I Hate Most of You, But I Still Wouldn’t Let Trump Kill You

Writing

Let me explain something to you, to all of you on the left. I hate the vast majority of you. I think your ideologies are stupid and that half the time you are acting as the oppressor. Every single leftist connected group and organization has does something actively horrible and oppressive, personally, to me over the last 28 years. But if Trump tries to oppress you, I still consider it my responsibility to try to stop it the best I can, because that’s what a real leader does.

I ain’t Mexican but if Trump comes for Mexican people I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit back and let him come for the Mexican people I love, and if you don’t have anyone who fits that demographic that you love, maybe you are the problem.

I ain’t queer but if Trump comes for queer people, I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit back and let him come for the queer people that I love and if  you don’t feel that way about people you claim to love, maybe you are part of the problem.

I ain’t black but if Trump comes for black people, I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit back and let him do that shit on my watch without any opposition. You don’t come for people I love without my fighting like hell for you.

I have people I love in every marginalized group in the leftist coalition and I have since I was a kid and we fucking look out for each other. He comes for one of us, he comes for all of us.

But even if I didn’t have people that I loved in these categories, even if I hadn’t experienced poverty and gender violence and oppression firsthand, I would still fight anyone who would seek to hurt other human beings because that is the right thing to do. It is just the right thing to do. Everything I have ever done in social justice has been for someone else. I did not benefit in any tangible way from starting FLIP. I alienated myself socially, professionally, and personally defending the marginalized. I have a list of actual physical beatings I have taken for other people and injuries I’ve endured defending the defenseless. I did this stuff while I was homeless, while I was sick, while I was myself being tortured and abused. I don’t do any of this shit for me or what I can get out of it and I sure as fuck don’t do it for my mental health. This is service, if you aren’t willing to do it, that’s fine. This isn’t for everyone and I respect that, but if you call yourself a leader then the first thing you need to learn is that it isn’t about you. If your work costs you nothing, I doubt it is as subversive as you think it is.

 

I don’t stand in solidarity with specific groups or ideologies. I don’t have particularly strong affinities for any of your parties or for the work that most of the left does. I’ve never had a home on the left, and the left has done almost as much to oppress me as the conservatives. I do my work in solidarity with the people and the children. If you can’t handle doing that, it’s not something I would brag about and it certainly isn’t a legitimate policy position for a movement to have.

 

And before you lecture me about self care, I don’t want to hear it. I’ve been going through a hell that none of you can even imagine over the last month and I have still managed to be strategic and thoughtful in my organizing. Let me tell you about some memories that I’ve been battling over the last month and half since Trump has been elected and you guys have been whining about the mourning you still have to while giving a fascist advanced warning of terrorist acts that you half-assedly planned. I’ll name just three, but there are more. 1) It turns out that my family has tried to kill me on four separate occasions all occurring before the age of 13, two of which happened when I was an infant. 2) When I was 9, I was so violently raped by my father as punishment for resisting his advances that I needed 6 stitches in my vagina. My own mother helped him cover it up. 3) I was trafficked as a child more than once , at least as early as 8.

I’ve been spending the last month and half processing all of that while listening you guys whine and complain and give privilege lectures, and you guys can’t even be bothered to properly plan things so that you don’t screw over the working class with your bullshit. So look, if you don’t want to stand in solidarity with all childhood trafficking victims, and everyone who has gone hungry and anyone who might be the target of state repression, then fine. Now you are corroborating with the oppression of others. And if you are doing that, frankly, I’m not terribly interested in your help or your opinion about anything.

Don’t you think it works to Trump’s interest if we are constantly doing this to each other? They are planning for us to do this and you are playing right into their hands. Divide and conquer is a very old strategy indeed. But you guys aren’t actually interested in doing anything to stop him are you? Because you live in a magical land where the consequences never affect you and where the working class will take all of the bullets for you anyway. You’ve lived there for so long that you can’t even properly plan basic safety tips for a protest during a Republican administration. We don’t need more “leaders” who put their own needs first. We don’t need more “leaders” who expect other people to act as their cannon fodder or pawns. That is not good leadership, that is childish. This is service. You are here to serve. If you are not here to serve then WE DON’T NEED YOU. You are no good to us until you get the ability to make decisions that will put other people’s needs first. Social justice is not a brand. It is not a t-shirt you put on or something you wear when it is convenient. Social justice is about liberating the actual people who aren’t free yet, and if you have the luxury to say, “I won’t be disciplined and thoughtful enough to do what is needed to free the most people that I can” or “I won’t be adult enough to put aside my own feelings for the good of others in the name of liberation” then I don’t know what form of imprisonment you’ve experienced but it was very different from the one I experienced.

When you are hungry, there is no room for error.

When they can and do torture you, there is no room for error.

When the consequence is death, there is no room for error.

When rape is a form of punishment, there is no room for error.

You sure as fuck don’t make mistakes because you are too lazy to plan if it means someone is going to kill you, what is even more monstrous is to make these mistakes on someone else’s behalf when the consequences don’t affect you. Do you know what it is like to be threatened with someone else’s pain and to offer to take the beating instead? I do.

My bottom line is this:  all this theoretical bullshit was fine when it was on your college campuses and no one was getting hurt. But if you become a reason that people might get hurt, even if it’s because you are incompetent instead of just straight evil, then you are right that we aren’t in solidarity with each other. Because I consider you part of the problem and you can either get your shit together or else you can find out just how fiercely I fight on behalf of the oppressed.

Here’s something I know about all of you, you hit like a bitch.

 

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Some Coping Mechanisms in the Dark

Writing
I’m seeing a lot of posts that make me…. a bit worried about everyone’s ability to cope with what lies in front of us.
If Hilary Clinton had been elected, we still would have had LOTS of work to do. The process of fighting oppression is a lifelong struggle you can’t expect will end. We need to be playing the long game and we need to be able to cope and function under more severe repression and oppression. Because none of these systems are going away in our lifetime. Oppression is much older than us and it will be here long after we’ve turned to dust.
I KNOW everyone is tired. I am too, I’ve never NOT been tired in my life. And its legitimate, I really wish and will put my own life on the line to give people the kind of world where we don’t have to do this stuff, but we don’t live in that world and we never have and now things are about to get much worse.
I’ve endured horrifying conditions in my life. I was starved, beaten and raped as a child and abused throughout my life. I was silenced, beaten down and unsupported after my childhood by the elites. I have had to sustain some coping mechanisms to come out of that functional. I’m not telling you how to feel but I hope I can help make this easier to cope with. Here are some tools I used to cope in the face of evil.
1) I try to find joy in the darkness, so I look for beauty in human beings and art and comedy. I try to laugh constantly.
2) I do the things I CAN do to fight what I can. I don’t expect to win every time, but the fact that I am moving towards a tangible goal makes it easier and over time is how the world gets better.
3) I remember that I come from a long line of sufferers who have continued to pass on beauty despite suffering. We all stand here on the backs of people who endured despite the odds. Existence is an insane and beautiful miracle. I often turn to science, nature and good humans to be reminded of that.
4) I try to turn my emotions into actions. Anger is useful and good, if it propels us to challenge the system, but only if we address that anger effectively and constructively.
5) I continuously try to create; for agency, so that I can make beauty when its hard to see it, and so that I feel I am contributing.
6) I reach out to my community and try to build bridges so that there are support networks.
7) I study history so I can understand the long game and my role in it
8) I accept responsibility for changing the world, even in small ways through my actions.
9) I approach this work with a an ethos of love. Now, we have a misunderstanding about the ethos of love. Real love isn’t about being comfortable or not being challenged, real love is about relentlessly believing in the good of others even when they can’t see it for themselves, it also means working towards continual growth.
10) I am constantly trying to draw strength from the amazingness of those around me and when I can, I try to lift others up.

PSA: Hook Up Culture, Not Actually Mandatory

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Ah hook up culture, the bane of my millennial existence. I’m still friends with a number of my former students, because some genius thought it was a good idea for me to be teaching kids 5 years younger than me. It was, because I’ve gotten the immediate satisfaction of watching them become incredibly cool adults. Most of them are more adult-y than I am, but I’m pretty sure that this is just my personality and we’ll be continuing to use that excuse until I’m 80 and we start using senility as an excuse for what has been a very consistent pattern of behavior. In any case, I have the pleasure of being near enough to their age to get what they are dealing with but far enough to have made and seen enough mistakes to warn them. Not a single discussion has gone by this year that wasn’t about how much they hate hook up culture and how much they wish they didn’t have to participate in it.

 

I never managed to successfully hook up with people when I was single, it all inadvertently became a relationship, so I actually told my friends I was no longer hooking up with people to avoid relationships, which is a level of commitment phobia that made even my most player-y male friends disturbed. So I can approach this from their perspective and I still get to say that it sucks. The thing is, as a commitment-phobe and sexual abuse survivor, hook up culture made it possible for me to be very casual about two things that none of us are actually successfully casual about. I realized, very, very recently, that I had engaged in most of my consensual sexual activities while disassociating because it was the way I brought myself to being able to let people I didn’t particularly trust or like touch me. That and lots and lots of alcohol. So you say sexual abuse survivor and you expect that, but this is a lot more common than we think it is. I have lots of friends with very happy childhoods who report the same experience. So I decided the healthier thing was not to do it anymore, the hook up thing, I mean. So I stopped.

 

When I was coming of age, this behavior was supposed to be both enlightening and liberating. Finally, women could fuck people they didn’t know or like too! HOORAY FEMINISM! Or something. I’m not really sure, I just know that it was very much part of the cultural expectations. And it’s not because dudes are assholes, because ultimately they’ll try to get away with having sex with the lowest level of commitment possible if they can. The reason for this is many, but one of the big ones that tends to get overlooked is that we get married much, much later than we used to. We have about a decade or more (pending on when you started having sex) where getting into a serious relationship IS A VERY BAD IDEA but we are still human and want to get laid. Most dudes don’t want to do the hook up thing forever, just until they reach an age where they are comfortable with a relationship that might lead to marriage. For college-educated folks, this age generally starts around 26, 27. Which means that in the interim, we all have to find a way to satisfy basic cuddling needs without accidently getting serious with anyone before the socially sensible time. It also means, that a lot of us don’t date the people we could see as a marriage material until we are at this age. Which has led to a lot of confusion for a lot of really wonderful people that I know. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, these are sensible, thoughtful decisions so long as the hook up thing doesn’t bother you, but if you have feelings and don’t drink, my guess is that it’s hard to be intimate with strangers you don’t like. I mean, I just don’t have that level of self-control.

 

One of my former students felt so much pressure that she asked me if it was ok for her not to have one-night stands. That’s right, folks, I had a beautiful, intelligent, well educated, professional young woman ask me if it was ok if she didn’t do something that felt right for her body because the culture is so pervasive and powerful that is not socially acceptable for her not to. So I just wanted to be the adult in the room that said this: No, you don’t have to do anything that doesn’t nourish you. And any guy that isn’t willing to wait to have sex with you until you are comfortable and trust him doesn’t deserve to be having sex with you at all. If hooking up with people makes you empowered and happy, I say go for it! That’s awesome! I support you! YAY SEX! But what is empowering to one person isn’t empowering for others.

 

Millennials are very confused about relationships. We grew up in the aftermath of divorce becoming commonplace and the in the shadow of the sexual revolution. We now have to negotiate a world that has fewer and more nebulous rules. But there is one rule we can all agree to, no one gets to tell you what to do with your body and sexuality. If it makes you feel more empowered and comfortable telling dudes you aren’t sleeping with them until they make feel safe, however long that is, then do that.

 

I’d apologize to my still single male friends for spreading the word around, but they’ll have to admit first that they’ve complained about this culture to me too and that at the end of the day, they want the girls they are sleeping with to be happy and comfortable too. I’m not sure what to do about the “still need to get laid” problem, but I think we can start by being honest with each other and ourselves.

The Things that Set Us Free: Reflections on Opposition to my Cross-Class Relationship

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When I was 22, in the careless days of my mostly drunken youth, I was coming out of relationship with someone, who for a variety of reasons, wasn’t terribly cool about my class background. Which had grown to be pretty standard operating procedure; I had grown to expect my best-case scenario to not be treated like nuclear waste. The words “damaged goods” had been used more than onceThings had gotten so bad that I was mostly just grateful when they managed to make it through a half an hour without saying anything terribly offensive. And if they laughed? I was so starved for the way love is expressed through laugher that I fell in love with just about anyone who laughed before they expressed horror. This experience and four years of frustrating battles with my peers and staff at Stanford had turned me into a cynical, angry, radical pain in the ass. After ending a relationship with one of the most stereotypical privileged white male social justice dudes (hereafter known as PWD) you’ve ever met, after having him spit venom at my sister and refuse to come with me to funerals when I needed him, and of him crying about how hard his life was, while I was just trying to keep my students and myself alive, I said something stupid which now has come back to get its karmic retribution. I said I wasn’t going to date privileged men anymore. At first I was joking, then I started saying it out of spite so that I could horrify my female peers, then I became deadly serious. Those of you who have followed my blog the last several years will remember this as the relationship I had to flee from last year.

 

There were a lot of reasons why PWD didn’t work out when I was younger, and one of them was that our class backgrounds were so vastly different and he was deeply disturbed by mine. This is probably normal; hanging out with me is like having to deal with cognitive dissonance whiplash all day. I’m sure it was stressful and frustrating and because this person lacked empathy and context and I recognize that it was trying. I also recognize after almost two years of a relationship that made me hate myself that my banning of his “kind” was probably justified as a reaction to the fact that actually he had been incredibly causal and self-righteous about being emotionally abusive. The problem with that reaction is that it lumped a whole group of men together, that shouldn’t have been lumped together and that I, of all people, should have known better.

 

The relationship I fled from, didn’t work for a variety of reasons. We have very different approaches and attitudes towards life. It turns out that I reserve my kindness and patience for my students and seem to have a much harder time accepting and making excuses for dudes when they don’t perform like me. He didn’t want the kind of intellectual life I wanted and admittedly, it probably is pretty draining to hang out with me ALL DAY and listen to the insane variety of thoughts and reading I do and have to try to keep me intellectually entertained, especially because in my case, boredom leads to depression. Which is to say, that part of the reason our relationship didn’t work was the also the difference in our class backgrounds. We had grown up in the same neighborhood, but I was too far into being a Stanford alum for us to work. There was no way to go back once I left and I never fully belonged in the first place.

 

So I left that and I moved down to LA. I started hanging out with Ross, as friends for a long time. We had a lot conversations about what words meant because it turned out that words meant different things to us because our backgrounds were so different. But the point was that he had the conversation. We also had conversations about what words meant because we both have the intellectual habit of needing to pick apart words. My past isn’t exactly easy for me to hide (I may be white but no one believes my ass didn’t grow up poor, even when I’m trying to pass it takes the average rich person about 5 minutes to figure out I am not one of them, less if they are exceptionally smart or wise or if I’m not trying really hard to code switch) and Ross had read a lot of my writing for a long time. He read my memoir in its initial draft and I kept sort of expecting him to have the kind of breakdown guys used to have. I mean, I’m used to making dudes cry because of my childhood. So used to it in fact that I stopped talking about it, not because its triggering or unpleasant for me but mostly because it is unpleasant for everyone else. The breakdown I was expecting him to have never occurred, and I could tell you its partially because he’s technically a deviant among the rich and has always hung out with working class people or because he’s an incredibly imaginative writer but both of those don’t get at the root of it, which is that he’s just incredibly empathetic and sees people as people. And if I were still the same 22 year old shithead I once was, I probably would have seen none of it.

 

Since I had only strayed far from my own class background and only seriously once when I was much younger and no one believed there was any danger of me settling down with anyone, I sort of didn’t expect any backlash from my friends about this. I mean, for inter-racial stuff, sure. I expected that. We don’t talk about these cross-class relationships often, sometimes we talk about mixed-race relationships but given that Ross is Jewish and I’m mostly just trailor trash with some native thrown in and therefore incredibly pale, we didn’t really have the cross-race issues. Although Ross was raised Jewish and I was raised by “recovering Catholics” our actual religious and political views are very neatly aligned. Although we still have conversations about culture and I will never understand the way Ross experiences the world as a Jewish person, this rarely poses much conflict for us. But the class difference is vast, tangible and present. So when my friends started expressing their concerns about his background, they didn’t really have a choice but to frame it in terms of class.

 

Some of my friends thought Ross was doing the intellectual equivalent of “slumming it”, meaning that while he found me fascinating in an exotic way he’d eventually wisen up and end up with his own “kind” because of my inherent inferiority in his mind. In other words, they assumed that he is so classist that despite my two degrees from Stanford, he would always look upon me as inferior to the girls who were raised rich. Besides being super personally offensive to Ross, this argument, understandable though it was, eventually came to really hurt me. Because it denied the half of myself that actually shares the fact that Ross and I are both also elite graduates from the same institution. My community never lets me forget that I’m not all the way from the hood anymore. But it also hurt, because even supposing that Ross should see my class background as inferior it meant that my friends saw few redeeming qualities that another sane and not blind human being should see. Like I dunno, the fact that I’m a good cook and I give massages. Or that I’m incredibly compassionate. Or that I’m entertaining and funny. You know, the other traits that define me besides my pain and struggle. The things that have allowed me to thrive despite struggle, all those cool, wonderful things that my community claims to see are in fact visible to other people who are not from my class background.

 

Some of my male friends from working class backgrounds had more specific concerns related to a lifetime of having to compete with men like Ross. Some of them sort of viewed him as your stereotypical villain from the movies. This happened for good reasons; I have countless well educated working class male friends that have actually had girls break up with them because they had less money. This struggle is very real and I have very much fed into the perception that owed it to the community to stay away from privileged dudes. I had become a symbol in their minds, and because I had been so loudly against marrying people for money (I am still am because its immoral and a shitty way to treat people), they kind of assumed that I’d be one of the “good girls” and stay within my community. It took nearly four weeks before I realized how much I believed in my responsibility to the community and to the men I grew up with but it couldn’t change the basic fact that I fell in love. I struggled with my guilt for months, worried most of all about what message it would send to my male friends. For his part, Ross felt he couldn’t really challenge this, he said he understood how they felt because he’d feel that way too. But at the end of the day, my affection and loyalty to Ross won out. He had to fight hard for that, because for me the fact that he came from money was more of a barrier than an enticement and because I didn’t trust him. To avoid making this thing too long I’ll skip the listing of hoops he had to jump through, but suffice it to say he jumped through them, probably getting a few burns in the process because he saw enough in me to overlook how difficult this was going to be. And just so we are clear, both Ross and I understand and understood these concerns. Ross anticipated them far better than I did and sometimes had to explain them to me. These concerns are borne out of oppression and anger and a lifetime of bad experiences. They were concerns that not long ago, I too would have held. However, none of this makes it any less stupid.

 

The reason I call it stupid is because it reduces two very complex people down to a single identifying marker. It makes us our demographics and ignores the fact that although the both of us are probably compatible with literally no other person on the planet, we somehow work well for each other. We like to refer to this a “complementarily cray.” It isn’t enough that our intellects are well matched, I have lots of very smart friends, it is also that through some weird magic we happen to have very similar ways of looking at things while simultaneously making each other better people. I can feel the physical difference of his pressance, I am in less pain now than I have ever been in my life. He manages to keep my anxiety in check. We finish sentences and somehow really like living with each other when we’d be terrible roommates to anyone else (as always, a continuous apology to anyone who has ever had to live with me). And we’ve both been on the planet long enough to know how rare that is, how hard it is to find fellow mutants whose mutations happen to work in complementary and not destructive ways.

 

I can’t tell you how many times in the last year someone close to me told me that if I held a high intellect as one of the central standards in my dating life that I would die alone forever or that it was going to be really hard to find someone who would tolerate my intelligence because apparently really smart women are lepers. But again, this was understandable. This was not untrue. It was just shitty on an individual level. It had been suggested that I make more of an effort to appear stupid to attract men or that I let go of my long standing Bonnie and Clyde fantasy in the name of stability. This idea has been with me for as long as I can remember, which is to say that for as long as I have been old enough to date I have had the perception of myself as somehow untouchable because of my brain. So when an actual genius tells you that he loves that you are smarter than him and that he tells his friends you are smarter than him and demonstrates that he really means it by the respect he gives your intellect, you certainly aren’t going to just take that lightly. But I was not prepared for that actually happening in real life so sometimes I settled and sometimes I settled on being alone. I’ve been lucky because my parents have a really good marriage going back almost a decade and a half under absolutely insane conditions. The lesson I learned from my parents is that marriage is only worth it if you find someone as compatible with you as my parents are with each other. So this was a precondition for me and because everyone kept telling me this was impossible, I started making lots of jokes about ending up alone with cats. Then this dude had to come along and ruin all my fantasies about solitude.

 

The funny thing about this is that our even matched intelligence meant even matched neurosis. You know all those annoying traits I had when I was younger? The detachment? The commitment-phobia? The intentional attempts to push everyone away from me before they can hurt me? Yeah. I was SUPER FUN to date. Suddenly gives you a new perspective on it when you have to watch your own behavior reflected in someone you really love. Might mellow you out. Might make you less of a hypocrite. Might also make you more understanding and compassionate. It might also make both of you a giant pain in the others’ ass for several months. But what it’ll definitely do is grow your ass the fuck up.

 

So I’m typing this from Los Angeles because we both did some growing as people in directions that were not part of either of our plans. I’ve learned that Maya Angelou was right, love costs all that you are and ever will be and yet it is only love which will set you free.

I Know How We Lose Good People

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During my senior year, I had three deaths in the family in two months. We had two suicide attempts among my close friends. I directed and performed the precursor to Class Confessions, wrote FLIP’s constitution, participated and spoke at rallies and programs, and advocated for mental health care services for the poor on campus, all while finishing my classes with very minimal assistance from anyone. I managed to graduate on time, a feat I only accomplished because my mom begged me to do so for the benefit of the family. I was a very potent symbol, I entered Stanford and they wouldn’t even use the term low income, by the time I left FLIP (First Generation, Low Income Partnership) had changed its name from NextGen and low income was becoming part of the lexicon. I didn’t do this alone but I was very often in the position where people thanked me for speaking because they didn’t have to. This was definitely my baby in college. And it was a baby I bled for, by the time my senior year had ended my headaches were so severe I had to get weekly shots of Toradol to remain functional and I was going through an absurd amount of vicodin. I gained a great deal of weight. I did real damage to my jaw and neck. By the time the year was over, I was exhausted. I spent a summer trying to rest, only to have my community make jokes about how lazy I was. My favorite ones were bathed in sexism, instead of simply allowing me a break, they referred to me as my boyfriend’s housewife, as if a simple three months off somehow negated my work. I have many rich friends who have taken time off without this kind of pressure, and when I told them I was going to need to take last year off, they didn’t understand why it was so distressing for me. Instead of getting a year off, I had the worst year of my adult life. It was marred by homelessness, a trip in the ambulance, recovering from being wheel-chair bound, leaving an abusive relationship and applying to grad school with minimal basic resources, like the internet, while all of this was going on. In the fall after my senior year, still suffering from daily migraines, I signed back up for a martyrdom I had come to expect in my life. I’ve repeated this process over and over again since graduating.

 

The most common response to my breakdown last year was, “we had no idea, and we assumed you were ok, you are so strong.” This came from really kind, well-meaning people that I love. People pushed me back into the classroom after a traumatic injury. When I did it again, people still pushed me back. And this was well intentioned, I’ve been given a set of cognitive gifts that I didn’t earn and it makes me especially talented at certain tasks. It is awesome that people are inspired by my work and strength and I get the strong desire to have me continuing to do the work. I also was raised with the belief that my gifts are meaningless if they contribute nothing to others.

 

 

At the end of my senior year, after 4 years of activism, one of the deans asked me where I was from as if I was some sort of alien. She had heard me speak for four years but for some reason didn’t ask this question until then and obviously had failed to listen since I was forced to be incredibly open about my background or else I faced the negation of my entire existence and awkward questions about my behavior. It also would have meant less access to the already limited resources on campus since my oppression was not visible to those who don’t understand that poverty that affects white people is still systematic and brutal. She wanted to know what my “deal” was. On average, I get challenged on my origins about 3 times a week, unless I refuse to leave the house, which might be why no one ever sees me outside of my house. This part of my burden I have accepted without complaint for the last decade because I figured it was the price I paid for having the skin color we identify with privilege. I suppose it would be less exhausting to explain my origins so often if people didn’t challenge what I said to them.

 

 

“I have a multiethnic family and I grew up poor.”

“But you are white.”

 

“I care about police brutality because people in my family and community have been victims of it.”
“But you are white.”

 

“I spoke a nonstandard dialect of English when I entered Stanford”

“But you are white.”

 

I have many more examples, but you get the point. Insert this conversation for every aspect of my identity, multiply it by nearly every person who encounters me now and you have some inkling of what a normal class period or activist meeting is for me. I understand that I have white privilege, that despite my poverty, disability, history of vile oppression at the hands of authority figures and men, my white skin still matters. As a result of this understanding, I also took the responsibility for educating other people myself so my nonwhite friends didn’t have to. I know my whiteness matters. My family was the target of eugenics, and it still matters. I am so happy to do this, I’ve been fighting my whole life for other people and it feels natural to me and I’m good at it. But at some point, a nuanced discussion about the intersectionality of privilege went from the understanding that my whiteness brought privilege but that I still suffered from class oppression and gender oppression to the absolute assumption that my whiteness negates my class oppression. That, in fact, my whiteness precludes me from participating in the discussion at all. My whiteness matters, I’ve always been aware of it. But I’m not sure it matters enough to dismiss the oppression I’ve experienced. I’m not sure my white skin shielded me enough from hunger, pain, and violence that anyone has any business telling me whether or not I’m doing enough or that I don’t need liberating too.

 

A lot of things happened in Seattle. My financial aid didn’t go through like it was supposed to because of a change in funding. My disability made it nearly impossible to work, and I had very limited networks and resources. I found myself justifying my existence every day, constantly being re-triggered in a to fight for something that is deeply personal to me. If you knew me a few years ago, you’ll remember what absolute snot I was about my responsibility to the community and what I expected from others. We talk about how important it is to go back, for our most marginalized members to fight the fight continuously, and most of them accept this responsibility because we know what privilege it is for us to be in the position we are in. You know, the representatives of the marginalized among the elite. But we never talk about the cost for people who have already suffered tremendous trauma. It is a struggle I know well, but it was always part of the deal. What wasn’t part of the deal constantly had to have arguments with my fellow soldiers about whether or not that trauma happened. In the fall, I volunteered to be part of a sit-in to talk about school segregation in the west and got politely told that my whiteness made me ineligible for such a task. I got painfully bored in class, talking about things that I have long talked about. Hearing things like, “well, you’re poor so why don’t you tell us why poor people are like this.” Being a token is part of the package. But it was different when I could actually get things done and when I felt like I had a place to contribute to the overall mission.

 

I get where this anger comes from, of course. Too often in this country, programs that should have helped the poor excluded people by race. I’m often on the receiving end of co-option attempts because I fit the image and narrative that would allow people to say, “hey she did it” and I carry the guilt of that knowledge with me. Too often, pointing out the suffering of poor white people has been used as a distraction from talking about the very real problems that nonwhite people face under a system that is both classist and a result of centuries of white supremacy. Marginalized people are pitted against each other in a zero sum game and instead of coming together, hunger, violence, trauma, and anger leads to hate. So I understand that sometimes people have very legitimate concerns and responses about the way my narrative is used but I can’t change the basic facts of my existence to fit a narrative. Believe me, if I could I would.

 

The irony of all of this is the people that have given me the most support are outside of this community. In November one of them came to see me in Seattle, and if I told you his demographic information your immediate presumption would be Privileged White Male. We had spent a lot of time being close friends in LA together during my interim period between schools while I was recovering. He’s stepped in on several occasions when my family couldn’t and when I moved we realized we missed each other and sometime in the process fell in love. My friends hated him because he comes from an incredibly rich family. As they hated him, he spent a good portion of his time listening to me be miserable at graduate school, coaching me through my frustration and anger for several hours a day even when my anger was technically directed at the very people he was born into. I was so bored, I got depressed, my work starting deteriorating and for the first time I lost the motivation to fight. In November, Ross came to visit me and one of my other close friends was hired by an organization in which he would be called to represent a category he wasn’t demographically part of but had worked extensively with. To say this friend was qualified for this particular job would be an understatement. Although he was queer male of color, the organization was specifically focused on women’s issues, which is actually a topic he has researched at a graduate level. He called me to make sure taking the job was ethical.

 

After the phone call, I told Ross about it and he simply said, “You know they are going to treat him like shit, right? Like they are going to give him so much shit.”

 

Without much thought, I responded, “Yeah, of course, we know that. We don’t expect to not be treated like shit, you just hope to find a place where the shit is manageable.”
It took about three weeks for me to realize how deeply disturbing that thought was. Is liberation martyrdom? I was always ok with the martyrdom bit, but I wonder sometimes if Joan of Arc might have been less willing to burn if she had spent time having her own people tearing her down the way I’ve watched myself and some of my friends be torn down by the very community that claims to represent us. On the last day of classes, I found out the government doesn’t actually consider what I do research. That combined with the fact that my research focused on class meant an uphill and brutal battle, and it was a battle I was prepared to fight until it became clear to me that it was a battle I was going to feel like I was fighting in isolation.

 

So I guess what I’m telling you is that I burned out. I’ve been burned out for a very long time and it took a rich white dude literally rescuing me to finally get some rest. I’m hoping and praying that my motivation to fight is going to come back. I deeply wanted to run into a forest and never speak to anyone again but it’s not really an option with the Internet. Maybe someday someone will show up to my cabin and tell me I’m needed and I’ll stop baking shit long enough to hear them out. When? Roughly the same time I stop viscerally understanding why other activists kill themselves.

 

In the meantime, I’m in LA. I’m happy, I’m writing, I’m working on the design of future school projects; I’m helping former students. I’m making cinnamon rolls from scratch and sleeping for the first time in about 28 years. My headaches have drastically declined and I live with a fellow mutant who seems to be uniquely good at figuring out when I need help. So good that he flew up to Seattle, packed my things and brought me home all without anyone knowing about it except my mom.

 

Why didn’t I tell anyone? Because I knew what people would say when they found out. The few people this has leaked to haven’t disappointed on that count. Some friends have been incredibly supportive and for that, they have my eternal gratitude. My friends who have questions and concerns have legitimate questions and concerns and I feel an obligation, in my role as representative to explain my choices. So allow me to address those concerns. No, I am not going to change my mind. Yes, it is possible I will return to some PhD program, but maybe not. The following is a list of things I will do with my time: sleep, cook, clean, take care of my cat, take care of my body, finish this book, write other books, do research, make trips to the library, sit on the board of two schools, continue to support my former students, yoga, watch and make cartoons, be a good, focused supportive partner. You know, live my life like a normal person. No, this wasn’t terribly feminist of me, but frankly it says a lot about the system that it took a dude to take me out of poverty and I practice a version of feminism in which I don’t look down on women’s work as if it is beneath me while asking other women to do it for me so I can feel “empowered” at work. I’m as proud of my gender normative skill-set as I am of my other non-gender confirming skill sets. What I have a problem with is people who live and contribute nothing to their families or communities, but I have nothing but respect for the many women (we appalaud stay at home dads, while shaming mothers) in my life who have made their home their first priority . I’m pretty loose with how we define contributions because women have provided vital, unpaid work to humanity since existence. But I also find it deeply disturbing that after only about a month of not working, people automatically assumed that I would suddenly stop doing anything instead of letting me have the break I so badly need. It is a bizarre assumption, especially because I have so many privileged friends who have taken substantially more time without comment and also because I’m fairly certain that no one would assume, “I moved in with someone I love and am taking a break” means, “I’ve had a lobotomy” if I were male. I’ll address everyone’s weird response to my dating outside my class background in a separate post, but for the record, I think y’all are being quite silly about that considering I have two degrees from Stanford. If you are one of the many people that had questions or concerns but now feel happy for me because of my explanation, I appreciate you too. So now everyone has been informed, questions have been answered. If you have some other concern that I haven’t addressed, please think about asking someone other than me before you bring it to me. If for some reason that’s not an option, then keep reading the following sentence and think about whether or not your questions or concerns are actually vital to my well-being:
I am happy. I am healthy. I found a fellow mutant I fell in love with.

How I Learned to Talk to Anyone, Including Ann Coulter Loving Conservatives

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My Grandma Amanda was the baddest bitch I’ve ever known. She crawled out of  a brutal depression poverty. She rode on a motorcycle through Prague when the Iron Curtain still divided Europe. She divorced her philandering husband when this was still a radical act for women in the 70s. She became a single mother and raised two incredibly unruly half white boys in the depths of poverty rather than endure the humiliation she had experienced under her husband. She had put that same husband through medical school while working at one of the most challenging residential programs for the mentally ill in the state. Her patients had killed people in fits of madness. My Grandma Amanda was a tireless advocate for the poor, women and the mentally ill. She stepped into my life at 15, when I was a very scared, very traumatized young woman on the cusp of making life ruining decisions in a place where the stakes were death and rape and sex trafficking. She took me under her wing, pushed me to imagine myself as so much more than I was and supported me through the rough years of Stanford as I tried to navigate a world of unimaginable privilege from a background where I was simply grateful for food. I would not be half the woman I am today without her.

 

She happened to be an O’Reilly loving conservative. She was so conservative that the first time I read Ann Coulter’s work was when she handed it to me at 16. By the end of high school I had gotten used to sitting at our kitchen table, her cigarette smoke surrounding me, as my parents, my grandma and I discussed the world’s problems and attempted to find common ground amongst our viewpoints. As I became radicalized in college, she pushed and validated me in a million ways over the holidays when I went home. Before I could make my points to my friends at Stanford, I had to make them with her. Very often, I won her over but more often she forced me to get better at my own argumentation.

 

As I went off to college, I had no idea how radical my upbringing had been. My parents were punk veterans from the 80s, my mom had refused to let me watch Pocahontas because she said it was racist. When I learned about Civil Right’s I learned about how important the Panthers were and I was raised in incredibly diverse neighborhoods. But for me, this was normal, and I was very used to having to make my perspective understandable to people because I had been trained to do so at my schools, and at my home. I walked into campus and found myself having discussions advocating, usually successfully, for resources for poor students on campus among some of the wealthiest people in my generation. You could find me at any frat party, drinking beer and slowly convincing people that activism for the poor and resources for the poor needed to exist.

 

I have my grandmother to thank for all of this, for her love taught me that most people are good and have good hearts. She taught me that I could be wrong, but also that I could be forcefully and respectfully right. She taught me to translate my words into things that anyone could understand and to find common ground. She implicitly taught me the rules and logic of argumentation, augmenting what was a natural skill-set from my working class roots where wit confers status and where “talking shit” is the highest art form.

 

As I entered the classroom, I thought of her often. I also thought of the boys I had left back home and encountered in the faces of my students. Those rebellious shitheads. I’ve always had a soft spot for them because I am one. They were right to push back against being told what to think. I wanted them to have that freedom, and I also wanted them to reach the right conclusions. I accomplished this goal by trusting them to be smart enough to reach it with the right information and with the training to think. After all, if my perspective was based in evidence, and it most certainly was, I should be able to make my case to just about anyone.

 

My time in the classroom proved these lessons correct, as by the end of the year I had watched otherwise racist students become more compassionate and enlightened classmates. I watched kids who had felt apart from each other come together. And I had watched them bloom into brilliant thinkers and writers that I was proud and fortunate to be part of sending out into the world.

 

Thought leads to action, so at a certain point, I accepted the responsibility of the intellectual. That as someone with the incredibly rare access to the levers that create thought, I have a deep responsibility to my community to use that position to change the way they are thought about. I’ve come to learn that argumentation is the best way to do that, because that is essentially the underlying driver of culture. Culture is defined by our belief systems, and argumentation is one way those beliefs are shaped. There are a lot ways to persuade people of something, but for a world view to be successful it needs to be argued on all fronts, from the courtroom to the stand up comic’s stage. There are of course other, more violent and destructive, ways to change thought. Forced conversions, purges, massacres and on and on have all been used in the name of ideology to win the war of ideas. But my goal remains to fight for an ideology where these means are unconscionable for those actions are the very root of oppression. My goal is for everyone to be free, and I’ve never felt that that goal was somehow mutually exclusive with justice for everyone or mutually exclusive of the care of each other. I am also unwilling to trade one system of oppression for another.

 

This journey led me to the ultimate conclusion that I had a responsibility to craft my messages carefully. I’ve failed in this task over and over again as any writer and thinker does, but it is a goal I strive for. Although it brings me immense personal joy to write, to continue winning at the art of “shit talking,” and to do research, the main reason I feel this strong pull towards that goal is because I know how much power ideas and words can have. I know that there are very few voices like mine, that I represent more people than just myself, and that I have a responsibility to others to utilize my gifts for the common good.

 

I’ll never be the one to tell you how to think, but I hope that I’ve convinced you to think more deeply about your role, and more deeply about the work you produce as an activist. If it isn’t the best that can be done for the people, it is not serving the people. We have everything in our argument, evidence, logic, and values that one needs to win an argument. We do not need to resort to other means to get our point across because our viewpoint is that strong. But we cannot succeed in this task alone, we all have to work together to get better and better as if our lives and the lives of the people we work on behalf of depends on it. In many cases, in many causes that is no overdramatization. But we must approach this work from an ethos of love as well, for love is what we hope will be the guiding ethos for the world we create and if we wish to create it, we must create it in both action and deed alike. It begins with empathy, compassion and listening. It begins in those kitchen table conversations with the people who loved you even when they disagreed with you. And the people who heard your viewpoint even when it was terrifying and new. And the deeply flawed human beings who get up everyday and are often struggling in a million visible and invisible ways but who also demonstrate kindness towards their communities. Where there is a decent heart, its center can be reached by other decent hearts. Most hearts, I assure you after all these years of evidence to the contrary, most hearts are decent and beautiful and open to learning. But they cannot learn until they’ve been loved.

Social Change Requires Love

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Growing up I was something of a freak of nature trying to fit into a world that really wasn’t designed for me. Because of my family situation, I learned quickly that I was reliant on the generosity of others and this posed a pretty serious problem. Humans don’t seem to be designed to accept freaks of nature, it is the unknown and I was scary. So I had to be kind, I had to be soft and I had to be willing to see the beauty in everyone around. A sense of superiority was not an option and I was quick to disabuse people of the notion that I thought highly of myself. What resulted was a complicated status, I was the friendly and lovable alien with tech secrets. In this role, in having to find ways to connect with people, I ended up doing a lot of teaching. People trusted me more than their teachers in a lot of cases. If you had a question, you asked the walking enclicylopedia. I learned that people genuinely don’t know anything beyond what they are taught by their limited interactions with adults, and that adults are just the sum of their limited knowledge. I learned that most people were malleable and that when they believed something wrong, it was not willful ignorance in most cases and that in most of those cases where it was, the willful part came from pain. With the exception of those with real power who stand to gain from falsehoods and who have control over culture, most people just need to be taught differently.

I took a US history class while I was at Stanford that was popular with non-history majors. One day we were talking about why learning history mattered and I said that it served as the foundation of culture. I pointed out that the Black Panthers weren’t in U.S. textbooks and someone was appalled that I suggested they should be. And all across America millions of kids were never being given the option to make that decision. History is one of the most regulated and fiercely fought over areas of K12 education and for good reason, it has the potential to be the most subversive and most destructive subject because it is the subject through which we learn who we are as a culture. History has always served this function, the Bible is a collection of histories constructed to tell people where they came from and where they are going, that’s why access to the Bible and reading brought about the Enlightment, because for the first time people had the choice in how they interpreted source material. History teaches us citizenship and values. And most people never get to take it a level where they learn that it is a construct, so they learn to see the histories they are given access to as immutable.

Racism is a construct, that’s what it means to be an -ism. It is a world view about how the world works and should work. It is a lot easier to get people go along with your ideology if they are taught that it is just “nature” and are never exposed to the fact that people constructed it. Institutions reflect our beliefs, so by the time most people become adults, they’ve been indoctrinated at every level to believe in particular ideologies. Adults can relearn but 18 years of programming is hard to undo, much harder than simply changing the culture and education at an earlier age.

As I entered the classroom I met kids who had been indoctrinated with a lot beliefs and a lot of kids said, “well, no one explained it to us before.” Maybe if you had met some of my white boys before they met me you would have railed against them, calling them bad people and lecturing them on how evil and ignorant they are and they, out of natural self preservation would have rejected you. But I didn’t approach my work that way, they were all my babies, equally innocent, equally in need of love. I repeated over and over again:

“This isn’t your fault. You didn’t create this, but my job is to prepared you for the world you enter. To give you the information so you can make the choice. It is your choices that matter.”

I never met a kid who left my class ignorant and several of the kids, whose views I vehemently opposed personally when I met them are now hardcore activists in college and life. And the lesson here is that the ideologies we are fighting against can be beaten, that most people are good people and that education is critical.

But the lesson here is also that love is critical in the work we do. And so the fiery militant became a loving teacher and in that sense, my children gave me more than I could ever give them. And I’m hoping that you will take what I’ve learned and learn it sooner and faster than I did and spread the word.

Because if we had an army of lovers the conversation would change much more rapidly that any of us can imagine.

When you encounter someone who is ignorant, embrace them, love them in the way they should been loved and weep at their chains until they can unlock themselves, because love is really the most powerful force I’ve ever seen.

There is NO Excuse for Being a Douche- A Cheeky Title for a Serious Thought

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“Heather, you have to remember that everyone around you is wounded and suffering.”

“So am I and I don’t treat people like shit.”

“Yeah, but not everyone’s brain works like yours.”

I have a firm and deep commitment to the belief that nothing justifies treating each other poorly. In fact, I believe that if humanity shifted its thinking from “I was hurt so I’m going to hurt others” to understanding that nothing justifies hurting each other the world would be a different place. But when I first heard this from my own mother as she rationalized the abuse my family had put me through over the years I was stopped in my tracks. This happens to me a lot, the discussion gets ended because my brain is not replicable, but the thing is, I don’t believe that my brain has anything to do with it. It makes it easier for me to process pain, for me to reach the right conclusions faster but it also makes it easier for me to rationalize my own evil behavior. How do I know? Because of my mom. I’m not saying my mom is evil, but I am saying that she has made a lot of choices out of spite that hurt people and my mom is incredibly gifted, maybe not to the degree I am but she is a member of MENSA. History is littered with brilliant people who did very bad things to each other. The reason I’ve reached these conclusions has a lot to do with being very systematically oppressed for most of my life and my gentle nature, but I am human and I have a dark side too and when I had to face that piece of myself I realized that I had a choice. I chose the better angel of my nature. That is a choice that we all can make and must make if we ever want to move forward as a society.

I’m not saying that I don’t understand anger, and how abuse and oppression warps the soul. I understand it to a level that few will ever know, because I saw it personally when I was a child. I have great compassion for people who have suffered and their anger. But at the end of the day, we still have to hold people accountable because it is still a choice. There are so many problems on this earth because people are trying to act out their suffering on each other instead of trying to heal. The abuse, oppression and the pain I have suffered makes me angry, and I’m not sorry for that. Anger is not inherently bad, there are things it would be nuts to be not be angry about, but our response to anger can be good or bad and it is a choice. It’s not an easy choice, but it is still a choice.

My stepdad left a note this week explaining that he’s been yelling about me and kicking me out because he has “a chip on his shoulder.” You see, my family has come to expect me to accept whatever they dish out, because for a very long time I thought it was my job to absorb all anger because I have a larger capacity than they do, but the problem with this is that it is destroying me, healing no one, and is what keeps us in the endless cycle of poverty and drug addiction. I know too that my brain has very little to do with it because there is another one of me in my family, my brother. My brother is very intelligent and artistically talented, and he was severely abused when were kids, especially by my older sister who took her anger out on us. My brother and I both have made the decision to not allow our pain to be an excuse to hurt others and our brains are very different. We are the members of the family that end up having to absorb everyone else’s suffering. This is what makes me not buy that it’s about intelligence, because everyone in my family is smart but two of us choose, consistently to be kind. It also sells everyone else short. It is oppression by virtue of low expectations. All of us have the capacity to do this and when we pretend we don’t we deny the best pieces of humanity, our free will. I’m not religious, but I do think that people misinterpret the phrase, “made in God’s image.” What this means is that we have the power to create, to choose our lives and society, to bring life into the world, and yes to destroy; it all comes down to what we decide to do with it.

I want to live in a world where people say , “bullshit” anytime someone tries to rationalize terrible behavior. There are moral absolutes. It is ALWAYS wrong to hurt innocent people. Can you imagine how different things would have turned out in Germany, if instead of saying, “our economy sucks, lets find a scapegoat and someone to take our anger out on” they had focused their resources on providing for everyone? Imagine how different the world would be if poor white people didn’t take their anger out on poor minorities, if wealthy minorities didn’t take their anger out on poor white people, if men didn’t take their anger out on women, and if parents never took their anger out on children. What would the world look like if we all adopted the ideology that hurting people isn’t ok and that there is no excuse for it? How different would things if we held each other accountable to treating each other well? If we accepted no rationalization for hurting people? There have been human beings around the world and throughout history who have done just that and they accomplished some of the greatest progressions in humanity. If people can do it during the Holocaust and slavery then you can do it too. We’ve been through worse than this and if some people hadn’t chosen to do the right thing we wouldn’t exist.

We are better than this and I don’t believe anyone who tells me otherwise. I believe that because I am alive, and a woman and I can vote, and I’m not an indentured slave, and I don’t work in a factory, and I have medical care, and if someone hurts me there are some pathways for recourse, and I received a free public education, and I went to Stanford. All of this is made possible by the people who came before me and said, “there is no excuse for dehumanization and I’m prepared to put myself on the line to prove it.” There is an accountability that is lost when people don’t live in communities. Where I come from, if your friend is doing something morally reprehensible you have an OBLIGATION to intervene, and that’s why my friend group is full of a bunch of kids who have been wounded but tried to make the best of it, because we don’t accept that from each other.

But if you are battling demons, and if you don’t have that community, and your brain isn’t mine and your life experience isn’t like mine what can you do? For me, when I want to learn, I do research, and I would suggest with starting with the biographies of some of the inspiring historical figures. If research isn’t your thing, then think about the people who have been kind in your life. Do they have pain? Yes. Are they still kind? Yes. Ask them why. Talk to people about that choice and how they overcome their suffering. Ask yourself what supports you need to be accountable? Talk to a therapist, or a priest, or a wise elder about it. Send me an email and I’ll set you straight myself. But above all else, don’t relinquish your humanity and sell yourself short by giving up on the best of yourself.