratively. And once puberty hit, I really knew I was screwed, as when my male friends starting noticing the girls in our class, I started noticing the boys. All of this quirky dysfunction was summed up in what I considered the worst name on earth: William Allen Schulz.

My first name came from my grandfather on my mom’s side, who was also William. My middle name came from my father’s side of the family, after a distant uncle I’d never met, per a request I have an ‘A’ somewhere in my name. My last name, as it was spelled, should have been pronounced with a sliding ‘sezz’ sound at the end, but because of my family’s impeccable taste for difference, they pronounced it as though it were spelled Schultz, only without the T. I’ve had arguments, yes, actual arguments, with people on how to say my last name.

With this as my reality, I delved into writing as a way to cope. Through writing, I explored the complex and freighting scenarios the real me wasn’t ready to handle. In effect, I came up with characters that did what I could not, or—thought I could not. There was Max, the artist, who followed his dream, regardless of what others thought of him. Maris, the shameless flirt I never thought I could be. Miss LeQuesha, a voluptuous African American woman who embodied my sassy, take no BS nature. And Cassandra, a take no prisoners badass who made anyone who opposed her quiver in fear as she pressed the tip of her heel into the side of their face. And then there was Alex. Alex was handsome, funny, and sweet, balanced with a dash of nerdiness. I envied Alex in every way you could desire to be another person, most of all for his name.

The first time I heard the name Alex was in my sixth grade gym class.  It belonged to what I considered at the time to be the handsomest boy I’d ever seen. I loved everything about his name. How it was spelled (I found the x exotic), how it came from the tongue with a smooth roll, and above all else, how it sounded passing from our gym teacher’s lips to my ears. Alex was a name I associated with rugged appeal and strength. It didn’t take long until Alex Williams was born, my very first pen name. Finding some redemption with my first name, I began to sign every piece of writing I finished ‘Alex Williams,’ even toying with the idea of changing my first name to Alex and my last name to Williams. At that time, I was going through a number of changes, physically and personally. When I was twenty-two, I came out of the closest as a gay man and in the following years, I lost over one hundred pounds. I gained a sense of style and adopted a medley of wonderfully supportive friends. Slowly, I turned the focus of what I perceived as ‘wrong’ with me – namely my odd sense of humor, overactive imagination, and sexuality – into something special and worth embracing.

I realized I had come to embody many of the characters I created. It was not they who I had taken my strength from, but rather I who’d given my strength to them to nurture and protect until I was ready to carry it myself. With all the changes I had made in my life, both inside and out, I knew I no longer desired the name I was given. William A. Schulz felt like a second, constricting skin, one I willingly kept blanketed around myself in favor of its suffocating familiarity. He was a fat, self-loathing mess who’d outstayed his welcome. I came to the decision in early June of 2012 that I would legally change my name to William Michael Alexander. I came up with a covert plan to go through the process of changing my name while keeping my family in the dark. To some degree, I was successful in the operation. I researched everything I needed to do to legally change my name and only confided what I had done and what lay ahead to a few trusted friends. Shortly before my court date, I came out to my family in regards to my change and found an overwhelming response of indifference.

My favorite reaction by far since then has been when I tell someone about my name change and have them respond with a quiet concern and cautious curiosity. I’m still waiting for someone to ask me, “Who are you trying to evade?” as if I were on the run from a loan shark or had the notion to fake my own death. I suppose it’s rather uncommon for a man in his twenties to change his name for no other reason than because he wanted to, which, in my opinion, is a biased view of our society. Women who change their name, while often for marriage or other reasons, are looked upon with much less scrutiny. Even the judge for whom I had to swear an oath of truth before stared at me with a perplexing befuddlement when he asked what purpose I sought for the change and my response was, “It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do.”

And that’s why I wanted to share my story. I wanted so badly to come across something while in the process of my name change that would provide a sense of encouragement, a reprieve from the linguistic legal mumbo-jumbo, and tell me in simple verse that it’s okay to change something about you if it betters you, even if you’re the only one who understands it.

© Bill Alexander for Acceptance Revolution, 2013

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Personal Experience Spotlight: Jennifer

True Friend in “Plastic’s” Clothing:
Self Defense Against Bullying Can Be a Lifelong Lesson 

I can watch the movie Mean Girls and relate to the character Regina George because of how, underneath all her meanness, she just wants to be liked and accepted. Who doesn’t feel that way? But I would never take it to the extent of being liked at someone else’s expense. Sure, it’s easy enough to get sucked into gossiping and laughing along with the crowd, but is it the right thing to do? I am also tall and lean with the body of a “plastic” but the heart of a true friend. I never really fit into any clique; my personality is more multi-dimensional than that, so I have always been an outsider who sided with the underdog. I would defend other victims of bullying but still find it difficult to defend myself. For example, I would defend my best friend if I saw her being bullied by saying, “That’s my best friend; don’t talk to her like that,” but felt awkward speaking up for myself. Although girls have a reputation for being mean to one another, I also had a lot of problems with guys. People can be cruel; it doesn’t matter who they are. I can remember being bulled in the 5thgrade. It couldn’t even wait until middle school, could it? Of course not, kids are cruel. Up until then, I’d encountered the occasional mean kid and I’d have my feelings hurt, but this was different. It just wouldn’t stop, and I remember them laughing at me, pushing me on the playground, and excluding me from their cliques.

I went to guidance counselors and teachers for help when I was being bullied, all to no avail. I was told to ignore it or that the other kids were just being kids. I’d also get an insincere apology when the authority figures forced them to do so. This was just the beginning, because contrary to popular belief, kids do not change. They might grow and mature, but all ages have a mean streak. In middle school, I was the target for spit balls and locker pranks. Other students would take advantage of my hard work and copy my homework. In high school, I cut class to avoid my classmates and teachers.

Bullying and discrimination are going to happen, and probably all a person’s life. According to the media a lot of students thought suicide was the answer. But the only way to survive is to learn how to handle bullies in an intelligent manner.  It is important for the victims to have psychological comebacks for the bullies. For example, never to defend yourself because this gives the impression that you need to argue the bully’s point. Let’s assume someone is picking on someone for being a nerd. The correct response would be to agree with him or her and say that it’s great to be smart and that he or she is probably just jealous. A quick comeback shocks the bully and will lessen the chance he or she will mess with you again. After making your comeback, leave the scene immediately to avoid escalating the situation. The most important defense is to build self-confidence and be assertive. Bullies only choose victims that they think won’t defend themselves. By being prepared, you can make sure you won’t be another victim. And finally, as the famous Beatles song tells us, all we need is love… so remember to treat others how you want to be treated.

© Jennifer for Acceptance Revolution, 2012

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Personal Experience Spotlight: Jamie

“Re-Disposition”

Recently, in an attempt to make new friends, I started a group on meetup.com.  These groups need to have a centrality about them, a common factor among members.  I named my group: Bisexual/Bi-Curious Women of Central NJ, in hopes of meeting ladies around my age who are bisexual or bi-curious.  And no, it was not with the intent of meeting ladies for sexual and/or dating purposes. I am a faithful woman married to a man, a dedicated stay at home mother of one, a not-currently-teaching certified teacher, a daughter, a sister, a dreamer … among many other things.  I have been attracted to both men and women since the age of about 13-15, when I precociously lost my virginity to both… in case you were wondering.

I have lost many friends/acquaintances over the years, essentially due to deciding I’d rather be with a man for the long term: no longer needing to prowl the bars/clubs in search of a partner, no longer wanting to join in with friends from the LGBTIQA community out of fear of no longer being accepted, refusing to conform to others’ ideas of who they thought I was or wanted me to be, and eventually acquiring a whole new domestic lifestyle.

So… back to ‘my group.’  I was hoping to find some open-minded, mature, intellectual, active women.  Just to revamp my social life.  If you have a baby, you probably understand.  Especially if most, if not all, of your friends are single and baby-less.  I figured if I made friends who were bisexual, or at least open-minded, I wouldn’t feel so out of place or misunderstood as I have in the past.  I wanted this group to be more of a support group.  But no, not where we just sit around and discuss our sexualities… but to get up, get out, and get active; meet on the beach, play football, and discuss our sexuality, among many other things; meet at my house, sit in my back yard, sip some wine, roast some marshmallows over a fire, and discuss our sexuality among many other things; meet at a local bowling alley, get competitive, have fun, and discuss our sexuality among many other things.  Get it?

Instead, the first day that my group was up and running, almost everyone who joined fit into the ‘party animal,’ ‘sex obsessed,’ ‘swinger status,’ ‘playmate searching,’ ‘slut’ clichés!  The kind of women who use their ‘wanna-be porn star’ photos as their profile picture.  The kind of women who were also members of ‘Kinky Women of NYC,’ ‘Group Sex,’ and ‘Big, Sexy Women of Color’ kinds of groups.  Yeah, you get the picture.  I then changed my settings to only allow membership after my approval.  I started getting membership requests from ladies in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.  I approved them, of course.  They seemed mature and genuinely in need of like-minded friends, as was the point of the group.  But, with me being in my 20’s, I didn’t feel so comfortable ‘leading’ the kind of group my group was turning into.   And so I decided to step down.  The group may even be canceled altogether, and that’s okay with me.   All of this started and ended within four days.  But hey, I’m an impulsive, impatient Sagittarius – what can I say?

Since canceling my group, I’ve been doing a bit of speculating.  Yes, there are many ‘bisexuals’ who are sex freaks, who can’t remain loyal and faithful, who might be going through a ‘phase’ for one reason or another, who are actually confused, or who are grossly immature.  And those are the kind of bisexuals who give other bisexuals a bad name.  A phenomena that is quite common among many groups of people.

I personally know quite a few ladies who are bisexual – truly bisexual – have dated men and women, could settle down with either a man or a woman, can remain faithful to one partner only, and are quite comfortable with themselves.  (I, myself, fit into this category.)  I also personally know quite a few ladies that label themselves as ‘straight’ but have slept with women, like to make out with women, like to flirt with women, find certain women attractive, etc. (Or have at least dreamt about it.)  I also personally know quite a few ladies who label themselves as ‘lesbian’ but have slept with men in the past, sleep with men in the present, and contemplate maybe even settling down with a man in the future.  I also personally know quite a few ladies who would label themselves ‘bisexual’ but don’t feel quite so comfortable doing so, due to clichés, rejection, and other means of biphobia.  I also personally know quite a few ladies who are interested in threesomes, which is fine, normal, and quite common.

I’ve never felt comfortable with divulging my sexuality in the past, afraid of labels others would throw at me.  And now that I have settled down and chosen a man to spend my life with, I feel others will judge me if I don’t plead ‘straight.’  But I refuse to be a victim of biphobia in that regard.  If you don’t understand me, oh well.  I’m at the point in my life now where I really don’t care what other people think anymore.  I will always be irreversibly bisexual.  That doesn’t mean that I can’t be faithful to my husband or that I ever have to ‘hook up’ with a female again in my life.  Once you’ve come to terms with yourself, your sexual identity doesn’t just disappear or change because of circumstance.  Get it?

So, after contemplating segregating myself, getting uber frustrated at the intention of members joining my group, and giving up on yet another endeavor, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t want to make friends with people solely on the commonality of our sexuality.  After all, I am an eclectic person.  I’ve always desisted labels and detested cliques.  Instead of trying to create an oligarchic group of friends around the topic/label/interest of bisexuality I’d rather, instead, continue to reach out to people of all walks of life, and in turn maintain my multi-faceted identity.

© Jamie for Acceptance Revolution, 2012

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Personal Experience Spotlight: Kristi Mulqueen

Unconventional Love: Rumor Has It

My life has been something like a big game of “Telephone”:  a complicated story with lots of details, involving people and places. The more detailed my story gets, the more likely the message has been changed as it makes its way through the telephone line of people in my life.

As 30 knocks on my door, I am very aware that I have grown into a woman who is confident and comfortable with herself. My early 20’s were a little confusing, but nonetheless fun, for  lack of a better word. I explored my sexuality often and enjoyed every minute of it. Not everyone understood; I guess it was a complicated situation to understand for most people. I was in a relationship with a man, but was openly bisexual. At times we had “friends with benefits” and there was even a live-in girlfriend at one point. Most strangers, family members, and friends were confused. They told me to choose. They said, if you like women, just be with them. They believed that there was no way that you could love someone and let them “be” with someone else physically. But I explained to them that I was attracted to women but liked having my relationship with my boyfriend, and I was in love with him. With that being said, from then on, people assumed that every friend that was a girl was a lover. They assumed that every girl that hung out with my man and I was having a threesome with us. There were many situations like this that were absolutely true, but there were more that were false. I noticed that everyone around me loved to tell stories, twisting my words and actions into manipulated fairytales created solely for their own entertainment. It’s not my fault their sex life was so boring that they fantasized about mine. They said we would never last…

So here I am, about to celebrate my 11 year anniversary with my boyfriend, the same man that I explored my sexuality with, my lover, my best friend. We are not as “crazy” as we were in our early 20’s, but we haven’t changed much. We still have the same theories about relationships. We still have people who question our actions and assume things. All that matters is that we love each other, and what works for one doesn’t always work for another. All I know is that my relationship has lasted more than most marriages. So as unconventional as it may be, for us, it works, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am so grateful to find a partner who I can be myself with unconditionally.

© Kristi Mulqueen for Acceptance Revolution, 2012

Interested in sharing your own experience? Click here for details!