Sunday, June 23, 2013

Three not-valid excuses for using the N-word

Goddamit, Paula Deen. I liked you. I really liked you. Granted, sometimes your giant, beyond-whitened smile made me afraid you might come through the television screen and devour my soul (I have this same fear of Suze Orman--I think it's the huge, unnaturally white teeth combined with what we psychiatrists call 'the crazy eye'). I'm also relatively certain every meal at your restaurant should come with a 50% off coupon for coronary bypass surgery, or at least a referral to an endocrinologist. BUT. You seemed 'sweet,' in absolutely the best Southern-fried sense, and your accent made you sound EXACTLY like my beloved high school history teacher, an aging Southern belle...and now it turns out you throw around the n-word like a float captain throws beads at Mardi Gras (flash your tits and I'll call you a disgusting racial slur!). Dammit, Paula. If I knew how to make gifs, there would be a big one right here of me sighing and shaking my head. Your father and I are so, so disappointed in you.

In the aftermath, I've heard a lot from people on both sides(?!?!) of the 'Do we damn Deen for her dastardly deed' issue (alliteration for the win!). The best, hands-down, reply for the 'It's 20-freaking-13, of course it's not OK to say that' camp, otherwise known as 'The Reasonable, Sane Human Beings' comes from the Daily Show. Go watch it. No, seriously, go watch it right now. I'll wait. BEST LINE: "You know what else is a lot of slaves? ONE, PAULA DEEN. ONE."

So, here are some excuses I've seen trotted out for use of racial slurs (the n-word in particular) in the last few days.

1) "But it's not directed at all Black people; it's just used to describe low-class, thuggish Black people." Variant: "It's not a race thing at all. It's just a word for no-good, low-class people with no manners." Disingenuous at best. Why have I never ever ever heard this word directed at anyone but African-Americans, then? Why is it used to describe Barack Obama, who as the Leader of the Free World (TM) is surely the farthest it is possible to be from "thuggish and low-class"? If that's the case, why is the phrase "uppity [n-word]" even a thing? Even if this were true (which, duh, it's not) the classist BS inherent in these 'explanations' would still be seriously problematic. Next.

2) "It's just a part of Southern culture," or "It's what things were like in the South when I/he/she was growing up." You really think bigotry deserves to be called a part of Southern culture? Like, not in 1865 or 1920 or even 1960, but today? I'm not saying racism isn't still an issue (it is, and not just in the South), but come the hell on. Sweet tea is part of Southern culture. Big porches, the Kentucky Derby, trees festooned with Spanish moss, saying "Oh, bless your heart" when you mean "Please go directly to Hell." Mint juleps. Kudzu. An almost genetic, visceral distrust of anyone with the last name Sherman. Do you really think so little of the South that you'd call vitriolic hatred part of the culture (and Southerners, do you think so little of yourselves)? As for the "When I was growing up..." argument: When my mother was growing up she didn't have air conditioning, a color TV, a computer, or an iPhone. She's adapted pretty well to having all those things, because people adapt as things change--if they want/need to. She also saw the integration of her high school and wasn't a total dick about it, because my mom is a basically good human being. Things change, kids. Get with the program.

3) Last, and perhaps most frustratingly frequent: "But they get to use that word!" 'They,' of course, referring to African-Americans. Oof. Where to begin--especially without 'whitesplaining.' So, there's still a robust debate among Black Studies scholars (and everyday folk) whether anyone should be using the n-word, or a derivative thereof, at all. Here's are pro and con articles that explain it better than I ever could. But to sum up, there's a difference between the word 'nigga' and the alternate, hard-r-at-the-end, much more venemous version. Two African-American guys saying hello to each other might say "Hey, nigga." This is worlds away (obviously? I hope it's obvious?) from a person from the historically dominant culture shouting the n-word at someone from a historically oppressed culture while driving by, or in a face-to-face interaction, or even (as in Deen's case) in a discussion with another member of the dominant culture.

 Reclaiming language is always tricky, and always makes some people uncomfortable. I know it's not exactly the same, but para ejemplo: I'm a woman who identifies as lesbian/queer and has no problem with either of those words. I have some LGBT friends who are fine with those words too, and we call each other 'queer' or even 'homo' sometimes, endearingly. However, if anyone I didn't know, gay or straight--or even some of my straight friends--called me 'homo,' I'd be righteously pissed. I have some friends who really don't like the word 'queer' because it has negative connotations to them, and so even though I kind of love it, I don't use it around them or to describe them. Similarly, I absolutely can't. stand. the word 'dyke,' even though I know some lesbians have 'reclaimed' it, and my friends know not to call me that.

Which is a circuitous way to say, just because an oppressed group is reclaiming certain words for use among themselves doesn't give you the right to use them. There's an entire, complicated social and historical context surrounding these words, and saying things like "But why do they get to say it then?" makes you look like an uninformed, entitled, petulant little kid who's pissed off someone else is getting to play with something you want. The truth is, that word is NOT YOUR TOY. You're not entitled to it, and you never were. Get over it and go play on the swings or something.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

The Friendzone

It's not a TV series hosted by Rod Serling. It's not the place at the end of the gridiron where you make a touchdown and do the victory dance that makes you look like a chicken with a neuromuscular disorder (in fact, there's a conspicuous absence of scoring). It's...the Friendzone, a much-lamented but nevertheless completely bullshit concept, a not-so-subtle outgrowth of (mostly male) privilege and entitlement. For those of you not in the know, let me explain the Friendzone by giving you an example (or you could just look it up on Wikipedia--whatevs). Names have been changed to protect the innocent--and the guilty. I'm going to assume for the purposes of this post that a woman is the 'friendzoner' and a man is the 'friendzonee,' not because I want to be sexist or homophobic but rather because 99.99% of the time I've seen it play out, that's been the dyad involved.

I know a guy named Bob from, I don't know, those nights when the moon is dark and evil menaces Metropolis and we put on our capes and masks and fight crime together. Yeah, that's it. Anyway, Bob has a thing for another member of our superhero squad, Julie. They go to movies and bars together on weekends. He helped her move into her new apartment a few months ago. He brought her ice cream and the first two seasons of Golden Girls when she broke up with her old boyfriend Evil Evan, and held her while she cried about what a jerk he was. Now, Bob would looove to be in a relationship with Julie--or at least to get into her skin-tight-leather crime-fighting hot pants. BUT. Bob has never said a thing about it. He's never asked her on a date (and CALLED it a date), he's never told Julie he's into her, he's never gone in for a kiss while they were watching a movie...nothing. Finally he works up his courage and tells her he's interested in being 'more than friends' (Bob's corny like that, but at least it's more romantic than 'Let's bone,' which I swear to Jeebus I heard at a frat party once). Julie tells him she loves him--he's the best friend she's ever had--but she's not in love with him, not that way. In common parlance, Bob has been Friendzoned; and in this example, as in so others I've heard of (in person, on the internet), Bob is PISSED.

So Bob and I grab a beer the next day, and he starts spilling his guts. I feel for him at first; unrequited love is painful, after all. Then he goes into attack mode.
 "She's just a bitch. She totally used me--to move her stuff, to be her shoulder to cry on! Shit, I even went shoe shopping with her. What straight guy goes shoe shopping with a girl he's not screwing? She totally exploited me, and I was such a nice guy [this will be an important phrase later--ed.], and I totally got friendzoned. Women are just users. They only go for assholes."


Now, let's analyze this. Bobs of the world, I'm going to speak directly to you. Everyone else, feel free to listen in.
1. If you befriend someone with the sole intent of getting in their pants, and you aren't honest about it (instead keeping your plans to yourself and thinking, "Oh, but if I go with her to this John Mayer concert/Sex and the City movie/do what the hell ever other 'nice guy' things, and never ever pressure her romantically, surely she will see that I'm the perfect guy for her and jump on my manhood like a starving dog on a bratwurst"), you aren't actually a 'nice guy.' I hate to break it to you, but you're misguided at best and a manipulative jerkface at worst.

PS--If you really think there should be a sort of contract, where you agree to act friendly and she agrees to give you a chance at a relationship, make that explicit at the beginning--ie, "Hey, I'm just helping you move and listening to you talk about your utterly boring friends in hopes that you'll eventually let me do unspeakable things to your awesome breasts. So let me know if we're a go on that, 'cause otherwise you can move this shit yourself, mmmkay?" Wait--you think that sounds totally awful and would probably get you kicked in the unmentionables? Yeah, exactly, because it lets her know what you yourself are incapable of seeing--you're kind of a self-centered, disingenuous git and not a 'nice guy' at all.

2. Being nice to a woman doesn't entitle you to her body. This idea that hanging out with/doing favors for a woman (you know, like actual FRIENDS do for each other?) means you should have a shot in bed is as old as it is ludicrous. It's like a lite version of the old date-rapey "I took her out to dinner, how dare she not sleep with me!" outrage. She didn't keep up her end of the contract, that frigid friendzoning bitch! Yawn. So twentieth century.
Look. Women are not agency-less sex-vending automatons whose legs spring open after you insert enough 'niceness tokens.' Believe it or not, women are people! Just like men! And they have thoughts and preferences and desires, just like men! And sometimes those desires don't coincide with yours, and that doesn't make either person's desires wrong. You're allowed to want her to sleep with you, and she's allowed to say no.

3. If your ego/emotional equilibrium is so fragile that someone telling you they aren't romantically attracted to you is enough to send you into paroxysms of rage and despair and misogynist Tourette's, you probably aren't ready for an adult relationship anyway. You don't need a girlfriend; you need a therapist.

4. Lastly, what's wrong with being friends with a member of the opposite sex? Friends are awesome--friends of all genders. Viewing every interaction with a member of the opposite sex in terms of humpage potential is limiting and sad. Don't be limited and sad.

For more awesome takes on this issue, try here or here or here.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Size matters.

So I recently came upon this post discussing the existence of weight-related bias in the medical profession, and was...sadly, not terribly surprised. In medical school alone, I've seen countless instances of body-shaming and downright hatefulness related to people's (usually patients') size, including a discussion of childhood obesity that somehow devolved--while led by an attending physician I otherwise greatly admire--into a youtube-comments-worthy, riffing free-for-all on the themes of "Why can't fat people just not eat fatty fat all day," "God, why are fat people so gross?" and "If they weren't so lazy and would just exercise..." Interestingly, now that I think about it, my medical school class of 125 had...5 people I can think of who might qualify as 'obese' (ie, BMI >30, which is totally arbitrary, but whatever). That's 4% of my class, as opposed to 36% of Americans as a whole. Not drawing any conclusions (cough, education and socioeconomic status, cough) just...thinking.

 It was around the time that someone suggested drawing attention to a child's obesity at every single office visit (to 'inspire them to change,' of course) that I started getting truly angry. I stuck my hand in the air.
"Don't you think," I said, "That's somewhat shaming for the kid? Don't you think it's overdoing it to mention size not just once a year at physicals but during every visit for every runny nose and earache? Don't you think these kids are already aware that they're fat? Don't you think their peers already remind them every day?"
"Well, if shame acts as a motivator..." Her voice trailed off and she smiled.
"No," I said, "Shame is an awful motivator. Shame doesn't lead to healthy changes. Ok, I hear you, more than a third of American youth are overweight or obese. But you know what? Between a quarter and a half of young women in the USA have disordered eating patterns--or outright eating disorders--that put them at much greater physical and emotional risk. And do you know what drives eating disorders? Shame."
And then I sat down and tried not to look at anyone, because I could tell my voice had gotten a little growl-y at the end and I didn't want to be known as 'the girl who flipped her shit during that obesity talk'...but it was already too late. In hindsight, I'm kind of proud of it.

College was a rough time for me, body-wise. I started college weighing 170 lbs, which for my height put me--just barely--in the 'obese' BMI category (the vagaries and vicissitudes of BMI is a topic for a whole different post). I also had some rip-roaring bulimia going on, for which I sought help at the Student Health Center. However, because of my weight, my eating disorder wasn't deemed 'serious.' It wasn't until it morphed from bulimia to anorexia, and I dropped 70 lbs in the space of a year, that I was suddenly granted the label of someone with a 'real' eating disorder. I remember very distinctly coming back to school August of my sophomore year and seeing my physician at Student Health for the first time in several months. At the time I was in the low-normal BMI range, and creeping ever-downward.
"Look," she said to me, suddenly very stern, "You're at a normal weight now. A little low, even. You can stop doing this now."
As if everything that had come before had been legitimized. As if it were OK to starve myself and purge and overexercise while I was "overweight" (because everyone knows fat people can't have 'real' eating disorders). As if an iffy weight-loss technique suddenly became pathological when I crossed that magical line of 'healthy' BMI. As if self-loathing and body hatred and abject despair over what I saw in the mirror were totally fine, even expected--as long as I was fat.

I've heard doctors mock their obese patients in private, and I've heard them rake patients over the coals for their weight face-to-face (mostly the former, thank God--for the patients' sake). Which is sad, really, for a lot of reasons--but primarily because doctors are DOCTORS--professionals with a duty to do no harm and provide the best possible care, which doesn't include shaming. Shame, as mentioned previously, is a terrible motivator. How on earth is telling someone that their body is ugly and disgusting and unacceptable supposed to motivate them to take care of it? People don't take care of things they hate.

I'm not saying physicians shouldn't discuss weight with their patients--far from it. There are certain health problems that are more common among overweight/obese folks, and losing weight can sometimes help clear them up. It would be foolish at best and malpractice at worst not to tell an overweight patient with PCOS that losing weight could help her improve her fertility. The same goes for patients with diabetes, or osteoarthritis, or high blood pressure. However, focusing on weight as the sole metric of a person's health is not only myopic, it can be counterproductive. There are numerous studies that indicate focusing on behaviors instead--increasing intake of produce and whole grains, getting more exercise, reducing stress--is more effective in improving outcomes.

Para ejemplo: a relative of mine makes occasional attempts to lose weight. He's what would be called, somewhat melodramatically, 'morbidly obese.' It all starts well--he'll begin eating more fruits and vegetables, checking his portion sizes, and getting more exercise. For a few weeks, or even months, this 'works,' in that he loses weight. He starts feeling more energetic and less depressed. Then the numbers on the scale plateau, and because that's the only thing he and his doctor focus on (rather than how his new regimen makes him feel, rather than the fact that his blood sugar and blood pressure are improving, rather than the fact that his stamina has grown by leaps and bounds), he gets discouraged and impatient...and he stops. What was an opportunity for him to feel stronger, healthier and happier gets derailed because people (himself included--it's hard not to do as 50-odd years of socialization have trained you) are only looking at the numbers.

People aren't numbers. They're people.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Things Medical School Has Taught Me

Sorry for the long interlude without a post--things have been busy, what with the graduating and commencementing. And now that med school is all over, and I is officially a doctor, I thought I'd post a few of the things I've learned in the last five years--some technical in nature, some more to do with matters of the heart. A quick run-down, in no particular order.

1. To quote an anesthesiologist colleague, "It's pretty hard to kill a breathing patient." That's why the ACLS algorithm (Advanced Cardiac Life Support, for those wondering about the abbreviation--don't feel bad, I had to look it up myself) goes Airway, Breathing, Circulation. I don't know why, but I find this oddly comforting--as long as they're breathing, and you keep them breathing, things are (relatively speaking) pretty good. Which leads into our next point--

2. What doctors mean when they say someone's "sick" and what everyone else means are COMPLETELY different--and it varies a little bit from specialty to specialty. From what I've gathered from ER and surgery/trauma folk, their "sick" means "this person is going to die within the next hour unless someone does something." Internal medicine folk are a little more liberal with it, and as long as someone's basically OK at baseline (ie, doesn't have kidney failure, heart failure, diabetes, AND hypertension), someone can have a pretty gnarly pneumonia or acute liver failure and still not be "sick." Psychiatrists' "sick" has more to do with whether someone's talking to people who aren't there and smearing feces on walls.

3. Speaking of feces. One of the main things I learned during my time on labor and delivery is that, while childbirth is a beautiful, natural, ethereal experience in theory, in practice there is a lot of grunting and screaming and, now that I think about it, literally every secretion the female body is capable of producing. This is not a soft-filter Lifetime Very Special Event with gentle lilting flute music in the background. There is sweat and blood and vomit and feces and don't even get me started on meconium. And there's nothing wrong with that, because pushing another human being out of your body is miraculously awesome and I think entitles you to do pretty much whatever while it's happening. It also taught me that, while I do want kids, I think I probably want my wife to have them, or that if I do any child bearing, I want an epidural early (like, the beginning of the third trimester would be nice).

4. Also from my time in OB/Gyn land: lots of women are allergic to something in Always pads, and Kotex (or another non-Always brand) will often work better, and by 'better' I mean 'not cause a painful, itchy rash in the lady regions.' Also, there is no reason to douche, ever, and most of the products sold for 'feminine refreshment' (I don't understand--does my vagina want a glass of lemonade?) actually make things worse by mucking up the natural pH balance and allowing yeasts, unhealthy bacteria and other interlopers to set up shop. I don't completely understand why anyone thinks women's bodies are supposed to smell like a summer's eve or a spring morning or a dog day afternoon, but they aren't. If things are getting kind of...malodorous in the region, you don't need to be spraying Febreze down there, you need to go to the doctor. If things smell just fine, you don't need to be fancying things up with new car smell anyway.

5. As for psychiatry, I've learned a ton, but the most interesting is that ECT is actually not a scary, mediaeval procedure. In fact, it's one of the safest and most effective procedures in all of medicine, especially for people who are seriously depressed and who need a quick response to treatment. For out of control psychosis, Haldol can be like a magical elixir. For folks with dementia, unfortunately, medications like Namenda and Aricept do virtually nothing. Also: for people with pretty much any mood or anxiety disorder, a companion animal (in conjunction with an SSRI or mood stabilizer, of course) can be just what the doctor ordered. If my cat hadn't come to me with a name, I probably would have named her Zoloft--Zoe for short, of course.

6. To quote an internal medicine colleague, "Often the shortest road between despair and hope is a good night's sleep." This is true not just for overworked, hyper-stressed interns and medical students, but for everyone.

7. Drinking caffeine in little bits throughout the day is more effective at keeping you awake and functional than chugging a large coffee all in one go. Eating a little protein snack will also help you stay alert. Avoid processed carbs like the plague. At least for me, a bag of Cheez-Its from the vending machine might as well be cheddar-flavored Ambien.

8. Never pass up a chance to eat, sleep or pee. It may not come again for a while. As for sleep, I learned during my surgery rotation that it is most definitely possible to fall asleep standing up--and during rounds, no less. In fact, it's probably easier than falling asleep in a call room bed (which is often only a bed in the loosest possible sense of the word). I'm sorry to disappoint all you Grey's Anatomy fans, but call rooms are approximately as romantic as that Motel 6 out by the highway, with the added possibility that someone could come in the door at any moment. I can't imagine anyone ever having sex there. Then again, I can't imagine anyone having sex in a hospital room, but I've definitely heard of patients who have managed it.

9. On a more serious note, it's OK to cry with patients sometimes. It's OK to cry with colleagues sometimes. And sometimes it's OK to find the nearest bathroom, lock yourself in a stall and have a good sob. I've done all of these things, and from what I've gathered, so have a lot of other doctors (especially the crying in the bathroom).

10. Everyone wants to feel heard and to feel validated. "Tell me more about that," "I can understand why you feel that way," and "I hear what you're saying" will almost never go amiss. This isn't only true for patients--it works with families, with other healthcare professionals, hell, even with yourself.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Things that Piss Me Off, Part...Whatever

Well, it looks like it's time for another installment of TTPMO.

Number one, the word 'feminazi.' I thought it was just a Rush Limbaughism, and didn't imagine that any reasonable, non-MRA person would use it (the MRA is a whole different bag of crazy to be addressed in a different post, because I could go on for days and gurl, who has time?). However, in recent weeks I've heard several people use it--including some people I previously regarded as sane--and was all like, what the ENTIRE f*ck? Here's the deal. I'd like it if women could be paid the same as men are for doing the same work. I'd like it if the legislative bodies in this country were actually representative of the people they, y'know, represent (that means 50% ladies and 28% minorities--a far cry from what we have now). I'd like it if women could have access to safe, legal medical procedures without de jure and de facto interference. I'd like not to live in a culture where 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted. I'd like not to live in a culture where more than half of teenage girls are fasting, overexercising, vomiting or using laxatives to lose weight. This list of 'demands' is SO OBVIOUSLY equivalent to enacting a plan for world domination through brute military force, including the denigration of broad swaths of humanity as 'sub-human' and the murder of more than 12 million men, women and children. See how those two are totally alike, you guys? Oh, wait, NO.Those aren't apples and oranges; they're dental floss and Siberian tigers. As a feminist and a person of Jewish ancestry, just the word 'feminazi' pisses me off in no fewer than seventeen different ways. Knock it off, plz.

 The Paleo diet craze. Hey, guess what? You know the foods that make up the majority of the 'Paleo Diet'--veggies like asparagus, avocado, eggplant, and tomatoes, or that grass-fed beef? Cavemen--sorry, cavePEOPLE, cavefolk, whatever--didn't have any of that, at least not in the form we know now. The idea that eating grain or dairy is a bad call because our bodies haven't had time to 'adapt' to it is BS too. You know what made us the species we are today, with our big brains and machines and iPads? The fact that we figured out the whole agriculture thing, and along with it, began selectively breeding wild varieties of plants and animals to make bigger, stronger, tastier varieties that were easier to harvest. We made aurochs into cows and wild grasses into the wheat we know today. Actually, domesticating wheat was kind of a big deal.  Wheat enabled the development of city-states in the Fertile Crescent (commonly known as the birthplace of civilization) by being easy to grow in quantity, and easy to store. If you hate on wheat for no good reason (ie, without celiac disease or something), you are saying you hate civilization as a whole. Why do you hate civilization?
I don't really get the Paleo nostalgia anyway. It seems like a throwback to the Iron John/primal scream days of the 70s. Cavefolk didn't live very long--the average Cro-Magnon's life expectancy was 30, on account of the mammoth-gorings and semi-starvation and Paleosyphilis, which is like regular syphilis only bigger and with tusks. The women were squeezing out little ones (Honey, which name do you like best? Ugg, Ogg or Madisynn?) until they died in childbirth or dropped of exhaustion. So did Cro-Magnons get heart disease? No, something else generally killed them first. If you want to eat a ton of veggies and fruits and lean meats, go nuts, but realize that you're probably going to miss those complex carbohydrates when the time comes to hit the CrossFit box.

Somewhat relatedly, the anti-gluten business makes me nuts. Yes, there are people who can't/shouldn't have gluten in their diets--they have celiac disease, and gluten literally makes them sick (an overzealous immune response damages their intestinal lining in response to gluten). How common is celiac disease, and other medically recognized forms of gluten sensitivity? Less than 1% of Americans suffer from it. Yet a recent survey showed 30% of Americans are trying to "avoid/cut back on" gluten. First of all, if you genuinely believe you have celiac disease, YOU CAN'T JUST 'CUT BACK.' THAT'S NOT HOW THIS S$%@ WORKS. I have a friend with legit, diagnosed-by-biopsy celiac disease, and if she eats a salad that has had croutons on it--even if she picks them off--girlfriend gets sick. If I sound annoyed, it's nothing to the anger L can summon for gluten-avoidance dilettantes.
"I feel like most of the time it's just a weight-loss thing to them," she says. "When they're on the wagon, they avoid bread and whatever, and say really self-righteously, 'Oh, I can't, I'm gluten-free,' but if there's pizza or pasta and it looks divine and they really want it, they dig right in, and for the next thirty minutes gluten-free goes out the window. I can't do that. Screw them, seriously. And then at restaurants when I say I need to know if the food is gluten-free, waiters assume a little gluten is OK because they think I'm one of those asshats, and then I have diarrhea and stomach cramps for a week. Screw them so hard."

 Leaving aside L's anger, I'd say the 29% of folks who are trying to go gluten-free and don't have celiac are doing it either for weight loss/to cover up some sort of eating pathology (I've known quite a few people with eating disorders who hid behind the gluten-free thing, which seems to be the newest iteration of the vegetarian/vegan 'excuse' a lot of ED patients used during the 90s and early 2000s), because there's a sort of social cache in doing it (Gwyneth Paltrow is gluten-free! Ditto Miranda Kerr and Victoria Beckham! PS--None of these women, as far as I've been able to find, suffer from celiac disease, and have all received attention for what might be termed 'extreme dieting behaviors.' See what I meant about the eating pathology thing?), or out of some misguided idea that it's "healthier." Sure, eating your way through an entire baguette and a dozen cookies every day isn't particularly good for you--but that's a refined flour and sugar issue, not a gluten issue.

 I don't know, it just smacks of a particular brand of bougie food-purity snobbery to me. It reminds me of a woman I saw once at the health-food coop in Ithaca. She was standing in front of me in the bakery, examining the vegan baked goods. I was waiting on a vegan cupcake, salivating at the very thought, and wishing she'd hurry up. "Excuse me," she called shrilly to the bakery attendant. "Those chocolate cupcakes--they're vegan and gluten free, but are they organic?"
"Those aren't," the attendant said apologetically, "But like you said, they are completely vegan and--"
"WHAT is the POINT if they're not ORGANIC?" The woman half-wailed, half-yelled.
Then she swooped out and I got my cupcake, so whatevs, but Jesus tap-dancing Christ, woman--pull your head out of your patchouli-scented, tightly-clenched ass and eat a damn cupcake.

Here ends the ranting.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Oh Sh*t...I'm Racist.

So, intersectional feminism for the win. I've recently felt...called to start doing some anti-racism work both within myself and within the city I live in. Now, when I started (ie, when I picked up a ginormous training manual and supplemental readings for Dismantling Racism training from one of the women in my church who has done a lot more work on this issue), I thought, "Oh, f'sho, this'll be easy...after all, I'm totally not racist."

Yeah, except no.

Then I read Peggy McIntosh's ovaric (it's a feminist equivalent of seminal--deal) article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, and it Changed. My. Freaking. Life. Reading it was like having Angela Davis and Gloria Steinem spin-kick down the door to my soul. It draws parallels between feminist work (uncovering and combating male privilege), with which I am intimately familiar, and anti-racist work (uncovering and combating white privilege), with which I am less so. I'd heard the term 'white privilege' before, of course, but I'd never thought deeply about it.

 See, I'm conscious of the fact that being white in the USA in 2013 still confers advantages on me that people of color don't enjoy, not least the fact that I don't have to think about race if I don't want to. After all, I'm white, what is regarded in the USA as the 'default' race in much the same way as male is thought of as the 'default' gender. It renders my race invisible to me: I don't have to self-identify specifically as white because in the majority of spaces in which I find myself, I am read as a person, or a woman--not specifically as a white woman. This is not something that can be said for people of color. To quote a bit from McIntosh's article, I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group. Privilege accrues in big ways--there are still parts of the Deep South I wouldn't like to drive through if I were African-American, and there are few people of color in corporate offices and Congress. It shows up in small ways, too: Band-Aids match my skin well, I can get my hair cut anywhere, and most grocery stores have the food of my people (being Midwestern, the quintessential Food of My People is casserole).

To use a minor example, the beginning of the Dismantling Racism training manual is taken up by a bunch of articles on the history of slavery and racism in the colonial Episcopal Church. I'll be honest; modern history is not my super-favorite thing. My period of historical interest starts in about the year 400 CE and goes backwards to about 12000 BCE. Babylon, Sumer, the Indus River Valley, ancient India and Egypt and Greece; that's my jam. My mind started to wander as I read about this convocation and that historic church and this congregational schism. "I could just skip this," I thought. And then it occurred to me that I know a ton about colonial history from the white point of view--even from the white Episcopalian point of view, because that was part of the inquirer's class I took before I was confirmed in the Church--but absolutely jack about the role of people of color during that period.

 Growing up, I didn't have the option of not learning White History, or White Church History, because they weren't called that. They were called History, period, shut up and learn them. And so, I chastised myself, it would be kind of shitty to have spent all that time learning about Samuel Seabury and Philander Chase (yes, his name was Philander and he was a priest--shame on you for laughing), and then decide that, now that I had a choice, I didn't want to read about Absalom Jones and Richard Allen. Absalom Jones, BTW, was a total badass who was not only the first African-American ordained to the priesthood but who also founded his own parish, bought his own and his wife's freedom from slavery, and petitioned Congress for the amendment of the Fugitive Slave Act.

What's been most helpful, for me, is to draw parallels between male privilege and white privilege--to basically swap the words out in my head when I'm thinking of situations. Then I try to think and act in ways, as a member of the dominant 'racial' group (the fallacy of race as anything but socially constructed is a topic for a whole different post) that I wish men would act in response to male privilege and racism. The metaphor/comparison doesn't hold in every case, but it makes it easier for me to wrap my head around, at least at this early stage while I'm still learning.

For instance.
At the VERY least, I wish dudes would acknowledge that sexism and male privilege still exist. There IS a legit, for-real, problem. It's not just women imagining things while on their monthlies. Men still get paid more than women. Men are still more likely to be hired for high-paying/prestigious jobs than women. The vast majority of elected officials are men. Yet, there are still people who insist that we live in a 'post-feminist' world, and that sexism is no longer an issue (tell that to the residency director who asked me, during my interview, if I planned to have kids. I thought about saying I'd probably have my wife do it...). People say these things out of ignorance at best and assholery at worst. Similarly...
People of color are paid less than whites. Whites are more likely to be hired for high-paying/prestigious jobs. The vast majority of elected officials are white. Trying to decry the existence of white privilege (eg, white people who bitch about affirmative action; I have a relative who once said, in complete and utter seriousness, "These days white men are the most oppressed people around"), or saying something Pollyannish-but-idiotic like "We have a Black President now, so racism must be dead!" is ridiculous.

There is a phenomenon known in (mostly third-wave) feminist groups as mansplaining. It's when a man steps into a women's space to tell them "what's really going on," with a condescending, patronizing attitude and the assumption that everyone must want to hear his opinion. Having been thus enlightened, he imagines, the women will then go and get his words tattooed on their eyelids, or pre-order their gravestones with his words as epitaph. I especially hate when dudes mansplain feminist issues to me, or tell me how I should feel. Guess what? Not every conversation is about you. I understand that you have grown up in a society that taught you everyone waits for your proclamations with baited breath just because you have a penis. That is male privilege.
Similarly, (often well-meaning) white people whitesplain. We've been raised to believe our words have more inherent worth--that everyone wants to hear them--just because we're kind of melanin-deficient. It's our job to minister to the melanized. Guess what? Not every conversation is about us, white people. Especially when discussing racial issues, we should listen at least twice as much as we talk. STFU sometimes is what I'm trying to say here.

I wish feminist guys would call their friends out when they say or do sexist stuff. Your pal harasses some woman? Tell him it's not cool. He uses the word 'sluts' or 'bitches' to describe women? Nip that ish in the bud.
Thus, we white folk have to call each other out on racist bullshit, even--maybe especially--if it's not meant maliciously. We need to be aware. Friends don't let friends fall into frothy-mouthed jingoistic frenzies over "illegal immigration". Friends don't let friends listen to Rush Limbaugh, or tell racist jokes, or say that Cuba Gooding Jr. is 'so articulate' (mostly because he's not. I've never forgiven him for Snow Dogs). Hell, I have to call MYSELF out sometimes--when I automatically assume the African-American teenager on the Metro with two kids is a teen mom rather than babysitting younger siblings, or when a young Black man comes into the ER with a gunshot wound and I assume he's part of a gang. I have to stop and say, "Dammit, brain, knock it off," because living in the US for twenty-odd years has filled my brain with prejudices and racist attitudes (though I'd say this is probably also true for...well, everyone else).

We have to be the change we want to see. Yeah, I realize that is a major contender for the gold in the Trite Slogan Olympics. It's also true.

 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Living ethically, from soup to nuts

There are some decisions that are obviously ethical in nature.
Some are mundane and readily apparent: more than once I've come out of the grocery store and realized that the cashier (and I) both forgot about the case of Diet Coke I had stashed under the cart. That's simple; just run back in and pay. Sometimes things get a little thornier, especially in professional situations. If I'm on call at the hospital and admit a man I know from church--and in the process find out that he's having an affair-- it would be unethical to disclose this to anyone else, even his wife. What do I say if she's my best friend? What do I say if she comes to me later, in a situation completely unrelated to his treatment, and confesses she's afraid he's cheating?

Other decisions are less straightforwardly ethical--but I've come to appreciate that, in fact, every decision I make is important and has effects that extend beyond me to the world at large. The global community is currently more densely interconnected than it has been at any other point in history. Everything from the clothes I wear to the way I get to work to the things I eat and drink matters--to me, to my neighborhood, to the planet.

I wake up in the morning and have a cup of coffee. Do I have conventional coffee or fair trade? Is it worth it to me to pay twice as much for coffee that is produced humanely (ie, not on coffee growing plantations that are the agricultural equivalent of sweatshops)? Do I spring for shadegrown too and help protect the rainforest? What do I have for breakfast?

Then I put on my clothes, which I bought at a thrift store (true facts--I buy 90% of my clothing at thrift stores) both to save money and to avoid contributing to corporations that use sweatshop labor. Sweatshop labor is ubiquitous, and it's not just the bailiwick of the Walmart or Kohls brands as you might expect (triple word score for squeezing 'ubiquitous' and 'bailiwick' into one sentence--up top!). H&M, Wet Seal and Forever 21 are able to offer clothing-ish products at bargain-basement prices because they 'employ' children in Bangladesh and Vietnam--and do a brisk business, likely because the majority of people aren't aware of their use of sweatshop labor (I'd like to believe that no one, if made aware of these companies' labor practices, would prioritize inexpensive clothes over human suffering). However, I reserve particular ire for the Gap family of brands: Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic. I can't buy a pair of chinos that was made by an eight year old, no matter how cute and cheap they are. Ditto for my running shoes: the only ones I can wear are New Balance, because Nike, Adidas, Saucony and ASICS all use sweatshop labor (which bums me out, because I love Nike's pro-woman marketing campaigns).

Then I walk to work (or bike, if I'm in a major hurry--ie, I woke up late, again). I try to take the Metro or other public transportation when I can, since the car I have at my disposal is an enormous twenty-year old gas guzzler that kills a piece of Al Gore's soul every time I start it. I want to get a Prius but, y'know, money. I don't have it.

When I get to the hospital (and every few hours thereafter) I have a diet Coke. Tap water in a reusable bottle would be more ecologically and socially friendly--and friendlier to my wallet--but I am for-real, hard-core addicted to diet Coke. Sadly, there's an entire page on wikipedia devoted to criticisms of Coca-Cola, from its suppression of trade unions to ecological and human-rights abuses...so that's a big FAIL on my part.

For lunch, I have leftovers--I have doubts about the quality of the food in the cafeteria, both from a sustainable-sourcing perspective and from a nutritional perspective. There's the whole processed foods vs 'natural,' trying to find local foods, getting organic vs. conventional.

I go for a run in the park after work's over, wearing the aforementioned New Balance sneakers, then come home and shower. I have to use Cetaphil cleanser because I have crazy sensitive skin that gets all eczematous and nasty if I look at a bar of regular soap or body wash--Cetaphil is literally the only thing that works for me. Galderma Labs, the makers of Cetaphil, do test on animals--which sucks, but as Cetaphil is technically classified as a drug, the FDA requires it to undergo animal testing. FAIL for me, though I'd really say it's a FAIL for my skin (I can't really help it). However, when it comes to washing my hair and using lotions and cosmetics, I'm super careful to use only products that haven't been tested on little bunnies and guinea pigs. PETA has a good list of cruelty-free beauty products that's updated regularly; I may not agree with a lot of PETA's tactics, particularly 'liberating' laboratory animals that then have nowhere to go, and advertising campaigns that aim to save animals by throwing women under the bus, but I trust them on this. My personal favorite brands include Zum (Indigo Wild), a natural beauty product line that was started in Kansas City and makes an utterly delicious-smelling Frankincense and Myrrh body oil, Burt's Bees for makeup, which is kind of spendy but worth it as it doesn't make my skin revolt, and LUSH products, which are often organic and always smell mouth-wateringly good (scent is a big deal for me).

I screw around doing...whatever until bedtime, then take my meds which are made by big, shadowy, ethically questionable pharmaceutical companies (which I will continue doing until I'm somehow able to compound sertraline and valproate myself, on account of they keep me--comment se dit?-- not crazy).

Point being: Every action has consequences, and while it's not always feasible to avoid making a decision that has inadvertently crappy results, we can at least make an effort to be aware of the ramifications of what we do, from coffee in the morning to bedding down at night.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Praying Away the Gay

John Paulk, famous during the late nineties for his two books trumpeting the success of his "conversion therapy," has recently come out (pun intended) apologizing for his support of the 'pray away the gay' movement and revealing that--quelle suprise!--he's still hella gay. Like, gold-hoop-earring-fake-tan-clipped-goatee gay (do a Google image search for John Paulk and compare the picture from the 1998 Newsweek cover to his more recent shots. It's like a before and after photo series advertising the youth-enhancing and beautifying powers of hot, sweaty man-on-man action). Ahem. To get back to serious matters, Paulk writes:

I know that countless people were hurt by things I said and did in the past. I do not believe that reparative therapy changes sexual orientation; in fact, it does great harm to many people. From the bottom of my heart I wish I could take back my words and actions that caused anger, depression, guilt and hopelessness. In their place I want to extend love, hope, tenderness, joy and the truth that gay people are loved by God.

I want to say to Mr. Paulk, first of all: bravo, girl. Good on you for realizing that what you did during the late nineties/early aughts injured a lot of people, emotionally and spiritually. You're miles ahead of the likes of, say, Marcus Bachmann, who's still running his reparative therapy clinic despite being--and I'm going to put this in clinical terms, so laypeople, try to hang on--so deep in the closet that he's in Narnia. Thank you for joining the ranks of...well, everyone, from the psychiatrist who originally pioneered conversion therapy (and later admitted it didn't work, offering profuse apologies to the families and patients whose lives he damaged) to the APA. Thank you for spreading the message that so-called 'reparative' therapy is in fact dangerous, destructive, and based on a false premise. I forgive you...AND (not but) I'm going to tell you a little story about what your books, and the philosophy they represent, did to me.

I was a teenager just coming to terms with my sexuality when your books came out; I was coming of age in an extremely conservative church that demonized LGBT folk. They would never have used the acronym LGBT--they always spat the word 'homosexual,' like someone might say 'pedophile' or 'rapist.' My parents got the Concerned Women of America newsletter and watched The 700 Club sometimes, if that tells you anything. It always seemed to me that there was a little bit of...unseemly, prurient interest in what "the homosexuals" were doing behind closed doors. To use one graphic example, I remember reading something in a Concerned Women of America brochure about the dangers of lesbian fisting, and how this depraved sex act was literally KILLING people. In retrospect, I don't think they understood the actual mechanics--what they described sounded more like repeatedly punching someone in the vag--nor did they seem to understand that veeeeeeery few lesbos are into that (not to shame anyone who is--and, BTW, there are people of every gender identity and sexual orientation who are into it, I gather...though I am so not one of them that the very thought makes me cross my legs and squirm uncomfortably). Not every gay couple is constantly fisting up a storm, is what I'm saying, but there were a lot of very pious, concerned members of our church who seemed (pant) very interested (pant, drool, pant) in knowing exactly what the sinners (drool, drool) and sodomites were up to.

 But back to you, Mr. Paulk. Even the titles of your books were confusing and hurtful, to be honest. Not Afraid To Change: The Remarkable Story of How One Man Overcame Homosexuality was the first one I became aware of. Let's unpack that as it went through my teenage mind, shall we? First there's that use of 'homosexuality' again. Even back then I knew that usage was demeaning, clinical, and freaking archaic. Then there's the image of...I'm going to call it gayness, because the term 'homosexuality' just makes me think of the pre-1973 DSM, ok?...as a challenge to be overcome, like polio or illiteracy but freighted with moral judgement. I read part of your book during some downtime at my job at the local library. It worried me. After I read your book, and after realizing that I was gay, but I COULDN'T be gay, because then I'd burn in hell for eternity, because then I'd be like those horrible homosexuals who were constantly molesting children and fisting and killing each other...I began devising a plan to be straight. It was doomed from the beginning, of course, as so many adolescent self-improvement projects are. I tried to make myself feel something when I looked at David Duchovny on that week's episode of X-Files, but found my eyes inexorably drawn to Gillian Anderson's cleavage and perfect red hair. Bad! Bad thought, I chastised myself. When I played in pep band, I tried forcing myself to watch the football players' butts in tight, shiny Spandex, even going so far as to make myself say (in my head) "Wow, he's hot. Yeah, he looks sexy." However, even in my head the lines fell flat, and somehow the cheerleaders' short skirts were always more appealing. 

 For me the challenge would be not so much to stop liking girls as to start feeling something, anything, but mute revulsion for guys. I "got" a boyfriend in middle school and went to the movies with him, where I let him give me my annual tooth-cleaning with his tongue. It was utterly repulsive (I'm actually not exaggerating; this boy was a singularly terrible kisser, with all the slobber and excessive enthusiasm of a Golden Retriever). I read about how you had married an ex-lesbian and imagined marrying a guy someday, and letting him put...it...in...there...Sorry, I vomited a little thinking about it. OK, let's be honest, I vomited a lot.

 I remember asking a Sunday School teacher who was actually pretty liberal in comparison to the rest of the congregation if she thought people could be born gay. For those not in the know, a common conservative argument is that no one is born gay; it's a choice, a sort of stubborn rebellion, like a teenager who fractiously insists on wearing one pair of torn black jeans day after day. Her answer, which I will never forget as long as I live:

"I think so. I mean, sometimes people are born with physical defects, and sometimes they're mental or spiritual. That doesn't mean it's ok to participate in homosexual behavior, though. It's just like someone who has urges to have relations with animals or children--as long as they never, ever, ever act on them and live in celibacy like God intended, or get married to women [I don't think this woman was even aware lesbians existed] I think they can still get into heaven."

Drop the mic and walk away. So now, thanks to my church, my family, and the bigoted ideology behind your books, my Life Options were laid out before me at the vulnerable age of seventeen: No Sex Ever, Forever; Learn to Love Dick; or Go Straight To Hell.

I read part of your book Love Won Out, when I was in college. By then I was pretty comfortable in my skin and in my identity, but there was still something intimately galling about the book; it annoyed in the way that only a close friend or family member can annoy. It was written in what I still thought of, for good or ill, as the language of my people. The title suggests that whatever emotions I might experience as--sigh--a filthy homosexual would not be as good, as pure, as holy, as church-sanctioned heterosexual love. That getting 'straightened out' and getting married (rather than reveling in nonstop gay orgies or whatever it is gay folks do) would be an act motivated by love of God, rather than love of The World and its pleasures.

I have to say, Mr. Paulk (why do I have a feeling you go by Mr. John instead?), that I might write a memoir called Love Won Out as well--and it might be remarkably similar. My story might be less sexy; no sudden conversion experiences, no absolute happy endings, no wedding dresses (yet). It is the story of gradually coming to terms with myself, my sexuality and my God--and of realizing that all these things are connected, and none needs to be alienated from the others. I want to extend love, hope, tenderness, joy and the truth that gay people are loved by God, you wrote. I agree, Mr. John. I agree.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dear Creepy Guy in My Apartment Building

Maybe you don't know that you're totally creeping me out. I'd like to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that's the case. You look like you're probably in your fifties; maybe you just aren't hip to the fact that leering at me and making (what you may think are complimentary) comments on my body isn't OK. However, the fact that you have functioning eyes and ears leads me to assume that you must see my reactions to your overtures and a) not realize that stammering/ failure to make eye contact/ not acknowledging you means that what you're saying makes me really uncomfortable or b) you realize that and don't care. The latter is more egregious, I guess, as that would be born of entitlement and malice; the former could be written off as cluelessness. However, it's a cluelessness that, in 2013, shouldn't be allowed to stand. Maybe to you it feels like you've been giving me compliments. Maybe the fact that I've never explicitly said "This is making me uncomfortable" or "Please don't call me that, I don't like it" has allowed you to continue in your cluelessness. Well, let me lay it out for you here.

It makes me super uncomfortable that you feel entitled (OK, so I guess there is some element of entitlement there) to comment on my body. Saying, "Wow, you look great, you've lost a lot of weight!" might, possibly maybe, be an OK thing to say IF I know you well AND I've asked you how I look now that I've lost X pounds. Neither of those is the case. Contrary to popular belief, my body--and the bodies of everyone else in the world, particularly women--ain't public property. It's not actually your business, unless I ask you or am paying you for it to be your business (ie, if you're my physician). And the fact that you said it in a closed elevator where I was basically trapped alone with you upped the creep factor exponentially. You may not understand this, but as a woman--especially as a woman with a history of sexual victimization--I have a hard time telling when a 'compliment' (it's not really a compliment)/comment will end there, and when it may become a more tangible form of sexual violence. I'm not saying you're necessarily a shitty person; I don't know you well enough to determine that. But because lots of other shitty people throughout history (both my own and in the world at large) have followed up catcalls and comments with assault...that's the default response of my mind/body/psyche. Terror. Rage. Shame.

Then there's the fact that you call me "Beautiful" and "Sweetie" as if that's my name. Some of you are saying, "Oh, that's just him being nice." PS-- I can hear the difference between the benign "beautiful = you look nice" and the much creepier "beautiful = I am complimenting you because I want to bang you and possibly am doing so in my head right now." Every time he does it, I avoid eye contact. I say nothing. I start sweating like crazy. It doesn't help that a lot of this, again, happens in a closed elevator where I can't bolt. Dude, when ALL, literally ALL I've ever heard you say to me is "Hey, Beautiful," or "Wow, you've lost weight," or "Wow, you look pretty" (leer, leer, leer) I find it...concerning. I have a name. Beautiful isn't it. It means that to you I'm just a body; a body for you to look at. That's kind of the definition of objectification, and it simultaneously makes me feel gross and pisses me off. It pisses me off that I leave my apartment by an alternate door when I know you're in the lobby. It pisses me off that I wait an extra few minutes to take a different elevator when I know you're already in one. It pisses me off that, because I was raised to be a Polite Midwestern Girl, I haven't yet had the chutzpah to say "That makes me uncomfortable, please stop." It pisses me off that I have to be afraid you'll react angrily if I get up the ovaries to say it.

Maybe next time you do it I'll have the strength and energy to let you know, unequivocally, that it bothers me; but that fact is I shouldn't have to. This isn't even street harassment; this is in my building, my home. Knock it off.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

F-words galore: Femmeness vs Femininity

I had an interesting conversation about gender presentation with a friend several weeks ago. She would be surprised to hear that's what it was about, but it was nonetheless. We were discussing our "types"--the kind of people we're romantically attracted to. I mentioned that I'm generally drawn to women who are as, or more, feminine than myself.
"That must make things difficult," she said.
"How so?" I asked, genuinely puzzled. Lots of things make dating difficult for me--lack of time, painful shyness, the fact that the dating pool for lesbians is smaller than for pretty much anyone else--but the fact that I'm attracted to feminine women has never struck me as one of them.
"Well, you're really feminine," she said.
"What?" I was kind of taken aback by the statement, as if someone had told me, "You have really pretty wings." It seemed like an impossibility.
"Well, look at you right now, in your little sundress, with your girls on display...long hair, heels, red lipstick...you're pretty feminine."
"But most days of the week I'm in sweats and scrubs and that pair of Chuck Taylors I've had since college. And I wear makeup a few times a month, tops."
She shrugged noncommittally. "Just saying."

So this got me thinking about the difference between femininity and femmeness. The truth is, I don't see myself as feminine. To be feminine, to me, is to be 'good' at being a woman, in the socially constructed sense--and I'm not. It is of course worth noting that there are multimillion-dollar fashion, diet and cosmetic industries whose continued profitability depends on making all women feel insufficiently feminine, so it's probably not just me. Femininity is the ability to adhere to the rules about female-presenting appearance, conduct, and even thought that are imposed by one's culture...and there are a lot of rules.

The idealized feminine body--slender but with curves in the 'right' places, toned but not disarmingly muscular, absolutely and effortlessly hairless, with clear, even-toned skin--is not mine. My arms aren't wispy; after years of weight lifting and other vigorous exercise, they aren't even toned--they're BUILT. I've never grown beyond the 34 A I wore in middle school (if 'real women have curves,' I guess I'm out of the running). I am, to put it politely, hirsute, and staying on the right side of the femininity police would require shaving every other day, which I have no patience for (also not enough blood--as shaving my legs always seems to result in at least one semi-mortal injury. Seriously, sometimes it looks like I've been slaughtering pigs in the shower). That's what pants and tights are for, right?

As for feminine conduct and interests, I'm completely out of my element. Every so often I read a Glamour or Self that someone's left in the gym--it makes elliptical time go by more quickly--and I skip over half the articles, easily, because I don't give one lonely, solitary shit about most of the content. Fifteen ways to please your man? Don't have one, don't want one. New makeup trends? Yeah, I get by with black eyeliner and Revlon Red lipstick--but mostly Burt's Bees lip balm. Every kind of foundation I have ever tried has made my sensitive skin break out like a lock picker in prison. Please don't try to talk to me about ombre hair (you make your hair...Mexican?) or green eyeshadow or why lace is in or booties are out or why I should be freezing my eggs. I know enough to know that Prada and Coach and Swarovski make things that I'm supposed to care about and desire...but I don't. I visit the Anthropologie website sometimes, but mainly in order to marvel over the prices people with too much money will pay for hand-crocheted pillows ($128? Are you effing kidding me?) and peplum dresses ($500? REALLY? Completely leaving aside the fact that peplum is ugly).

When it comes to femininity, it all seems frustratingly pretty (oops--Freudian slip--I meant petty) and requires too much damn effort. Femmeness, on the other hand--femmeness is about acknowledging that gender is PERFORMED. This makes sense to me, since I frequently feel like I'm getting into drag when I slip into a dress and heels. This isn't really me. I'm getting ready to do a show--this is just the costume. This isn't part of the trying-all-the-time-to-fit-into-an-Iron-Maiden, oh-shit-am-I-doing-this-right-or-will-I-be-unmasked BS that I associate with trying (and failing) to live up to the stringent requirements of femininity. This is playful. This is fun. This is interrogated femininity, dress-up, a carnival. I can do it tonight and not have to do it tomorrow. I can go all Courtney Love and wear red lipstick with my old, narsty boots. I can wear fishnets and not shave my legs. I can occupy my femmeness whenever I want, putting it on and taking it off as it suits me. It is interrogated, curated femininity. I'm not doing these things--putting on Amy-Winehouse-worthy eyeliner, painting my nails, putting on a dress that shows off what little cleavage I have--because I have to.

Femininity, all too often, is about saying "I must." I must pluck my eyebrows, I must lose twenty pounds, I must wear stilettos all day even though they hurt like sweet baby Jesus, I must wear Spanx even though they have a stupid name and take twenty minutes to wrestle onto my body. Femmeness is about saying "I can, and I've thought about it, and I wanna."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Is PMDD real? Yes, and it sucks.

PMDD (PreMenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) is gonna be in the DSM-5. And while I have my concerns about including diagnoses that are gender-specific (or, more to the point, that all the diagnoses that are gender-specific are female-specific; why is there no testosterone-induced rage disorder?), I have to say that it is in many ways affirming to know that I'm not alone in having the PMS-on-'roids that is PMDD. Ah, validation and normalization--you are so, so dear.

On the one hand, it bothers me that there's the possibility that women with normal, physiologic mood changes and symptoms will be saddled with a psychiatric diagnosis by docs who don't take the time to actually take thorough histories or READ the diagnostic guidelines. I'm troubled by the fact that some people's takeaway from its inclusion in the DSM-5 will likely be "Women on the rag be cray." I'm worried about the pathologizing of women's experience just because it isn't men's (ie, the "default human's") experience.

However. Maybe this will get some people working on the mechanisms behind it, and get some treatments out there other than SSRI antidepressants (I'm on Zoloft already, thanks), fish oil (fish oil is good for literally everything ever, so I'm already on that too) calcium (I get plenty) and oral contraceptives with drospirenone (I dunno...I'd really like to quit smoking before I try these).

I hate that for 10-12 days out of the month--more than thirty percent of my life, for those of you playing along at home--I'm exhausted, depressed, and anxious. Throw in bloating (I put on 5-10 lbs of water weight every month during that week, no joke), monster carb cravings and crying jags in the frozen foods aisle at Schnucks and you see why I'm glad this entity is getting some recognition.

For instance, in a world where I was less uptight and actually let myself do all the things I want to do in that premenstrual funk, this is the nightmare that would unfold. I would...

Eat an entire box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese by myself while watching all of Season 1 of Sabrina the Teenage Witch on Hulu, crying intermittently as I remembered my middle school years (when the show was originally broadcast). Wash it down with a bottle of 3-buck Chuck, and chase that with a bag of mini Reeses peanut butter cups.

Get in bed with a Terry Pratchett book, a cat, and a family-size box of White Cheddar Cheez-Its and only come out for bathroom breaks.

Look in the fridge and see some vegetables. Feel momentarily guilty, then decide, "screw vegetables," and make waffles with Nutella. In fact, screw waffles. Eat Nutella directly from the jar with a spoon (not with fingers--I'm not a heathen).

Watch American Beauty; cry uncontrollably.
Snuggle with cat; cry uncontrollably.
Look at Youtube videos of cats; cry uncontrollably.

Get in a hot bath with lavender oil and a box of Krispy Kremes, and stay in until the donuts are gone or the water is tepid, whichever comes first.

Try to sleep while fending off panic attacks. Remind self that Xanax does not play well with 3 buck Chuck.
Try to sleep while fending off overly affectionate cats.
Try to sleep while fending off a general sense of existential angst and malaise, and the bleak certainty that I have squandered my youth and will never live up to my potential as a human being.

This is only what would happen if I let myself go, of course. For the most part I'm good at keeping myself in check and projecting at least a semblance of sanity. I just wish the 'projecting' part weren't necessary.

End of self-involved, navel-gazing blog entry (did I mention that's also one of the symptoms?).


Yes, I do miss bacon.

There are certain questions every vegetarian gets tired of answering. For the most part I try not to be 'that girl'--the one who goes on and on about her vegetarianism. I went veggie in high school and even with all the holier-than-thou condescension that comes with adolescence I never lectured anyone about factory farming or the energy required to produce a gram of vegetable protein as opposed to a gram of animal protein. I didn't give my parents crap about eating burgers (now I do, but only for the sake of their cholesterol levels). When I eat out with friends, I don't make a fuss: I can usually find something wherever we go (notable exception: barbeque joints, where even the beans and corn frequently have, um, animal additions. I'm looking at you, Pappy's). What I don't understand is why so many people, when they find out I'm veggie, don't do me the favor of being similarly chill. So here are the questions I'm tired of hearing, and the answers--so that hopefully I don't have to provide them again (and again, and again).

Why are you vegetarian? Lots of reasons--though I guess the overriding one would be that I don't like killing sentient beings to survive if I don't have to (and, unlike people in other parts of the world/during other periods of history--I don't). Then there's the fact that most of the meat raised in the US is not raised humanely, and I want to do my part to minimize suffering (of humans and animals) whenever I can. The health benefits I derive from it (less saturated fat and more fiber = lower cholesterol, decreased cancer risk) are also a nice bonus.

Do you miss bacon? Yes. Terribly. Confession time: I do break down once or twice a year and have a slice of bacon, and lean back, greasy-lipped, in meat-and-nitrate-induced ecstasy. Bacon is the salty, fatty crack of the meat world. Bacon is a hell of a drug.

If you were in a survival situation, and all there was to eat was meat, would you eat it?  I always want to ask in return, "If you were stranded on a desert island, and all there was to eat was plants, would you eat them?" Of course. See above: I don't like killing sentient beings to survive if I don't have to. If I have to, then I have to. If I have to eat bunnies or cows or Uruguayan rugby players to live, I will, and with ketchup. Lots of ketchup.

How do you get enough iron? Well, let's say I eat a fortified cereal with 9 mg (50% of the RDA) of iron for breakfast. Then I have a stir-fry with 1/2 cup of tofu (6.5 mg) and assorted veggies (1 mg) for lunch. Then I have a veggie burger (1.5 mg) for dinner. Ta-da! I have 18 mg of iron in one day, or 100% of the RDA for a woman my age. PS: To be completely honest, my diet doesn't always look like the sample menu above--cough, macaroni and cheese, cough--so I also take a cute little Flintstones multivitamin with iron to cover all my bases.  I've ridden the anemia train before, and it does not stop anywhere you want to go.

But...*anguished cry*...how do you get enough protein??? So, first of all, let's agree on how much protein is 'enough.' If, like me, you're an adult endurance athlete (not a pro or anything, but you run maybe 40 miles a week and lift weights a few times a week), you need a MAXIMUM of 1.2 g of protein per kg of body weight. If you aren't as active, you need less--more in the 0.5 to 1 g/kg body weight range. For some reason, someone somewhere got hold of the idea that you need 1 g/POUND of body weight and disseminated it all over the internet, which of course would result in a gross overestimation of protein requirements. NO ONE (except maybe a person on a burn unit, or carrying septuplets) needs 150 g of protein a day, and it's probably kind of hard on your kidneys.

So, doing the sample menu thing again, let's say you're an average 65 kg person who works out a few times a week, nothing too intense. You'll need about 65 g of protein a day. Start your morning with an egg-white and veggie-sausage bagel sandwich for 25 g of protein. Have some macaroni and cheese (10 g) with celery and hummus (5 g) for lunch. Mid-afternoon, have a greek yogurt (Chobani...om nom nom) for another 15 g. For dinner, a salad and a cup of curried lentils (18 g) puts you at 73 g--more than enough protein, even for an active person like you!

Caveat: As I think the menus show, you can't be a lazy vegetarian and expect to meet all your nutritional needs. To be healthy on a vegetarian diet, you gots to plan, girlfriend. You don't have to be obsessive or anything--just be self-aware (ie, "Oh, yeah, I haven't had very much protein yet today--I guess I'll add some grilled tofu to my salad, and grab some yogurt for dessert"). That vegetarian friend of yours who lives on french fries, pasta and grilled cheese probably ISN'T getting all the iron, protein and other nutrients he or she needs. On the other hand, a lot of folks who eat meat don't either (though they may be getting more than enough protein and calories, people who eat at McDonald's every day can still be--and probably are--malnourished in the sense of not having enough vitamins and minerals, to say nothing of things like antioxidants and fiber).

So there.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Yes, you CAN shame someone to death.

I've been following the story of Rehtaeh Parsons since it broke. She was a 17 year old girl from Nova Scotia who was raped by several boys at a party when she was 15. Afterward, the boys circulated photos of the incident, and she was bullied mercilessly for being 'a slut.' The bullying was so bad she changed schools; she was still targeted online. The police investigated and called it a 'he-said, she-said incident,' and did nothing. The school did nothing. She killed herself last week.

Audrie Pott was similarly, horrifically victimized--raped by several boys at a party, who then shared videos and pictures of the assault with friends at school. They went viral, and ceaseless bullying was added to the trauma of the assault itself. She committed suicide a week later.

Lizzy Seeberg was sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player. She reported the attack to campus police; she then received texts from the player's friends telling her 'not to do anything she would regret' and that it was 'a bad idea to mess with Notre Dame football.' It took campus police more than two weeks to get around to investigating her complaint. By that point, Lizzy had already committed suicide.

These three young women were literally shamed to death by a culture where it's easier to be a rapist than a rape victim or survivor. Only 3% of rapists ever see the inside of a jail cell. As for rape survivors: 20% attempt suicide at some point in their lives.

These are not isolated incidents. As a society, we can't chalk this up to 'a few bad apples' anymore. These aren't cases of shady strangers hiding in the bushes at the park, hoping to keep their attacks secret. Not only are these boys (I'm loath to call them men for a multitude of reasons) raping girls and women openly--at parties, sharing stories afterwards with their teammates--but they seem PROUD of it. They aren't trying to cover their tracks; they're posting photos online, sharing them with all their friends, as if degrading and physically violating another human being were a sign of manhood rather than the most despicable and gutless act imaginable. The Steubenville rapists were laughing and joking throughout the assault. They thought it was FUNNY. And so, apparently, did the other kids in all these scenarios--the ones who didn't stop the rape itself, the ones who forwarded the pictures of the assault, the ones who called Rehtaeh Parsons and Audrie Potts 'sluts' and 'whores.'

And why? Well, there are a million answers, but I'd start by saying that it's the ultimate, ugly growth that comes from the seed of the double-standard. Boys/men who have casual sex--with willing or unwilling partners--get high-fives and slaps on the back. Boys will be boys, right? And if she didn't want to have sex, then why was she so drunk/why did she have that short skirt on/ why did she come to a party in the first place? Sidenote: I'd love to get some shirts printed up that say 'No blood alcohol level is equal to consent' and hand them out at fraternities and high schools. A girl or woman who has sex (or is raped, because apparently a lot of people CAN'T seem to GRASP that RAPE=/= CONSENSUAL SEX, and it KIND OF makes me feel STABBY) is, y'know, a whore.

 In this paradigm, a high-school football player can get his rape on and make it public knowledge and expect to see an increase in his social standing, while the woman he victimized suddenly becomes the lowest of the low, worthy of all the contempt and shame that can be heaped upon her.Kind of backasswards, no?  And until that changes--until being a rapist becomes a more painful, one-way ticket to social-outcastdom than being raped; until survivors are treated with respect and dignity (which includes holding the perpetrators accountable and funding essential services like rape crisis centers); until we look at rape culture with wide-open eyes and start consciously dismantling it, women will continue to be bullied to death...for having been victimized. And THAT is the biggest shame of all.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Words I can't stand

I can't STAND certain words. I've written about words that I absolutely love: susurrus, syzygy, apotheosis. Now I think it's time to devote some space to words that I absolutely abhor.

Of course, there are the words that I find gross simply because the object/action/property they describe are disgusting (and in medicine, there are a lot of these): mucus, which just sounds sticky and disgusting and infectious; slough; fungating (go ahead and do an image search for 'fungating wound.' I'll wait). 'Fester' is a horrible word, and I honestly can't think of a situation in which 'discharge' isn't disturbing--even at the VA, when patients talked about getting an 'honorable discharge' from the service, I got a little queasy. I tried to imagine these men and women leaving the military after years of noble service, but all I could think of was schmutz and smegma (another cringe-inducing word). I guess that's what spending a rotation at an STD clinic does to a person.

Then there are the sexual words that make people (myself included) uncomfortable, because we as a society, despite/because of all the beer ads and Sports Illustrated covers we produce, are pretty deeply messed up about sex. I, for one, have very little patience for euphemisms/slang for body parts, and there are some that totally make me wince. Not surprisingly, the words for female body parts are the most cringe-inducing--in part because of cultural conditioning, which says the female body is inherently disgusting and dirty. For instance, calling someone a 'dick' is a mild insult, and one that I use frequently and with great relish, but calling someone a 'c*nt' is aboutthisclose to physically assaulting them (on the ONE occasion someone called me that, I felt like I'd been dragon-kicked in the solar plexus. Granted, it was already kind of a shitty situation that led to the use of that particular name, but still). I really WANT to like that word--it has a long and interesting history, deriving from the Sanskrit Kunti (a name for the kickass Goddess Kali-Ma) and later, through Indo-European precursors, giving rise to other words like country, kin, cunning and kind. I just can't get over the shock factor. I can't cope with 'pussy' either. Just...ew. Even when it's applied to cats I can't get over it. I'm actually fine with 'vagina,' although it's a little clinical, and 'clitoris' (which I'm really more concerned about anyway--nudge nudge, wink wink). I did have a girlfriend once who called it a 'flower,' which was kind of poetic and Georgia O'Keefe-y. And, OK, a little over the top--but we were in college; give me a pass on that one.

Relatedly, I totally support breast cancer research, but loathe all the cutesy campaigns that have been springing up with names like "Save the Ta-Tas" and "I Love Boobies" (which, BTW, way to objectify women and reduce them to one already massively overcommodified and sexualized body part. Could we try saving the women and acknowledging that in some circumstances, a mastectomy--ie, for the twee, a tata-ectomy--is lifesaving, and a woman is still very much a woman regardless of whether she has breasts? Rant over). Can we stop acting like we're in middle school and freaking call a spade a spade, or rather, a breast a breast? I'm a grown-ass woman. I don't have tatas or boobies or funbags or bazoombas, although--fun fact, mine are named. The right one is Thelma and the left one is Louise.

In the vein of disliking diminutives and toddler-talk, I also despise the word 'panties' when used to describe adult women's undergarments. It has an infantilizing quality at best and a quasi-pedo feel at worst, and that makes me really uncomfortable. Five year old girls wear panties. Once again, I'm a grown-ass woman. The vast majority of the time I wear 'underwear'--stolid, serviceable, bought in six-packs at Target. If I'm feeling fancy-dancy, I'll go to Victoria's Secret and pick up some 'lingerie,' which sounds slinky and French and sexy. I DON'T wear panties.

And last, the word 'chunks.' Several years ago, at a convenience store, I saw that Jack Links (the beef jerky people) were trying to build their empire with a new, chicken-based dried meat product (which, in and of itself--ew). The name? Chicken Chunks. It was all I could to push down the rising bile. I haven't seen them since that day. I can only hope they were returned to the soul-blackening Hell-pit of despair that vomited them forth in the first place, but more likely they were re-released under a new, more thoroughly market-tested name. I feel the same way about 'Chocolate Chunk' cookies--I think it's the whole 'blowing chunks' connection. Blorg.

What are some of your least favorite words, and why?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A poem about loss, in time for Good Friday (and my current ill mood)



Dominus Abstulit (The Lord Taketh Away)

The car destroyed, the lover gone, the house
damaged beyond repair, your heart a field
burnt bare and strewn with salt.

The Lord takes away.

This is the first lesson,
carried away from cold
hospital corridors and nights
lit by flames, with shrieking telephones.

Friends and strangers
(the difference minuscule
now, viewed from that infinite remove)
float through your field of vision
and whisper through
their fiery lips like seraphim:
"Don't question,"
offering
cold comfort which at least
is solid ground
to stand on when the earth
begins to crack
and sway beneath you,
and the fluorescent lights
of the waiting room make the ceiling spin.


What was taken will not be returned,

but because the Lord giveth as well,
you will be given rawness in its place,
a wound which will with time
be burnished smooth and bright,
a river-stone
to fill your empty hand.
Expect nothing, and stand over the grave
singing hymns of gratitude that you
at least were spared your death,
if not your life. 
-AG

  
PS. Reading through this, and in response to one person's comment, I realize that at first there appears to be little mention of the possibility of resurrection or hope (I said little, not none; hint--it's the burnished stone of matured, lived grief). Why? Well, one, because I was in a bad mood when I wrote this--but also because, at those 'Good Friday' points in our lives, there often doesn't appear to be any hope. Sure, retrospectively one can say "X was a horrible tragedy, but something good came of it," sort of like Good Friday, after the fact, is labeled 'Good.' But I'm 99% certain that at the time any member of the Jesus crew you asked would have called it "Horrible, awful, terrifying, humiliating Friday." It's normal and human to want to skip ahead to Easter without lingering in the pain and sorrow of Holy Week. On that Sunday morning, there's vindication--the idea that all suffering is redeeming and has meaning; that death is not forever; that every human tragedy contains the seeds of new life and transformation (also there are Cadbury Creme Eggs and those righteously awesome Reese's Easter Eggs). However, we're not there yet, and denying grief, or trying to tamp it down or skip over it, keeps us from resolving it. To truly feel joy, we have to know what sorrow feels like.