Tag Archives: dealing with criticism

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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Personal Experience Spotlight: Mallorie Ruston

“Hearts, Not Parts”: Breaking the Cycle of Biphobia-Induced Shame

            When I was about five years old and my mom was pregnant with my sister, she met a woman named Nese who she then left my dad for. Growing up in a world of Ptown and same sex couples and rainbow stickers then seemed like no big deal; that was just how life was: People loved people, and it never seemed to matter whether they were male or female. At the same time, I started to “hook up” with the neighborhood girls… so even at a young age, I knew that I liked boys but also really liked girls.

Hearts Not Parts

It wasn’t until 3rd grade when a boy in my class told everyone my mom was a lesbian that I started to have feelings of being ashamed and like maybe it was different to have two moms. This was circa 1994, way before Ellen and Rosie. There was no media to look up to and tell us such feelings were totally ok and shouldn’t be hidden. So when we transferred to a very prestigious and wealthy high school, my mom’s beat up old jeep with a rainbow sticker was the last thing I wanted to be seen in. And it wasn’t until I graduated high school in 2004 that I felt comfortable enough to express to others – including my mother – that I felt like I was bisexual. And surprisingly enough, the one person who took it not very well was my bisexual mother, stating, “Being gay is just such a harder lifestyle. I just wouldn’t choose for you to be a minority.” She of all people told me it was just an experimental phase and that I would get over it.

Well, it’s 2014, and after completing my Bachelors in Science in sociology and taking majorly enlightening classes about gender and sexuality, I’ve realized there is absolutely nothing wrong with me. And I wish I could have known Kinsey; I would love to just make out with his face for creating the Kinsey scale. Even the media has opened my eyes with shows like Nip Tuck and The L Word and Queer as Folk. I spent time living in Hollywood, and WeHo is the most amazingly accepting and beautiful place. Even the cop cars had rainbows on them. I had never felt so comfortable being exactly who the fuck I was. In fact, my first night In WeHo I had so much fun dancing and being me, I woke up the next morning in a pool of my own pee! God, what a great night!

But aside from all of it, there is one way I know I am completely and totally gender neutral toward lovers: My dreams. When I dream, I have the most explicit sexual fantasies about both men and women equally. When I am attracted to someone, it’s their soul I want to be close to. The body parts are just perks. I have better sex with girls, definitely, and can only truly get off with them. But when it comes to dating and being in actual relationships, it normally tends to be with guys; they are just simpler and less dramatic. Also, I think part of me knows I was meant to end up being in a lesbian relationship … I just feel more authentic in the gay world.

My mom is now dating men and has been since I was 13, saying woman are just too emotional and too much work; she is 58 and still single. It’s so funny with the stereotypes these days because everyone always tells me I “look straight,” and that my little sister, who is as straight as the day is long, “looks gay” … and I’ve always thought, “What the fuck does that even mean?” People are also constantly telling me to “pick one or the other already,” and I’m just so sick of it. Lesbians think I’m greedy, and straight people think I’m confused. But I’m not confused; I simply reply with, “There are so many flavors of ice cream in the world, why would I eat one for the rest of my life?” Fortunately, I have never been one to care what people think of me especially those that can’t understand me.

I still keep in close contact with my other mother Nese, and she is the only spouse of either of my parents that I still feel a connection with. I am very thankful to have been raised in a very liberal and open-minded world, even though it was more difficult at times. It has made me who I am: a very bold, loving, honest (sometimes too honest), accepting person. I may not have a career or ridiculous house or car, but I have the ability to love and take care of people around me. I make friends everywhere I go with all kinds of people. I am wholeheartedly passionate about people and traveling and seeing things that can open my eyes and my heart. My ideal job would be to open and run some sort of LGBT center for anyone seeking help or guidance as a life coach … maybe someday!

© Mallorie Ruston for Acceptance Revolution, 2014

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


“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: TylerJaik

Evolution Revolution: From Finding Acceptance Within Myself to
Finding Compassion For All Living Beings Without

Growing up, as soon as I had a say in what I wanted to wear, I chose the gender-neutral or more masculine options. This was accepted as I was considered a tomboy. But it didn’t change the fact that, throughout my childhood, I was made more uncomfortable with the regretful apologies from strangers who made the “mistake” in referring to me as a boy. “Oh, I’m sorry… It’s the hat you have on, but now that I can see your face, there’s no way I could ever mistake you for a boy! Such a beautiful face you have!” There was also the insistence that I would grow out of it. I never thought I would. I never wanted to. I never did. Sexual orientation was unknown to me. Since I was a girl, I thought my only option was an attraction to boys. I dated a few and had a relationship with someone who was 6 years older than I was. He was my older brother’s friend and paid attention to me. I liked him. I was interested in these boys, but not in the “attracted to” way. It was more a longing to be like them. Things between us ended after 2 years dating on and off. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that someone presented me with the possibility that my lack of romantic interest in boys was due to the fact that I was attracted to girls. My entire world opened up, and my body responded in ways I had never experienced when looking at boys.

It was the summer of 1996 when I came out to my family as lesbian. I was 16 and decided to break the news at a family reunion. First, I told my cousins individually and without incident. Then my Aunt Katherine, who knew I had something I wanted to talk to her about, asked me about it in front of everyone. I figured since I had already told everyone but her that it wasn’t a big deal to just come out to her right there. She wasn’t exactly closed-minded, but made sure I knew she didn’t believe that I was old enough to make such a “decision.”

About a week after the reunion, I received a letter from my other aunt, Amy, who was unable to attend the reunion. Katherine had filled her in, and Amy felt it necessary to express her opinion of my “inappropriate” announcement and make a point to say that, even though she knows gay people, none of them ever go around announcing their sexual orientation. Not to mention, of course, neither has she. Being heterosexual is assumed to be the norm. The only reason for coming out is if you don’t “fit” the norm. She wasn’t even there to truly know how my coming out to the family played out. Over the next few years, she’d make comments about my fear of men due to my having been in a relationship with a 19-year old when I was just 13. Yes, he did take advantage of me and it was not a healthy relationship. It wasn’t until 10 years after the fact that I realized he did, in fact, abuse me.

Over the last few years of high school and well into college, I struggled with the loss of my parents. My mother died suddenly, but not unexpectedly, from a prescription drug overdose when I was 14. Three years later, my father died of pancreatic cancer right before I started college. After my mother was gone, my aunts (my mother’s sisters) tried to provide guidance as they thought my father was unfit to raise us properly. He proved them wrong in time, but it was a tough road for him to raise three kids alone. My aunts’ guidance did not go well as they saw my behavior, lack of social grace, and not fitting in as a problem. I didn’t want to fit in. I wanted to be ME, and if they couldn’t accept that, then that was their problem. Not mine.

My father’s side of the family is more old-fashioned, and my Uncle John almost insisted I wear a skirt to my father’s funeral out of respect for my father. I refused and wore a shirt and tie, which I tied myself, just like my father taught me a couple years earlier when I was 15 and he took me to buy my first suit.

Once I was in college, my aunts eased up on me and saw that being in lesbian relationships was where I fit and that I wasn’t going to change. They even welcomed the few girlfriends I brought around once in a while to family gatherings. Everything was going well on the outside. Within me, another battle ensued.

For 4 out of the 5 ½ years I spent in college and living with my grandmother during breaks from school, I was a complete mess. I didn’t fit in anywhere, and my body was a prison. My involvements with women went on, but at some point, I shut down. I didn’t want to be touched or viewed as a woman. It felt so foreign. I felt like a freak. An unlovable freak. Gender expression for me had always been masculine. Always. At work, I was consistently referred to as “Sir” and with masculine pronouns. Of course, once I would turn around, half the people would profusely apologize as I rolled my eyes and tried to shrug it off. Most of the time I didn’t care, and I actually came to prefer the masculine pronouns. My name tags always had a shortened version of my name which made it gender-neutral. It would be whenever I went home to be around family that the deeper issues came to light. With each use of my full given name, I would cringe. Any reference to me as a girl, woman, she, her… it all didn’t fit. It was as though everyone saw something else when they looked at me. I saw something else too. It took me 2 ½ years to come out to myself as trans. It would be at least another year before I came out to my family.

Once I graduated from college, moved out on my own, and had a job with health insurance, I took the necessary steps to make me feel more comfortable living in this skin. I started testosterone in April 2003. My name change was finalized the following August. It was in October that I sent a letter to every member of my family. They all received it the week before a family gathering celebrating my grandmother’s 80th birthday. To my surprise, nearly everyone came up to me with open arms and acceptance, and a few even had no trouble calling me by my chosen name and referring to me as their nephew and using masculine pronouns. It was incredible! I felt more a part of a family unit and felt genuine love and support from nearly everyone. My aunts asked me about my transition and wanted to be reassured of my physical and mental health. Of course, my grandmother and a couple uncles couldn’t see past my past and break their habits. I tried to be patient, but after so many years, it felt like they never cared to try. One year, one of my uncles gave everyone cell phone charms. Mine was a very feminine butterfly. After seeing my reaction to it, he explained that the butterfly was a symbol of metamorphosis. I politely thanked him and never spoke of it again. Some people aren’t worth the energy.

Since my grandmother passed away a couple years ago, the pronoun and name slips have nearly vanished. Her insistence on using my given name and assigned pronouns were most likely the influencing factor.

Fast forward a bit to 2010. With my new comfort in my own skin, I found myself curious to explore my sexual desire to be with male-born men. After a time of getting used to the unfamiliar territory of being social with gay men, I found myself in a relationship. I mentioned the possibility of my dating men, and no one in my family that I shared this with batted an eye. I felt safe knowing my family is incredibly supportive and open-minded… but are they as open-minded when it comes to something outside of gender and sexuality?veganboy

I had been vegetarian since before coming out as lesbian, and this was never an issue. There was always food prepared that I could eat whenever a family party came around. In November 2010, I began volunteering for a sanctuary that rescues farmed animals from the food farming trade/industry. It wasn’t but a few weeks when I made the compassionate choice to no longer contribute to such unnecessary suffering and went vegan. I expressed in a blog post on Facebook that, on December 1st, I was going vegan. It was shortly before Thanksgiving, and I knew I had my family dinner to attend and wasn’t going to make anyone go out of their way for me. Again, to my surprise, they had prepared a Tofurky Roast dinner just for me with veggie sides without any butter. It was amazing! I couldn’t thank them enough for making the effort to include me, and I again felt support and love.

Over the past year, my involvements in veganism, activism, outreach, and animal rights have increased since I first went vegan, and my posts on Facebook have been a little hard to swallow for my meat-eating family members. Not once have I invited a debate. My only intention is to spread awareness of the plight of animals raised for food and what people actually pay for when they choose to eat animal products, all for the purpose of enabling them to make their own informed choices. It didn’t take long before the arguments, confrontation, and blaming me for making them feel like “a soulless bastard” for eating animals were expressed. Their denial and defensiveness for their choices only bring to light the questions they should ask themselves: Why do they feel this way when they see the truth of where their food comes from? What is it within themselves that makes them feel like “a soulless bastard?” And so the blocking of my posts from Facebook newfeeds and retaliatory posts ensued. Relatives I felt close to were now pitting themselves and their immediate family members against me in online debates. Family parties became awkward as people would hesitate to talk to me. What are they afraid of? I have also noticed the increasing lack of options for me to eat with each party I attend. Before going vegan, there were always 3-4 options that just happened to be vegan. These options continued to be a staple at these gatherings. I never went hungry. It was after the debates on Facebook and my “militant activist” posts that things changed. A baby shower called “Beach Babyque” in August had a large spread with only one vegan dish along with cut up raw veggies and chips. I was in a dark place emotionally, and my Aunt Amy noticed. When she asked me about it, she said it was good that I forced myself to come out and that she was happy to see me, but she couldn’t leave it at that. She had to make a comment about me needing more dairy in my diet to help with the emotional darkness. She laughed and again told me she “isn’t on board with the whole vegan thing.” I know she isn’t. She doesn’t have to make it a point to tell me numerous times.

Just last December at the annual holiday party, even vegetarian options were scarce. All they had for me was cut up celery, carrots, radishes, orange slices and grapes, and tortilla chips. The always-safe quinoa salad had feta cheese in it this time. Also, when talking to my vegetarian friend who I asked to come with me as a buffer, Amy talked about a friend who is a chef and made a phenomenal meat-based meal. Amy considers herself a non-meat-eater. She stopped eating red meat decades ago. She doesn’t equate meat with poultry and fish and calls herself vegetarian. Last I checked, neither fish nor chicken and turkey are vegetables.

So, my family has been able to accept and support me through coming to terms with my sexual orientation, to my transition from female to male, to my recent dating history with men… but when it comes to my vegan lifestyle and beliefs, they scoff and avoid conversation with me. Never have I felt so ostracized and alone among those I love and who claim to love me. I feel like I am the 500 lb purple gorilla in the room no one is supposed to acknowledge.

With all the horror stories I’ve heard about people being disowned and disrespected for their “choices” in terms of gender and sexuality, I considered myself extremely lucky to have a family so supportive and without judgment. It never occurred to me that my choice to abstain from the eating, wearing, and exploiting animals would outcast me farther than I have ever been from a group that is so open and accepting of everything else. No one can choose their relatives, but everyone can have a chosen family, and I have found the most acceptance and support within the animal rights and ethical vegan communities.

© TylerJaik for Acceptance Revolution, 2013

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Rearrange Again: Thoughts on Sexual Renegotiation and Privilege or “I’m Coming Out…But DO I Want the World to Know?”

I remember watching Luminous (the seventh episode of Showtime’s The L Word, circa season two) and really relating to this one particular scene where the character Jenny Schecter goes off on an impassioned diatribe over the way a guy in her creative writing class has portrayed women in his latest piece: “Because … you basically turn them into these nameless, faceless, body part whores… Your main character, Jasmine, she, like, opens up Madelaine’s world by giving her the best fucking orgasm she’s ever had, which, I don’t know if you know this, is the primary sex act that two women can actually have! And then you go ahead, and you belittle it by turning it into pornography, and I think that the reason why you’re doing this is because men can’t handle it, the fact that these women can have this amazing, fucking, beautiful, mind-blowing orgasm, without a fucking cock!”

This is the season where Jenny’s character is first coming out, and – as clearly evidenced in that monologue – she does so in a completely balls to the wall, in-your-face manner… and it made me smile, because when I first started exploring my own attraction to women in my late teens, I was exactly the same way. Growing up with my hardcore religious mom and feeling like I already fell short of her expectations anyway, just by being me, I went the rebellion route with a lot of things, and my coming out was very much that in-your-face display of defiance against both the pain of that rejection and my upbringing in general. I talked about it constantly, read every piece of lesbian literature I could get my hands on, and engaged in mixed company PDA’s with my girlfriend for the sole purpose of sparking double takes and reactions. And of course, eventually I outgrew that behavior… but in the interim, when I was so defiantly focused on inciting the response, it either left me immune to or, perhaps, simply didn’t leave room for the feeling of being on the receiving end of those outside perceptions and judgments that I think many people struggle with during their coming out years.

Later on, I experienced outside perceptions and judgments to a degree when I initially felt the need to justify to a couple of girls who asked me why my ex and I were at the gay bar if we were “straight” that we were cool and still “belonged” there because he was FtM . But with the exception of that one incident, the majority of outside perception and judgment was pretty nonexistent when I was with him. I was still open about who I was and who I loved to a certain extent, researching and writing on trans issues for several school assignments, and sometimes (though not quite with Jenny Schecter level flair, force, and fire) taking it upon myself to put makers of exceptionally ignorant or intolerant remarks during class discussions in their place or to provide mini sex and gender education 101 lessons to the occasional, curious cisgendered guy who wanted to know what I had against “regular” dudes like them.
One subject that came up a lot in my research were stories of partners of transpeople struggling to renegotiate their own sexual identities after their partner’s transition – and true, maybe I would have felt differently had my ex transitioned during our relationship rather than the several years prior to our having met, or had I been exceptionally attached to a lesbian identity – but renegotiation wasn’t an issue for me. Though I wasn’t in-your-face about it this time around, the incident with those girls in the gay club solidified for me that I had nothing to apologize for or justify to anyone; this was who I loved, that love came by sheer merit of who he was as a human being, and I was proud to have him by my side… and at the end of the day, that was all that mattered. And at the end of the day, having him by my side also meant that I became a recipient of heterosexual privilege… and I think privilege in general is a really easy thing to get used to. Soon enough, I hardly gave it a second thought, quietly blending in, privately enjoying my favorite dichotomy of appearing one thing and being another, yet no longer feeling the need to broadcast it to anyone and everyone within earshot.
The other thing about getting comfy with privilege is that, in a way (or at least for me), I think it can sometimes negate the need to really think too deeply into things (or at least the need to think about them as they apply to you personally)… and there’s a world of difference between feeling empathy and compassion over seeing someone else coming up against adversity and facing it head on yourself. Because I never directly felt the impact of any negative repercussions as far as how I was perceived by the outside world, I simply never thought about it beyond this abstract thing that happens to other people… and while I feel for them and speak out on their behalf, I realize it’s still never really touched me. One ex-girlfriend of mine blogged about an experience we had where a random woman came up to us in Target to tell us how cute we were together, and where I had simply smiled and thanked her, my ex described a very different experience of tensing up in anticipation of a confrontation when the woman initially approached us before exhaling in relief when her comment wound up being positive. Add to that the fact that, with all the strides made towards equality, it can be easy to get lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that things have gotten so much better, that maybe society is finally progressing, becoming more open and accepting over time… and I was legitimately thrown by the ignorant comments of my classmates during my undergrad (not to mention learning that my knowledge of gender and sexuality was more current than that of a few of my professors, a couple of whom I wound up filling in on the stigmatizing nature of the word “hermaphrodite” for intersex people).

To an extent, yes, we have made strides toward equality… but there’s still just as much hate and intolerance to be found too, and I sometimes forget that until it smacks me in the face. And, fast-forwarding to present day, the fact that I’ve been primarily dating transmen for the better part of the last four years also means I’ve now enjoyed the appearance of heteronormativity for as long, strolling hand in hand with my man of the moment with no one around us batting an eyelash. So when I found myself on a date with a woman again not too long ago (and wasn’t incorporating the shock value factor this time around when we held hands or shared a kiss in public) for the first time ever, I was fully aware of the stares and double takes from the people around us… and I wasn’t really prepared for it, honestly. I mean, it wasn’t like we were out in the Midwest somewhere; this is a North Jersey town about a half hour outside of New York City, and last I checked, it was the twenty-first century. But apparently some of the passersby in the park where we were walking hadn’t gotten that memo. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like people were throwing rocks or admonishing us because their children were present or anything like that… but it’s also not like we were engaging in any sort of heavy PDA either, and had I been enjoying those initial “getting-to-know-you” moments with a male, no one would have given us a second glance. As someone who’s always been so matter-of-factly open and outspoken about such things, that sensation of “don’t look at me!” discomfort was a brand new one for me. All of a sudden, I was experiencing that hyper-awareness and self-consciousness that just about everyone else confronts when they first come out… and while it’s certainly not something that would ultimately deter me from exploring a connection with someone, it was enough to make me feel a little of that discomfort that I had initially escaped.
As a result, I started really noticing and becoming sensitive to a lot more; a few weeks later at a Halloween party, I overheard a guy commenting on how “freaky” it was “not being able to tell who’s a guy and who’s a girl” as I passed him with an adorable gender fluid friend of mine (she happened to be dressed in boy’s clothes that night, but all he really had to do was look at her delicate-featured, obviously feminine face in order to render his irritating and ignorant remark completely unnecessary). I settled for shooting him a dirty look over confronting him, but I was pretty pissed off on her behalf until she shrugged it off and talked me down, pointing out that, as far as she was concerned, his insecurities were his and obviously had nothing to do with her… pretty much, if she wasn’t losing sleep over it, why should I? And yeah, it’s awesome that that was her attitude about it. It used to be mine, too, if I really thought about it… but apparently feeling suddenly conspicuous after all these years had put me on the defensive… and even as I’m writing this, I can feel the residual defensiveness coming through in portions of the retelling. However, it also helped me cultivate a whole new level of awareness and understanding… as well as a renewed appreciation for how fortunate I’ve actually been to walk through the world feeling as safe and comfortable in my own skin as I do overall; I know not everyone is as lucky. But I also have to acknowledge that these challenges are real and they’re mine, too… I’m not just here to empathize with and ease things for other people. If I should, at some point, happen to connect with a woman on a deep, significant level again, there’s a very real possibility I’ll also eventually wind up having to revisit all that “mama drama” a second time around… and while I can hope my mother may have mellowed with time all I want, I can’t know for sure unless or until that happens, and the uncertainty is a scary thing to sit with; she’s gotten as used to my heterosexual privilege as I have, if not more so. The one thing I can be sure of, though, is that, whatever obstacles and challenges may be part and parcel of it, whatever rearranging and renegotiating might need to take place, as long as where any of us ultimately end up is in a place of being true to ourselves and our own hearts… that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

© Kristin Despina for Acceptance Revolution, 2012


Self-Acceptance 101

I debated back and forth for awhile as to whether or not I should share this story, and if so, whether or not it technically belonged on here. It’s an acceptance-related personal experience, to be sure. I’m not sure if it may be too specific to just me and my life, but if it can do some good and resonate with someone else out there, helping them out in the self-acceptance department in some small way, I think it may be a story that needs to be told. And now that I’ve disclaimered myself to death …

Surprisingly enough, self-acceptance is still a yet-to-be-touched-upon topic on Acceptance Revolution, but I was reminded recently just how important it is, not only to always try to meet others within our community where they are, but also to meet ourselves where we are and to recognize the positive qualities we have to offer… particularly when we are feeling attacked or judged in some way.

I’m going to try to stick to bare bones facts as much as possible here, in the interest of not turning this story into a “he said, she said” scenario. Without (hopefully) airing too much dirty laundry, I’ll just say that I recently learned that someone I had connected with on a pretty deep emotional and spiritual level was apparently (and completely unbeknownst to me, although, had I known, I would have been more than open to possibilities… but that’s neither here nor there at this point) “considering” me as a potential dating/relationship prospect. What with that whole not knowing about this factor element at play, I continued along in my blissfully ignorant single girl’s mindset, coming and going as I pleased… until a gossipy instigation by a mutual acquaintance brought everything that had been previously left unspoken out in the open. The interference by this third party apparently also served to bring out a second-guessing in regards to the aforementioned “consideration.” The verdict – or the gist of it, anyway – was that I’m apparently too social. When I think of how many nights I end up either staying in with Redbox  or wondering an hour into an evening out at a club why the hell I decided going there was a good idea in the first place, this is definitely news to me. As further evidence, the following example of two hypothetical couples was submitted to me: Couple A are well-adjusted individuals in a happy, healthy, loving, and faithful committed relationship. Couple B are an utterly dysfunctional pair who habitually lie to and cheat on each other and then cry to their friends about the inevitable, ensuing drama that results from such behavior. The judgment was that, given a choice between which of these two couples to choose as friends, I wouldn’t choose; I would keep them both around because “everyone is just a-ok with [me].”

Upon reflection, this is likely a true and accurate statement. The part that’s not sitting right with me, however, is that – at least as it was presented to me – this is something I’m meant to feel bad about and recognize as a fatal character flaw within myself. Now don’t get me wrong, I can certainly recognize where problems could arise, and I’ve done my share of wrestling with them in the past… but, through that struggle, I’ve also learned to compartmentalize really well. I have (and still do) worked hard to cultivate the important skill of defining clear boundaries for myself and honoring those boundaries. When I found myself sobbing hysterically to a room full of strangers in an N.A. meeting a few years back because my ex refused to recognize her addiction problem and I didn’t know how to help her and had no one to call in for backup to help me, that was pretty much as good a wakeup call as any for me to decide to sit down and figure out the precise method of how I could go about flipping my own mental scripts in order to make damn sure I could prevent ever allowing another person’s issues to impact me, my life, and how I showed up in the world ever again. And I did it. I now know how to differentiate between simply bearing witness to another person’s trials and tribulations versus feeling the need to also bear the responsibility for them. I know how to be compassionate towards a fellow human being who’s creating suffering in his or her life without condoning the negative behaviors they engage in that contribute to the creation of that suffering. It wasn’t easy to achieve, and now that I’ve been made to really examine and think about it all, I’m actually damn proud of the fact that I’ve managed to do so. Like many people, I’m my own toughest critic, and as such, I almost never stop to notice the good in myself or feel pride in my accomplishments. And I need to. We all do.

I’m a yogi. I run a website called Acceptance Revolution. If I didn’t display this capacity for acceptance and compassion to some extent, I’d be a hypocrite. And I’d be doing my authentic self a massive disservice in the acceptance department to boot. Whether or not I’ve given myself credit where it’s due, I’ve worked hard to get to this point, and by the way, no, it doesn’t always come as naturally as breathing. But I work at it because I believe it matters. Because it’s a capacity I have strived to develop, and I believe it’s an asset. I don’t believe that it’s something everyone in the world absolutely must cultivate, and I don’t believe that I’m any better than anyone who hasn’t done so; we all have different strengths and bring different things to the table. And yes, of course, my personal boundaries may differ from those of others… that’s the point: we all find what works for us and conduct ourselves in accordance with our own individual capacity. However, in the case of anyone in my life whom I might take into “consideration,” I would hope that – while, of course, they would look out for me if they saw me start to be negatively impacted by someone else’s problems – they would also recognize and accept and appreciate that attribute of compassion and acceptance in me… even if it was just in the form of an eye roll and a declaration that, “Wow, Couple B is too much; I don’t know how you put up with them… but I love that about you. That’s such a beautiful quality in you.” Because there isn’t a whole lot that I naturally notice and appreciate about myself, so it’s nice to hear that acknowledgement every now and then. In fact, I’m not even sure what it was this time around that helped me to stop and think about it and recognize this trait as a positive one in myself rather than immediately going into internalized criticism mode (particularly since it was a criticism from someone whose opinion I value)… but whatever it was, I’m beyond grateful that I’ve somehow managed to go against the grain and accept myself this time around. That is something I believe everyone in the world absolutely must cultivate: meet others where they are, but don’t forget yourself. Don’t ever forget to recognize and appreciate your own innate goodness and attributes, and to give yourself due credit for them. After all – to paraphrase a Buddha quote – you yourself deserve your love and acceptance just as much as anyone else.

© Kristin Despina for Acceptance Revolution, 2012