A Retrospective

Will you join me in a walk down memory lane? It has now been almost a year since we last updated, but some posts live on. Here is a countdown of the posts which continue to get the most views.

5. 4 Reasons Why, Actually, You Cannot Touch My Hair

Published June 12, 2013

Last week an art exhibit opened in NYC called “You Can Touch My Hair.” It featured three black women, all with different hair styles, standing in Union Station with signs featuring those same words. It was not intended to be the start of a hair touching movement, but a social experiment to explore the widespread tactile fascination with black women’s hair. This exhibit has opened up a floodgate of controversy, debate, and counter-exhibits.

But this isn’t about the exhibit. This is about why, although you were perfectly welcome to touch those three women’s hair last week, you cannot touch mine.

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4. Take the Red Pill: The Truth Behind the Biology of Sex

Published April 8, 2014

Morpheus offers the pills in the MatrixThis is the first part of a series about the complex biological realities of sex. Though the posts build on one another, each can be understood alone.

Content note: this post contains images and language that may not be safe for work.

1. Introduction

I first learned about the social construction of sex from a lovely trans woman named Kiki.

She said, “You may have heard before that gender is socially constructed, while sex is biological. But I’m here to tell you that what you’ve heard isn’t true. Sex is socially constructed too. So are you ready for the truth? Are you going to take the red pill or the blue pill?”

Three years later, I was diagnosed by my gynecologist with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which means that my body produces hormones intermediate between “typical men” and “typical women.” What I learned from Kiki gave me context in which to understand what this meant about my body and who I am. But it’s still very hard for me to talk about. My hormones affect me in ways that are hard to see, so even most of my lovers don’t know. I can count the number of people in my personal life who know this about me on my two hands.

I picked the red pill. If you read on, you can take the red pill too.

The problem with calling sex “biological” is that biology is complicated. Hardly anything in biology fits into two neat categories like “male” and “female.” To give you an idea of how complicated sexual development really is, let’s go to the very beginning. How do sexual characteristics develop in a human embryo?

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3. How to be a good cis lover to your trans partner

Published July 23, 2014

This post contains text below the jump that may not be safe for work.

For the most part, dating a transgender person is no different from dating a cisgender person (someone who identifies with the gender assigned to them at birth). But if you are a cis person dating a trans person, there are some things you should keep in mind that may not have come up in your previous relationships with other cis people.

I am a polyamorous queer cisgender woman, and nearly half of all the lovers I’ve had have been transgender. I take this as a compliment: like everyone I make mistakes, but I figure I’m doing something right if so many trans* people have chosen to welcome me into their hearts. Keeping in mind that I’ve by no means covered every topic, here’s what I’ve learned about being a good cis partner to trans people I date.

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2. Open letter to a loved one in an abusive relationship

Published May 31, 2013

"Tree Heart" by ~The-Dancing-Queen on DeviantArt

Dear loved one,

This is a letter for you, the person in our lives who is in an abusive relationship. You are our sister and our brother, the girl we went to college with, the friend with whom we went on that epic road trip, our coworker, our parent, our past self, our future child. The abuse you’re living though may be emotional, sexual, or physical. You abuser may be a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, parent, friend, or some other relationship to you. Maybe you’ve spoken with us about your abuse, maybe you’re not yet comfortable sharing it, or maybe you’re not even comfortable labeling the treatment you endure with the “A” word. This letter is to you, the one we love who is enduring abusive behavior.

There are some things we want you to know, and the first, the most important, is this:

You are loved.

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1. Dark Girl Nude: The Spring 2014 Guide

Published April 22, 2014

[I choose to believe this is not an accident of search terms, but that there are simply this many people seeking racially diverse fashion options. I invite you to join me in this belief.]

“They disappear like magic and become a fluid extension of her legs, as in a sketch, elongating the silhouette.”

– Christian Louboutin, shoe god

The nude shoe. It’s a shoe in  a color that comes as close as possible to blending in with your skin tone, and it’s been a hot trend for so many years that the fashion world is saying it’s a classic here to stay. From the castles of Great Britain to the streets of America , you can walk or click into virtually any shoe store and find a pair that works for you- unless you are a darker person of color.

For at least four seasons now, lighter skinned people have had easy access to an overwhelming selection of shoes in colors specifically designed to neutrally complement their skin, and they can often find such shoes in the section named “nude.” The same can’t be said for people who look like me, which has consistently frustrated my shoe shopping endeavors. The trend of labeling one color group “nude”, as if nude is not a relative color, also frustrates my brain- “nude” literally means “naked” or “skin colored” so applying it only to light beige-ish colors implies that the color of my skin isn’t actually a normal skin color. This just one of example the normalization of white skin across the fashion and personal care industries (and even the coloring crayon industry- the Crayola color we now know as “peach” used to be named “flesh.”) It also exemplifies the erasure of people of color (and black women in particular) even though we make up over one third of America’s consumer base.

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A Thoughtful Response to: “I Am Reminded I Am a Woman When I Learn to Be Silent”

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Shortly after the New Year, I read a post by a young woman of what it means to be a woman in a world of discrimination and indoctrination. The post, “I Am Reminded I Am a Woman When I Learn to Be Silent,” by Laura Jensen, is a powerful sentiment that I have seen reflected in many forms of media. The piece hit me in many ways that were both unexpected and obvious. It made me sad, reminding me of all the times catcalling had occurred to me. It made me angry and oddly comforted that this writer did what I did when presented with a situation in which I may be harassed; I attempted to hide in plain sight, downplay my identity and wish for invisibility. The plight of women is real. So is discrimination. Women, as well as, many identities of humans in all societies feel the weight of otherness placed on them by the dominant society. My initial take-away from this piece was that it was a straightforward post that needed no other evidence to support it. Women feel othered, littled, harassed and disrespected; it is an unpleasant, universal reality.

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A week later, reminiscent of the author’s own decision to revisit her own initial response to the question of whether she thought often of her identity as a woman, I thought again about what feelings this piece evoked in me. There are other truths that the statements silence. While a majority of the time I may avoid a construction zone because I fear harassment, there are other times when I don’t. I asked myself the questions: Why didn’t I? Why should I?

This post is a thoughtful and reflexive response and an answer to those questions. I am very grateful to the author’s post and how it inspired me to think beyond. This blog post will first quote the original piece, followed by my own interpretation in bold.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-jensen/on-silence-or-what-ive-le_b_8856858.html

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Self-Care

This morning I saw this image, which concisely sums up something I’ve been thinking about for a while, now: self care isn’t just about self-indulgence.

I’m as aware as anyone that capitalist America isn’t nice to its residents, and that a lot of us, myself very much included, need a reminder that it is absolutely ok to comfort yourself however you need comforting. But I think there’s something that gets lost in most discussions of self care.

Options.

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Langston Hughes wrote the perfect response to Donald Trump 80 years ago

Donald Trump has been a source of vile political messages since he began his campaign for president of the U.S. Among countless other offenses, he has called migrants from Mexico rapists, refugees from Syria terrorists, and called for a national registry for all followers of Islam. He has done all this under the campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” which is exactly the sort of nationalistic bullshit those of us who grew up in the Bush years have come to expect our oppressive politics to come wrapped in (USA Patriot Act, anyone?).

The problem is that Trump and his supporters are using a definition of “great” that is exactly the opposite if you’re not a native-born, white, straight, cis, English-speaking man. Their definition of “great” includes a nostalgia for a monopoly of power many people have worked very hard to dismantle. Their idea of the American Dream is our nightmare.

As many have observed, “Make America Great Again” is a racist dog whistle for “Make America White Again”- it is, literally, a patriotic hat on a selfish, oppressive hack.

But not only does such a slogan lack subtlety; it also lacks originality. In fact, Langston Hughes wrote the perfect response to it in his 1935 poem, “Let America Be America Again.”

It begins much like Trump’s slogan, with an exhortation for our country to return to some mythical past, full of lip service to “freedom” and “dreams,” images of pioneers and criticism of tyranny.

But beginning as a whisper, a parenthetical aside, the people left out of that myth speak up, and slowly insert themselves into the narrative. “America never was America to me,” they insist. Given a chance to speak, they weave a story of the greatness they envision for America, a truly inclusive greatness.

I’ve copied the poem in full below, because every American deserves to read it, and read it repeatedly. The next time you hear someone say, “Make America Great Again,” tell them “America never was America to me.”

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Invest in the world you believe in

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This is a guest post by Emma Buck.

These are dark times. The refugee crisis in Europe and the attacks in Paris and Beirut sent a shock throughout the world, where before, some U.S. Americans may have been challenged to find Syria on a map, now key players in Syria and the diaspora have become household names in the United States and around the internet- from the Assad regime, the dictator being overthrown in Syria, to the island of Lesvos, a small vacation Greek island being rocked by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees by boat. So, you know there’s a war going on in Syria and a refugee crisis as a result, and you want to do something about it? I have three organisations that I wish to highlight and link to ways to supporting them, because they are doing some of the best work on the ground here, because they need your support in continuing to do it, and because they bring me hope that light can emerge out of this darkness.

I’m in Southern Turkey living with displaced Syrian revolutionary activists, volunteering and collaborating with many local organisations that have sprung up in this crisis. Amidst the many challenges they must face and I struggle to even comprehend, I have found my hope in meeting the ordinary people, mostly women, who are confronting impossible problems, starting as grassroots activists and formalizing into organizations and, really, changing the world. These people work in and around Syria, every day, where and when everyone else fails. If you believe in a world where ordinary people help each other in need, where refugees are welcome and peace can be built from the ground up, here’s where to send your money and support. Invest in the world you believe in. If you’re thinking about where to give before the end of the year, please consider supporting them. If you are not able to financially support them, please consider learning more about them and sharing this post on your Facebook or other social media.

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SAWA

In Lebanon, where Syrian refugees make up 1 in every 4 people, SAWA for Development and Aid was one of the first organizations on the ground in 2011 when Syrian refugees first started coming in. They were “founded in reaction to the dire gap of fulfilling the needs for Syrian refugees in Lebanon”- such gaps include, for instance, when weather conditions in winter get bad enough, the NGOs managing the camps abandon them to their fates. Really. SAWA are holding a supply drive called #beforethestorm, and every cent donated goes to coats, heating supplies, and shelter for refugees in Bekaa. Donate below, $10 buys a winter kit for a child, $25 buys blankets, and more can go towards tents, firewood, and more.

https://www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/before-the-storm-winter-drive

Starfish

In Greece, where Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan and other refugees arrive by rubber dinghy on the vacation island of Lesvos, the formidable local restaurant owner Melinda McRostie had to do something to help the wet and desperate people arriving by the hundreds every day (read more about them here: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/10/captain-table-restaurant-helping-refugees-151012133022206.html). Her organization, Starfish, until recently only an informal yet highly organized group of volunteers and now a Greece-based nonprofit, has since it begun helped shelter, feed and house more than 90,000 refugees, and counting. These were the folks I volunteered with back in October, and I cannot stress enough how much Starfish is holding up that side of the island, connecting refugees, locals, volunteers and the UN to get the job done. Just 1.60 euros buys a meal for a tired refugee. More info here, including links to the paypal donation page:

http://www.asterias-starfish.org/en/donate/

Centre for Civil Society and Democracy

All throughout Syria (Da’esh, Liberated Areas, Rojava, Regime-held areas, and the diaspora), multiple networks of over 25 peace circles led by Syrian women are negotiating ceasefires, opening schools in besieged areas, advocating for political prisoners, bringing together ethnic and religious communities to reduce tension, and so much more. These women are remarkable, sowing the seeds of peace amidst such a terrible war, and their stories need to be told. There are links to donate and also other ways to support below for their parent organization the Centre for Civil Society and Democracy- just put WFFS in the memo line. Added bonus, if you’re looking for donations to ease your tax burden, CCSD is also registered as a 501(c)3 in the United States, so can count towards your charitable donations. See below:

http://ccsdsyria.org/donate-2/

Will you make a donation to one of these organizations? They are doing urgent, important work, and they need our support. Sometimes, what makes the world brighter is also what makes it easier to bear the darkness: taking action to make it better.

Happy New Year, everyone. May it be a peaceful and just 2016.

Partner Privilege

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It’s the holidays, and once again, Facebook and Instagram feeds throughout the land are bedazzled with photos of happy couples, a ring conspicuously featured on one of their hands. A clever caption that might as well (but doesn’t actually) say “We’re engaged!” floats nearby or inside the photo itself, while a gazillion “likes” and congratulatory comments trail at the bottom.

engagement i said yes

You want to feel happy for them. And you probably do! But happiness isn’t always the only emotion present –especially if you are single. Yes, my single compatriots, you feel joy in the celebration of your friends’ love, yet you also feel jealous. And then you feel bad about yourself for feeling jealous.

And perhaps you aren’t even jealous of them and their engagement, but of the social status that goes along with it. The engagement announcement carries with it a strange sense of failure, and perhaps the shame of Why do I not have a partner?

If this sounds familiar, congratulations.  You have stumbled upon one of the many manifestations of Partner Privilege, the invisible force in society that rewards people for being in committed romantic relationships, and shames those who are not. Continue reading

The Power of Memes

Today’s post is on the importance of memes in the fight to keep your sanity while arguing about Things That Matter.  Although memes undeniably shorten and sometimes oversimplify arguments, the reality is that most conversations, discussions, or verbal holiday brawls with family over Things That Matter do not take place in 1,500 word blog posts. When you’re at the dinner table and someone says something offensive and damaging about Syrian refugees, “the gays,” and who all else, you don’t have the option of saying:

“Hang on just one minute while I boot up my computer.  Then I will make you read an essay, and you shall know EXACTLY how wrong you truly are!”

Well if you do try it, let me know how it turns out.  Also, please film.

Anyway, memes are useful because they are a useful way of remembering short things that other people have put a surprising amount of thought into making both A) short, B) memorable, and in our case, C) on point.  C is of course important because memes about lolcats aren’t going to help you convince Uncle Joe that no, Syrian refugees are not seeking entry to the U.S. simply for the purpose of killing us all.  On the other hand, a well-timed quote from a well-crafted meme can help you feel prepared and keep your head when conversations turn intense.

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“What if I have it?”: Five Ways You Might Be Contributing to HIV Stigma

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In my personal and professional life as a sex educator, I’ve talked to a lot of people about HIV testing. With those that refuse to test, I have the following conversation all too frequently:

“Have you thought about getting tested for HIV?”
“No! I mean, what if I have it?

When I first started out, I didn’t understand it. Looking back, I can see where newbie me had it wrong: when people ask, “what if I have it?” they’re not just asking for a clinical account of their treatment trajectory or their life expectancy. Rather, they want to know how to deal with everything that goes along with being labeled a “person living with HIV (PLWHA).” 

As the gut-wrenching panic of the early AIDS crisis fades into distant memory, more and more people can expect to live long lives with HIV. Unfortunately, that also means living with the stigma of being “HIV positive.” HIV-related stigma isn’t a mere inconvenience, it is a persistent obstacle to progress in the HIV epidemic. It results in new infections, keeps people from accessing treatment, and it makes people sicker.

Here are five of the more common stigmatizing beliefs about HIV that I hear on a daily basis. Have you caught yourself or someone you know sharing them?  Continue reading

An Attack By Any Other Face is Terrorism

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Five Black Lives Matter protesters were shot last night.

They were shot approximately one block from Minneapolis’ 4th Police District Headquarters, where they were exercising their constitutional rights to assembly and free speech to demand justice for the extrajudicial killing of unarmed, 24-year-old Jamar Clark. They were shot by white supremacists who quickly escalated from online plotting of confrontations with BLM protesters to taunting protesters in person to opening fire, and yet police are still not sure whether or not to call it a “hate crime.” Let’s be frank — this wasn’t a hate crime, it was terrorism.

Even scarier is that it’s having  its intended effect. Continue reading

Refugees and Feminism

After the Paris terrorist attacks, a plethora of US state governors came out against welcoming refugees to their state. This sort of xenophobic isolationism is nothing new, but it is incredibly dangerous. The ability of people displaced by conflict to find safe passage to a safe destination is a moral imperative, and, what’s more, it’s a feminist issue.

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