Letter to My Teenage Self

I’m not the woman you thought you’d be at this age, for better and for worse. I’ve learned some things you don’t know that I wish you always had.

Right now you think girls are drama. You think hanging out with boys is safer, because you don’t know how to be when you’re with girls.  Part of this discomfort comes from you being a lesbian but not being ready to say so. Between your family and church,  I understand why you’re not ready. Some day you will be, and by then Mom will be ready to hear it.

I wanna warn you about boys though. They have some issues we need to discuss.  As boys they’ve been taught that they matter. They are the heroes of the story and the girls are just their trophies. 

They say you’re “one of the guys” but they don’t really mean it. They will always treat you differently,  always try to date or fuck you.

One of the guys you call your brothers in your Shadow Run group is going to try to rape you. He won’t succeed but the experience will harm you anyway. You won’t be able to see him without dissolving into panic but you will have to see him, because the other boys won’t stop being his friend even when you tell them the truth.

You need girl friends and girlfriends. Hiding from femininity won’t keep you safe from men. But having a strong network of supportive, empowering, “man-hating” women friends will help you escape the problems of boys and men, make you rely on them less, and help you believe you deserve better.

You are like all the other girls and that’s a good thing.

Stalked

My ex-boyfriend is stalking me. He’s telling lies about me and even going so far as to claim that he has parental rights to my child.

I’ve blocked him on social media but he keeps sending emails.  The constant quick tone changes in them is just like he was in fights – calling me a bitch one moment, denying it happened the next, then abruptly changing to a calm tone after reducing me to tears, so that he could pretend to be reasonable and use my emotions against me.

Each time I see an email from him, I panic. My stomach turns and it often makes me literally sick. My heart races and I’m terrified.  I just want to be left alone.

It’s damn near impossible to write after that, to go on with my day like I’m fine and not actually afraid he’s found out where we live now. So after months of consideration and waiting for him to back off, I recognize it’s not going to happen without legal enforcement. 

See my ex isn’t afraid of me. He feels safe contacting me over and over and over again no matter how many times I beg him to stop. He’s bigger and stronger and  can yell louder and he knows it. He will never be afraid of me the way I’m afraid of him.

Remembering My Grandmother

My Giggy was nearly magical.  She was quick and funny and had a knack for writing songs on the spot. She could hear you saying you were gonna “lay down” for a nap from across the house and she’d appear in the doorway to remind you “Lie for recline, lay for place.”

She would give us Bible verse pop quizzes and pay is in change for right answers. She loved Shakespeare almost as much as St. Paul. She remembered songs she hadn’t heard in twenty years.

She could cook and sew, not wonderfully but adequately.  But for breakfast in the mornings she’d make us warm toast drenched in butter, topped with either honey or cinnamon-sugar. She made the cornbread that I compare all other cornbread to.

She had the best stories and she knew just when to tell them.  She had a Southern storytelling style she learned from her daddy and his high school mischief tales are still being told by me today.

She would make whirlpools in the backyard swimming pool and she could lift and throw us children in the water even as we grew older and heavier. She was a voracious reader and she taught me how to recite poetry with pathos.

She was all these things while being a cult leader and a killer and a terribly neglectful mother.

I think the world wants easy villains because sharp, funny little old ladies from the South who make cornbread don’t fit expectations.  We’re taught to hate violent abusers and love women like my grandma and the fact that she was both gets lost.

She was a thousand virtuous and villainous traits constrained in one body. Just like I am. 

Gay Marriage and Everything Else

Gay marriage is not the civil rights fight of our generation.  Gay marriage is neither the totality of queer rights nor marriage equality concerns. Should it be legal?  Of course. But this battle is not the war. 

If we have marriage rights but trans women of color are still murdered, we won’t be done.  If we have marriage right, but homelessness is endemic among queer youth, we won’t be done.  If we have marriage rights  but no employee discrimination protection for trans workers, we won’t be done.  When we have marriage rights but not amnesty for persecuted LGBT foreigners,  we won’t be done. 

And when we have same-sex marriage,  don’t mistake that for marriage equality.  Two disabled adults on disability risk having their benefits cut to below survival levels if they marry. And disabled adults with adult guardianship can be denied the right to marry entirely. 

We are not done. Same-sex marriage is a good thing to have happen but it’s not the end all and we are not done yet.

US Pregnancy Statistics

Half of all pregnancies in the US are unplanned.  Of those, half are aborted and half are carried to term. Of the women choosing abortion, seven in ten are poor or impoverished. 

Over ninety percent of US women will use birth control in their lives, but many will struggle to have continuous access.

Mothers in the US are not entitled to maternity leave, may be fired for pregnancy,  and have worse maternal and infant health outcomes following birth than in any other developed country. These outcomes break down across race so that a black mother giving birth in the US is three to four times more likely to die from the ordeal than a white mother.

Mothers in the US are not entitled to quality healthcare during their pregnancies. If they are uninsured and don’t qualify for Medicaid or similar programs,  the medical bills associated with labor and delivery can destroy credit and savings potential for years.

Motherhood should always be a choice, but especially so when it comes with so many socially imposed burdens and obstacles. Being a mother in the US is a difficult lifelong commitment with the potential to impoverish. It should never be forced or required.

Source: Guttmacher Institute,  NARAL Pro Choice, American Pregnancy Association, American College of Gynecologists

Content note for discussion of eating disorders and associated behaviors.

By eleven I’d learned to be disgusted by foods I perceived as too high calorie. Vanilla ice cream was just bleached lard to my mind, and it was easy to not want bleached lard.

If I’d never been surrounded by a culture that shames and mocks fat bodies, fear of fatness would not have consumed me. I wonder what might have instead. Would I have engaged more in my studies, exercised for the joy of movement,  or simply been more attentive to the rest of my life?

I think of the wasted potential of my eleven year old self, squandered on worry over weight and never feeling safe enough to simply relax and be in my body. And I think of the all the other people who waste time and energy and self-respect on this cultural obsession with thinness.

I’ve never been fat, never been overweight.  But I have feared fatness for more than two-thirds of my life because I could tell how fatness and fat people were regarded.

Depression

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I’m battling depression right now, so here we go. 

Depression makes it hard to think, speak, write, breathe. Depression makes it hard to be.

Depression robs your joy and makes it inaccessible. You can go out with friends and do pleasant things and still feel so empty inside you wonder how no one else can hear the howl of the abyss.

Depression saps your motivation. It makes every task seem insurmountable and nothing worthwhile.

Depression can become so familiar, it feels like the only constant in your life. Depression can whisper to you that it’s the real, authentic you and a medicated version that could access happiness would be the true fake.

Depression muddles your memory and makes it hard to remember happy times, and even harder to remember how happiness felt.

Depression is a disability. Even with therapy and medication and a strong support network, it can knock you flat on your ass. You will need support. You will not accommodation.

Depression is not the opposite of optimism, but it can make hope impossible to hold onto.

And yet, we prevail. We go on. We fight to live another day. I don’t know how or why or what makes so many of us with depression choose to keep going when it is so hard and often so hopeless. I do know that I’m glad of my choice and I want to keep making it.