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? 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, 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'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* 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 ( 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?