Ladies First

I grew up in Minnesota, and I currently live in Minnesota, though there was a big break of 20 years where I lived and voted in other states. Still, one of the bright and shining lights in being in this horrible position of having to burn through all of my personal savings and deplete my entire 401k plan just to live until I find out my fate in a much-delayed disability hearing is that from my mayoral candidate to my state representative to my House and Senate candidates, everyone is a Democrat.

And the two Senators from Minnesota are very popular; Amy Klobuchar is a champion for women and often works across the aisle to find common ground so that bills don’t stall completely. The most recent bill (embarrassingly) is the one outlining what needs to be done in the case of sexual harassment – because nothing has been in place or updated for more than 50 years. Amy Klobuchar’s office is “following” my disability case, though for the time being, there is not much they can do to speed the process to the hearing because I’m technically not completely down to zero dollars (though I’m close) and I’m not close to death at the moment. Things have changed quite a bit since that concept of approaching your senators and representatives for help was introduced.

The other, Al Franken, often makes the news because of his relentless and sarcastic grilling during committee hearings. As recently as Wednesday night, after another video was posted on Twitter and Facebook, people were calling for him to run for president in 2020 because of his no-nonsense approach and seeming transparency in all areas professional and personal has made him the darling of many who tire of the current shitgibbon in office who picks fights with other world leaders via Twitter.

Of course, everything flipped on Thursday morning when it was revealed that Al forcefully kissed a woman after she refused him, then pretended to grope her while she was sleeping.

Al is actually a friend of friends, so I’m going to start there. I’m going to imagine knowing him for a few decades as someone who went to his house, or he came to mine, watched his kids grow up and he watched mine get bigger, and maybe we talked about how I finally got diagnosed with this really sucky disease that has no cure and not a great prognosis – because that is what happened to my friends. And it seems like he genuinely cares and wants everyone to have a better life.

My friends were hurt and disappointed. It’s difficult to wrap your head around having something like this hit the news and it touches every corner of your life. How do you explain it to children, who also see it on the news and hear adults talk about it? How do you bear the burden of close people being really disappointed, not to mention millions of strangers? How do you feel safe around someone who says that they respect boundaries and is a champion for women but then demonstrates the opposite?

Al even co-sponsored a sexual assault bill; it addresses how first responders are trained in handling rape victims and how to interview them. Abby Honold had to fight her rapist for two years in court in order to get a six-year sentence for her attacker. As soon as the story broke regarding Al’s behavior, Abby contacted his staff and requested that he immediately remove himself from the bill, and he agreed.

I tried to talk about this situation with a man who I generally see as supportive to women. When the report came out and was immediately confirmed and an apology was issued, I was extremely disappointed too. I admit I don’t personally know Al, but fuck, I’m a woman. I’m a woman who has worked with men. I’m a woman who has been out in public. I’m a woman who has been groped without permission. I’m a woman who has been kissed without permission. I’m a woman who has faked pleasure and orgasms in order to get away from someone as quickly as possible because I have recognized danger. The man that I tried to talk to about this knows this, because we have talked about it over and over.

But this time, he told me to shut up. He told me that the woman who reported it accepted Al’s apology, and that’s all that is needed, and my opinion doesn’t matter. Then he said he was sorry he got into the subject with me. Then he said he had bigger things to worry about. Then he went into these big, long speeches about how what Al did wasn’t as bad as what Roy Moore did, and it was before he was a senator, so he should just be left alone. This entire time he was spouting off, I didn’t say anything. There wasn’t anything I could have said that he would have been receptive to. He was in Lecturing Middle-Aged Privileged White Male mode. 

Why do I take it so personally? Just last week I had been talking about adding Al in on my disability case in trying to get it pushed through faster because my funds are running so low, but my instincts kept holding me back. I don’t know why. Now I’m afraid to ask my elected official to help me just because I have boobs and he might want to feel me up in return for helping me. Why does everything have to have a fucking cost? Why do I have to whore myself out? I truly don’t think that men understand just how much of a betrayal this is, when we confirm that yet another person has abused their power.

A man saw fit to tell me that my opinion didn’t matter, then he went on to tell me all about his – about men forcing themselves on women, and his conclusion was that it wasn’t that bad and it could have been worse. Another man posted his own conclusions, saying that as long as love and dating have been around, “unwanted feelings” have been a part of the whole thing, and we should just deal with it like adults. Here’s the thing, though: Al and his accuser never dated. Ever. And for part of it, she was asleep. I realize that every man has a “wake me up with a blowjob” fantasy, but when a woman is in full fatigue gear and wearing a flak jacket and helmet and is in a deep sleep sitting up on a plane surrounded by men, exhausted, she’s probably not fantasizing about how she can fulfill their high school porn dreams. The same can be said about my asshole ex-boyfriends who didn’t believe me when I would get pissed about them feeling me up in the grocery store when I was trying to take care of a long list and they were contributing absolutely nothing of value, including money and effort.

I really, truly wish that men would put their dicks down and listen.

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Suffering For Art

 


Yesterday I posted this article on my Facebook page, indicating there are certain entertainers I won’t support even on Netflix/Hulu/Amazon because they still receive royalties. I won’t even check out their movies from the library.

I was subjected to “Annie Hall” my freshman year in college. Woody Allen is a whiny fuckhead criminal, and I don’t understand why people, especially women, keep clamoring to work with him. Who does he remind me of? The abusive guy who doesn’t live downstairs anymore. I have paid attention to the trailers of Woody’s subsequent films, and quite frankly, they have nothing to offer beyond what we have already seen. Who keeps saying he’s a genius? Other men who want to bang underage girls.

One of my friends agonized over the fact that “great artists” might be shitty people. And by “shitty people,” he means that they probably rape and molest women and/or girls and/or boys. But, by god, look at their art! What would we miss out on if they didn’t do all of those things to other people! So the conclusion that this friend came to is that we should still support and admire the art – works by Salinger, Brando, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Mailer, Eliot, the list goes on.

My answer is no. I’ve never seen any of The Godfather movies. I’ve never lingered on a Pollack painting. Never read Salinger. When I find out that someone is a douchebag, I drop them like a hot mess. I will never again laugh or relate to a Cosby joke. He drugged women to fuck them, and then, you know, blamed them or tried to gaslight them.

Another friend who jumped in on the conversation jokingly said that he would support the art if he could pirate the material rather than outright buy it. But he would still miss the art too much if he had to give it up because he loved it too much; he was a huge John Lennon fan, and that outweighed any bad behavior.

What is especially disturbing is that the second friend wrote up a little speech during the first wave of #MeToo posts, saying he became aware of how unsafe women feel after a female friend asked, “But is it safe for me to go there by myself?” He expected and received a lot of accolades. But he and the other guy were pissed at me for this post about not supporting assholes and criminals. I mean, they both apologized for offending me, but only after speeches about why I shouldn’t be mad. Don’t be mad, brah. We’re just flawed and we don’t want to stop bad behavior if it results in good art.

We all attended the arts high school together. I’m always surprised and then disappointed when I think that we’ve all evolved at the same rate, because we had this really great experience, and I’m proven wrong. I’m a harpy now. Why can’t I be all cool about loving the art and understand that men will be men and suffer and need salvation – but know until then, they are going to beat and rape women and children?

I’m just wondering when I stopped deserving to be safe. Is it because I’m an artist and I should expect violence from other artists for the sake of art? Is it because I’m disabled and I should be thankful for whatever comes my way? Where is the motherfucking disconnect?

I’d much rather throw my money and my spirit at artists who aren’t shitty people. For instance, I like Sara Bareillas. I’m pretty sure we’re not going to be reading any shockers about her. I also like X Ambassadors. Have you heard about their partnership with No Barriers for the Renegade Scholarship Fund? “The organization helps people embark on a quest to contribute their absolute best to the world. From middle and high school students, to adults with disabilities including wounded veterans, the organization serves people of all backgrounds and abilities united by a common desire to live purposefully despite the barriers in our way.” And since I live across the street from the art gallery my sister manages, there is an endless stream of local visual artists I get to talk to and take pictures of their goods to post online for social media.

There are so many opportunities to support positive artists, both living and dead, that I don’t feel the need to give my attention or money to those who destroy others. I don’t accept the status quo. I don’t go along with the idea that I should like them or their art just because they are “classic” or “geniuses.” Now that we have the internet, we have access to so much more material. Besides, last time I checked, The Doors aren’t putting out any new songs.

V-Day

I ran into my next-door neighbor yesterday as I was coming back from the pharmacy up the street and she was heading out to her car. We usually only exchange a “hey” and weak smiles. Instead, I said, “Did you hear the downstairs couple screaming for eight and a half hours Saturday???”

She said, “Oh, I guess he has PTSD, so that’s why he’s violent.”

I said, “That’s NO excuse. None.”

She walked away from me quickly and snidely said over her shoulder, “Well, stuff happens in relationships.” 

Yeah, it does. I can tell you all about the relationship downstairs. There’s a lot of crying. The guy rages and screams and says that he CAN’T EXPRESS HIMSELF LIKE SHE CAN and SHE’S GOT IT EASY and EVERYONE LETS HER TALK BUT NO ONE LETS HIM TALK and I can’t hear her response clearly because he’s raging and screaming and telling her to shut the fuck up. Sometimes he tells her she’s stupid for touching his stuff. Sometimes he tells her she’s stupid for cleaning a certain way and that no one else cleans that way in the entire world. THE ENTIRE WORLD DOES IT BETTER THAN SHE DOES. If she would just LISTEN TO HIM THEN THINGS WOULD BE BETTER, but NO, SHE’S GOT TO BE FUCKING SELFISH, and WHY DOES SHE MAKE IT SO HARD ON HIM? She’s so self-centered!

This went on for eight and a half hours Saturday night. The only break was when they had visitors at around 7 pm to sing one of them – I think the husband – happy birthday. Just a half hour beforehand there was sobbing, so someone had to get cleaned up before the friends came over. Then when the visitors left, there was a huge, audible sigh, and the fighting resumed. 

Is this what my next-door neighbor really believes is the norm? Is this really what is healthy in her eyes?

It doesn’t feel good to me. It makes my skin crawl. Specifically, it affects me because I have been in it before. The worst was Drummer #2, the guy who would write me hate letters in dry erase marker on the kitchen tile counter overnight and cover the entire counter and I would wake up to chaos. Our fights would last hours and days, and the scripts were the same: he couldn’t talk about his feelings (while screaming at me), if I would only do things his way then he wouldn’t get pissed off at me (but the rules were always changing), and by the way, why was I so selfish?

But I didn’t learn my lesson with him. The most recent live-in boyfriend that I had turned violent after we moved in together. He became very unhappy after realizing that I wouldn’t be able to wait on him hand and foot because I’d be recovering from one of my many surgeries, and it really pissed him off that I made twice as much money as him. He shoved me three weeks after one of my surgeries. I broke up with him five months after we moved in together, but I still kick myself for even letting it go that long.

Eve Ensler, the creator of “The Vagina Monologues,” came up with a brilliant movement: V-Day. On Valentine’s Day, it’s important to remember that it’s not always roses and chocolates – sometimes it’s booze and bruises, or worse.

http://www.vday.org/homepage.html

And of course a block down the road from us in St. Paul is the oldest women’s shelter in the U.S.

But even though we have these wonderful resources, and we have the women’s march in D.C. and around the globe, and we can say “pussy” and “vagina” without raising an eyebrow, there is still such a huge disconnect.

Why is my neighbor so flip about “stuff” happening in relationships? Is she just so fucking grateful that it’s all about pleasing the guy? And is her assumption that I’ve never been in a relationship so I don’t have a clue? Oh, honey, let me direct you to my blog…

But I feel like it is such a never-ending battle, for me, and for all women, to be considered equal and to not be slut shamed or used as punching bags, and to make sure we are not buying into some patriarchal and misogynistic vomit.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It Out Of There Alive

A few minutes ago I was standing in the middle of my kitchen, trying to figure out if the married couple downstairs was fighting again, and whether I should reach for my phone. Last Saturday the husband, whom I have nicknamed The Leprechaun because he’s shorter than my 5’6″ height and sports a red beard, had a 3-hour meltdown. One of many, I’d like to point out. He rages. He hits the wall. He hits furniture. He may even hit his wife. I hear her crying all the time.

I notified the apartment managers the week they moved in, and they told me to call the cops. On Saturday, I did. I got tired of the screaming and my walls shaking. The cops came and went, and The Leprechaun took it upon himself to immediately knock on my door afterwards and demand that I talk to him about why it’s acceptable for him to be abusive. You see, he has a traumatic brain injury. You see, he can’t drive. You see, it’s none of my business if he makes his wife cry. I didn’t open my door. I simply put my headphones back in and eventually he went away.

I drafted a letter to the apartment managers. In it, I recapped what happened in the past, including The Leprechaun knocking on my door right before New Year’s because I had dropped a bottle of lotion on the floor, because it had “caused a huge ruckus” (like that’s the same as 15 hours of his screaming rage) – and by the way, I hadn’t opened my door to him that time either. I also indicated that he had knocked on my door and demanded we talk after the cops had left on Saturday. I was told that the managers were going to have a meeting with him as well as talk to their attorneys to find out how to handle him because he had a disability (traumatic brain injury from serving in the Navy) and they have to “accommodate” him – though I’m not sure why his TBI overrides my disabilities. Also, let’s face it: no one has ever called the cops on me for being violent and threatening, because I’m not.

I got a text from one of the managers Wednesday night that they were setting up a meeting with him Thursday morning. Fifteen minutes later, The Leprechaun knocked on my door again and demanded that I open the door and talk to him. I told him through the door that I wasn’t dressed to open the door (which was the truth – I was resting in bed), and he said very forcefully, “I’LL WAIT.” Then I said that I was also on the phone (which was true – I was talking to someone out of state, and that friend could hear the entire exchange). Eventually The Leprechaun went away again, but I had to text the manager and tell him what happened, and he told me to call the cops if The Leprechaun came back.

I know the meeting happened on Thursday morning. I heard The Leprechaun return back to the apartment because he slammed the door as hard as he could. I didn’t hear him start packing boxes though, so I have no idea what the verdict was. Looks like I’ll have to pursue that answer Monday.

But it seems silly that I had to point out to the apartment managers in my letter to them that I don’t condone spousal abuse, I am not okay with him retaliating against me, I’m not his wife, he doesn’t pay my rent, and it doesn’t say anywhere in my lease that I’m required to accept abuse from the tenant who lives in the basement apartment. So now I’m on alert and ready to call the cops. C’mon, Leprechaun, your box of Lucky Charms is gonna run out sooner or later.

This ties into another subject that I was discussing with a friend about why women fake orgasms. Specifically, why do women who are having a one-night stand fake orgasms. Mainly because there’s so many douchebags like The Leprechaun running around. The worst are the ones who like to proclaim that they’re nice. No really, they’re nice! But then get any of your bits naked around them and they’ll make your nipples bleed or tell you that you like anal sex, you just don’t know it, and they’re going to show you how right they are.

I actually had the privilege of talking this process of faking it through with a man who was willing to listen rather than becoming defensive or angry. Think about it; when you talk about having one night stands as a single woman, you get the pious lecture about how you don’t deserve anything nice because you gave a man your body for only one night, you dirty whore. No lecture for the other party, though. He did nothing worse than stick his dick in another hole. But I digress.

We talked about the various reasons why women fake orgasms. But there’s a specific reason that isn’t talked about much that comes up from time to time on first dates/first-time or only-time sexual encounters, and that is personal safety. Sometimes you don’t know that things are going to go badly until you are both naked and the fucker has stopped listening, and it dawns on you that he simply wants a porno show. His script is running and you had better perform. The light bulb goes on over your head.

Of course, some men love the whole resistance and crying thing. That’s not what I’m talking about. The guys who can’t tell if a woman is faking are the ones who rely solely on porn for the cues of orgasm: “Oh” sounds, clenched hands, clamped jaw (or maybe even gaping open, whatever your preference). They want to dig a hole to China through your clit. If you complain that the pressure hurts, they push your hands away, tell you that you should stop being shy or that you really like it, and wrench your legs back open after they have closed to protect your most tender flesh. Same for anything that they want to do to you rather than do with you.

The light goes on. You give him his show, make all the right noises, tell him he is king, and get the fuck out of there before he rips your skin any more or gives you additional bruises and you have excruciating pain every time you pee because the urine is passing over open wounds.

I’m just saying, it’s okay to fake it sometimes. There’s a lot of Leprechauns out there.

The Ballad of the Broken Neighbors

“FUCK. FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK! SHUT UP! JUST SHUT UP! FUCK YOU!”

It first came on Sunday night, a man’s voice, from the direction of my windows to my right. I had my ear buds in and had been laying in bed, watching movies, as usual. My first thought was that a guy was watching a sporting event and was just generally being a dick and being really passionate about a goal that was scored.

But then I heard a much softer female tone answer. I could tell she was in tears but I couldn’t make out what she said. Then he again exploded: “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Then he punched something, hard, multiple times. It may have been the wall, or it may have been a piece of furniture, but I don’t think it was her. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. I got out of bed. This building is old, built somewhere around 1910, and the floors are the original wood. They creak with every step I take no matter how quiet I try to be.

I went to the kitchen, and it seemed to be slightly louder. I could hear them both. I have a very tiny apartment, only 360 square feet, and much of the wall space is covered with art, so it was really difficult for me to find any blank wall to put my ear to. By the time I did, they had stopped. I hovered for a while but everything stayed quiet. I slowly walked back to bed, wondering if they were truly done.

At around 12:30 a.m., there was another outburst. “FUCK! FUCK YOU! STOP IT! JUST STOP IT! JUST SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP! FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK!” More crying from her, and words, but I still couldn’t hear what she was saying. I got up and they stopped. I got into bed again and wondered when they moved in, because I hadn’t heard anything like it before from that space below me.

At around 9:00 the next morning, the yelling started again. I got out of bed and laid down on my floor so I could put my ear to the floor boards. I could hear them walking around, I could hear the air moving between their bodies and their ceiling/my floor, I could even hear them making holes somewhere close to me – maybe to hang electronics, or pictures? I felt like I was in a movie, where the cinematographer shows how close one character is to the other, and all that is separating them is one flimsy piece of board. I wondered if they could hear me breathing. I tried to hold my breath.

I heard him say, “Why do you always fucking do this?!” and I know that she answered because I heard her voice, but it was still too quiet and tearful to make out the words. Then it was silent except for their bodies moving, and the periodic pounding into the plaster. After about 15 minutes I got up from my place on the floor because it was becoming far too painful to maintain, and I started getting ready for my caseworker to visit. As soon as I did, the yelling started again.

When my caseworker arrived at around 1:30 p.m., I warned her that the couple in the apartment below mine had been fighting, and she would likely hear it. About three minutes later, we heard the guy again, just as loudly as all of his other rants. He never seemed to tire. I imagined that the woman was exhausted.

His rage continued for a total of 15 hours on Monday. He hit something again too. I still don’t think it was her, but it set me on edge. The last screaming rant was around 12:30 a.m. again; I had my ear buds in watching my final movie of the night trying to get tired enough to sleep and his screaming penetrated the ear buds.

For the next two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, he had screaming fits again, but not for the 15 hours that he did on Monday. On Wednesday I typed up a text to forward to the property manager but at the last second deleted it. Then an hour later, a notice was slipped under my door saying that we were getting completely new apartment managers (our 7th and 8th in a year and a half), and to be patient during the transition. That’s why my instincts wouldn’t allow me to text the now-fired old manager!

Today at lunch I took a chance and stopped by the office, which is located directly across from the new tenants’ apartment. I pulled the door shut, introduced myself, and told the new managers that I heard abusive behavior from the male tenant of the two. The new managers said that maybe the guy was just watching a game or playing XBox. I said that was bullshit, and that the woman had been crying. Then one of the managers said that yes, she had seen the woman crying. Then they said they didn’t see any marks on the woman’s face. I told them that didn’t mean anything, and by the way, women don’t cry over scores that men get while playing XBox. They said that I could always call the cops if I needed to. I am fine with that – and I will, do not doubt that – but here’s my problem: I have to actually do things to get ready to get to the front door to let the cops in that people who are able-bodied don’t think twice about. We have a secured front door without an intercom. Plus I am the only apartment within close proximity of the asshole, they don’t touch walls with anyone else (even though my next door neighbor heard him shout once), so when I report him, he’s going to come after me.

The new managers assured me they would talk to the new tenants. I went back to my apartment and laid down, and then someone started banging on my door and buzzing the ancient doorbell. I had to say “Just a minute!” more than a few times to get them to stop. After putting my wig back on, I opened the door to discover one of the managers there; she apologized and said she should have called instead of knocked, but then said that the woman said the man was playing with his XBox. I told the manager that that was absolute bullshit. The manager said that if I felt like the new neighbor was disturbing the peace, I was certainly welcome to call the cops, but she had to accept what the woman told her. I asked her if the woman came up with the XBox explanation on her own, or if the manager gave her that option as a possible “out,” and she couldn’t tell me.

So at this point, it’s me against the neighbors. Why do women stay? They just want the abuse to stop. They want their men to value them and to see how much they love them. They want their love to be enough to fix them. They don’t want to get their men in trouble. They need their men for financial support. I run the risk of both of them turning against me when I pick up the phone.

You had better believe I’m going to call it in.

Anything But That

Late last night I was watching Netflix or catching up on Post Secret or something or nothing…I forget. It doesn’t matter. A lot of people are talking about what happened in the city near where I lived for five years in the middle of Minnesota.
Stabbing in St. Cloud

The off-duty officer featured in this news story is from the neighboring town where my mom has had her business for the past 21 years, its population is 1,000 on a good day if you include dogs on that count. I dreaded reading the news as it was unfolding. I was saying to myself, “Please don’t let the attacker be a Muslim Somalian, please let it be some dumb redneck asshole.” After moving back to Minnesota I had heard some dumb redneck assholes complaining about how the Somalians were making trouble in St. Cloud. I had even unfriended some former classmates on Facebook because that person was posting faux “articles” about how gangs of Somalian teenage boys/men were running around and attacking women and beating up men and planning on blowing up “good, hardworking farmers” in the area, but that the newspapers weren’t telling anyone – all very inflammatory and untrue.

I hate that the young man who carried out this violent act was a Muslim and a Somalian and his family relocated to Minnesota as part of a refugee program, because it’s exactly what every paranoid and prejudiced person in the area needed to see in order to get worked up into a frenzy. My heart sank as the details became public knowledge. Already I’m seeing these posts saying “Fuck Muslims, they all want to kill us, so we have to kill them first” and “That’s why we all need to carry guns” and “They need to go back home” and “See???? They’re no good!” One person suddenly represents a billion – at least, that’s true according to one former classmate who first said she had never seen any violence from any other religion, then said she never saw violence like that from any present-day religion, then said she didn’t see it from any present-day religion in the United States, then said she didn’t see it in any present-day religion in Minnesota after I kept challenging her with examples every time she changed her answer. Finally she deleted the post altogether; I imagine I’ll be booted from her friend list soon since this is not the first time I’ve called her out on her prejudices.

One of my high school classmates is now a school administrator in that city; she posted on Facebook that she is concerned for her students, because of course she has Somalian children in her school. Her concern is two-fold. First, the children will feel pressure from the other children, because the other children will be influenced by their parents. But then the Somalian children will also have prejudice directed at them specifically by adults who are completely shameless.

My thoughts on this situation: It has to be incredibly difficult to move halfway across the world to a small, isolated city where work is sparse, and you are pretty much universally hated. There isn’t much for a young man to do and if he is approached to join something that gives him purpose and he is promised eternal glory, well, that sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? He’s an easy target for recruiting. It’s complicated. I’m not surprised, but I’m incredibly disappointed and worried that this event will send that region into pre-civil rights era discrimination.

Pay The Toll To The Troll. The Price? Your Soul.

I don’t have any idea how often this happens, or who determines it, but supposedly, Mercury was in retrograde as of Thursday this week. Why don’t frogs just rain down from the skies and we can all just be done with it? No, the psychic attack is much more stealthy, I think. The back of my neck aches. My gums and mouth burns and everything tastes metallic. I fervently wish that Facebook incorporated a disgusted eye roll emoji in their current six options, up from the original singular thumbs-up option. My inner dialog changes: Get out of my way. Stop kicking my goddamn cane. Your perfume smells like cat piss. I’m not waiting 45 minutes this time before calling in to see if they forgot me again, I’m only waiting 30. I am going to scrub my fucking toilet until it fucking sparkles.

Even before Thursday hit I could feel the earth boiling, and my mood was cooking right along with it. I encountered my first troll on Tuesday night. A friend created a private Facebook group so that (mostly) she and the rest of us could say things that couldn’t be said unfiltered in front of a wider Facebook audience. The creator also uses the page to talk about her new grandchild, so obviously it’s not as restrictive as she originally intended. Anyway, a mutual friend was going through a rough patch with her boyfriend and had already talked about it at a coffee shop reunion the week prior, so when she posted in the group, she was just looking for further confirmation that she wasn’t being too harsh in her judgment; after all, when you are the one in the situation, it’s difficult to be objective. This jackass dude pipes in and starts criticizing her and tells her that she’s probably not communicating correctly or enough with the guy she’s in the relationship with – not at all helpful.

Knowing what I know of my friend, and knowing what I know of the guy she’s dating, I don’t hold back on the troll. First I tell him that she DOES and HAS communicated clearly what her boundaries are and that they have been violated repeatedly. Every point the poster or I bring up, the troll says we’re wrong. Then the troll starts talking about how this always happens to him, that he’s always attacked for having a “different viewpoint from most everyone else.” I told him then that it’s because he’s condescending and he has contradicted everything that the original poster and I have said. He said “No, I haven’t. Tell me where I have. I genuinely want to know.” So instead of turning the post into everything about him, I tell him to go back and read. His reaction is to laugh. Obviously there isn’t anything “genuine” about this jackass. The final straw is when the troll claims that we shouldn’t be “defensive, that he is only being inquisitive.” My response was, “You’re not inquisitive, you’re correcting both ___ and I, so that does not constitute a “different” perspective as if it somehow elevates you, it just makes you repulsive.

But then the owner of the group starts posting paragraphs about how we’re supposed to play nice. Then there’s more posts about how disappointed she is about our behavior and how she wants to shut the group down…but she doesn’t, because other people chime in that despite the fact that I’m a bad apple, the group is a “good idea” and some people claim it’s so great that she should “go global” with it – as if talking behind backs is a new concept. If that’s the case, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell to them. Lots of sand.

Troll #2 happens the next day, when I talk about this conversation. He listens for a few minutes, then bursts in with, “I HATE MEN!” As if I, Chelsea, hate men. I don’t. I do, however, hate men who: Lie, cheat, steal, are alcoholics/addicts, are abusive, are lazy, are filthy, are racist, are bigots, pollute, smoke, chew, are narcissists, and hate animals. I’m sure there’s more to the list, but that covers it for now. By the way, Troll #2 fits into quite a few of these categories. Hey, does someone smell butt hurt?

Troll #3 is on Thursday, the big retrograde day. I am pulled into a discussion about racism and white privilege. The person who tagged me is Native American, and the other person is white (and just happens to be an editor for Bloomberg and fancies himself to be an expert on the world and all experiences, like all white guys). The Native American wanted the privileged white dude to know that every other white person didn’t share his smugness. What it boils down to is that the white guy claims that no matter what, all people suffer, so racism, sexism and bigotry don’t actually exist, and we should just get over it. The examples I gave him – white men kick my cane when I’m in public, but women and just generally people of color don’t kick my cane; or white men shoulder check me – probably doesn’t happen, or if they do, they happen because people are just being shitty to me and it doesn’t have anything to do with privilege. He told me I needed to be friendlier (as in, “You are a woman, so you owe it to me, a privileged white male, to smile at me”), so I told him he needed to stop being a dick.

I’m not sure what the cure is. I don’t know how long this shit storm Mercury started lasts. Mercury is an asshole.

The Tiers of Privilege

Minneapolis and St. Paul feel like very different cities from when I moved away 20 years ago. There was a palpable difference between Minneapolis and Albuquerque; in Minneapolis in 1995, my neighbors were white, black and Hmong (thanks to new policies welcoming large numbers of Hmong refugees from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam seeking a better and safer life), and in Albuquerque, the population was largely white, Hispanic and Native American. I felt as if I had moved to a different continent. The way that people interacted is something I can’t easily describe, except that I learned the “manana” (“tomorrow”) concept from my co-workers the hard way, and was told by employers that I would always be valued because I was a Midwesterner and therefore more “uptight and on time.” The population in Phoenix now closely resembles Albuquerque from 1995 – again, the residents are largely white, Hispanic and Native American. Because the southwest didn’t shift in any obvious way, I didn’t expect the Midwest to either.

When I moved back to the Twin Cities, I was not prepared for the greater diversity in the population, but my traveler’s heart is quite excited by it. A lot of the cab drivers I have had for my medical transportation have immigrated from Somalia, some arriving the same year I left Minnesota, telling me stories about how they excitedly called their relatives back home to tell them that powdered ice was falling from the sky (snow), and their relatives always asked the same question: “For free????” There are also now large Hispanic communities settled especially around the cities where living wages might be available. All of these groups are bringing their wonderful musicianship and dancing and food and willingness to endure countless hardships as strangers in a strange land because they know that turning back is not an option.

Why am I talking about all of this anyway? Well, the U.S. has always been a country of  tiered privilege. The caste system does not only live in India, my friends; it’s alive and well, even here in Minneapolis/St. Paul, where we pride ourselves on this appearance of being so tolerant but then have something so stupid/needless/heartbreaking/violating/sickening as the shooting of Philado Castile happen. But it’s not just race that determines where you land in the land of privilege – there’s a lot of “ands” that are the deciding factors.

Let’s start at the top. Your average white dude is the ultimate king of the food chain, born with the silver spoon in the mouth. Guys, you just are. If shitty things happen to you, the system isn’t against you in “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” You might want to feel sorry for yourselves, you might want to stomp and cry and try to convince us that you are being picked on and we should feel sorry for you, but I can’t. I can’t.

We can take it down a notch and look at white men who are physically handicapped by a chronic illness. Men are believed faster/more often than women when it comes to pain. Why? Medical sexism. On the tiers of privilege, white men who are in some way physically deemed “less valuable” by society are on a lower tier than ordinary white men.

I’m pretty sure my place is on the next tier down from that. I’m a white woman.

But wait: knock me down a few more rungs, because I’m a white woman who is also physically disabled. Since I’m a woman and I’m physically disabled, I have absolutely no value whatsoever, a “non-person,” specifically. My cane and paralyzed face make me invisible to nearly everyone (and if you don’t believe me, you should walk through a store or down a sidewalk with oncoming foot traffic with me).

But yet…where do all of our friends and neighbors of color fit in?

My Filipino ex-boyfriend was educated and articulate (except when it came to actually being in a relationship – but that’s another story); his status as a man was relatively high, but as a man of color he ranked lower. Unfortunately he suffered from bipolar disorder, so that could be seen as a detriment, but then again, he was believed – his gender saved him from medical sexism. He always claimed that strangers looked at us distastefully when we were out in public. I think he is valued much more than I am, even though he would deny it.

My most recent Native American boyfriend had a much harder upbringing. He grew up on the largest reservation in the U.S., the Navajo reservation on the New Mexico side. Poverty, crime and mental illness brought him into adulthood. He left the rez to get an education, but for one reason or another, he has clung to the the things that have only brought pain and destruction to his life. Where does he fit into this world?

And then there are the women of color who earn even less than the men, who are physically and sexually assaulted, are obviously valued less when they are forced to remain silent in the company of men or to walk a few steps behind them. Add an “and” to them – a physical disability – and really, how much lower can one go in terms of value as far as society is concerned? I startled a Somalian woman in a waiting area once; I carry cough drops and I noticed she was having a coughing fit, so I offered her one. Her interpreter arrived a few minutes after that and she was called back for her appointment, but she made it a point to tell her interpreter to thank me in English. I did not consider it an insult that she did not know how to say it herself when she was on her own, but since I know how the public at large acts more often than not, I could just imagine that even that simple interaction added stress to her afternoon. Like me, she walked with a cane. I wondered how she was treated by her peers and family.

I am always disappointed when I see/hear someone say, “Why don’t they just ____”? as if we are simple creatures and there’s a one-size-fits-all answer. There isn’t. (That’s why they should stop just conducting medical studies on middle-aged white men if they want real-world results. I mean, hey, we finally figured out that heart attacks are worlds apart between men and women!) The most important thing to understand is that just because things look a certain way from where you’re sitting doesn’t mean that everyone else feels the same way. If you can’t see past yourself, then your world is very small indeed.

Yes, All Women

The thing that gets me is that we women tend to carry these emotional burdens as our own secret parcels until someone else recognizes them. This young woman experiences the rarer form of bodily violation: the stranger rape. Through her letter to her attacker and thanks to the outrage that most of us feel over the stupidly light sentence he received, we have all been made aware of what happened to her that night and at the trial. It was especially difficult for me to read that one of the Swedish men who came upon the attack was so upset that he broke down in tears while giving his statement to the police. It gives me hope that not every man is being raised to be an asshole like the rapist obviously is.

In the bigger picture, nearly every single woman I know has experienced sexual violence. In my late teens, one young woman was raped by my friend; I cut off all communication with him despite his pleas. She chose not to press charges (because who would believe her?). My own first sexual encounter was violent – the guy didn’t believe that I was a virgin because “virgins don’t move like that” and he left me cut and bruised everywhere including my mouth. Over the years, various men have told me what I liked rather than listened to me if I told them they were being too rough or actually scraping or cutting my lady bits, and they would actually press or bite harder. I found out an ex-friend tried to force himself on one of my best friends within the last year and was outright pissed because she threw him out of her house. After all, he has a penis and therefore a right to her body is his line of thinking. How dare she tell him no?

That’s the stuff that’s even more difficult to prove. If that young woman can’t even make a convincing case for why it’s not okay for this asshole to drag her behind a dumpster and violate and mutilate her while she’s unconscious, what can the rest of us do with the men that are in our social circles who violate us?

https://www.buzzfeed.com/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra?utm_term=.eaY45kj6yz#.qrwMXWGNbn

I Heard The News Today

I woke up this morning to a message that was sent to me around midnight telling me, “I know you were friends with Bart [not his real name]; just wanted to let you know that he died after a confrontation with the police Wednesday morning.”

I wasn’t awake to chat back and forth, so I had to do some searching of news articles when I saw the message. There was actually quite an extensive write-up as well as video clips so I was able to get a complete picture from the law enforcement’s viewpoint of what happened.

The hard part was seeing pictures of his dwelling and recognizing the side of his building. Bart was so proud of everything that he did to fix his place up. I still remember walking through his door and smelling his split pea soup.

Bart and I weren’t close friends; in fact, the person that notified me of his death had known him decades longer than I had and was the reason we had become acquainted. But we had gone to the Renaissance festival as part of a big group, and we always ended up attending the same get-togethers. Bart was friendly and jovial, though he definitely had issues with drinking too much. He also could not control his impulses or anger; this certainly fed into a never-ending cycle of joblessness and financial uncertainty.

From what has been published in the stories online, he got a DUI on Friday night and was sent home in a cab rather than sent to jail. On Saturday night he drove by a deputy and shot him and prompted a manhunt/search. On Wednesday morning the sheriff’s department knocked on his front door and he shot himself.

The county sheriff is proclaiming this man to be an obvious participant in the bigger war on cops. I’m calling bullshit on this. Bart was in an all-out war on his own life.

Did he drink to get drunk? Always. He couldn’t get together with a group without drinking. When you’re middle-aged and you’re drinking every weekend (and I am guessing for him, every day), it’s obviously a problem. He tried his luck with dating, but he was always stuck in his 20’s there too, referring to women as girls and only taking pictures with the pretty random strangers with their boobs propped up, never really being less than insulting. Bart was a smart guy and had loads of certifications and degrees in the tech field, so he should have had no problem with landing well-paying jobs. In fact, when I was laid off, I visited his place and we chatted about our resumes and wages, and I was quite impressed with his in both areas – he could have afforded to buy my house two or three times over with his salary. But Bart had done and said so many crappy things in his workplaces that he had been blackballed in his current state, and finding work out of state was proving to be just as difficult.

The friends who were much closer to him had relayed stories about how in recent years and months, he would suddenly become angry and take off, or disappear for hours. If they were all out of town for a trip and following each other in their cars, Bart would somehow manage to leave the caravan and insist on his own route and get completely lost. He would become belligerent if anyone tried to reason with him.

Not that this means a whole lot, but he and I used to debate his support of Trump as a presidential nominee. Bart definitely had prejudices against people who were anything except white middle-aged American men.

So here is this guy who is doing everything he can to make his own life as terrible as it possibly could be – ruled by alcohol, void of love and understanding, built on a foundation of fear and ignorance. He shot another human being because he wanted to blame someone for something. He shot himself because he saw no other way out of the pit he dug.

I have a hard time thinking about him no longer being on this earth. I saw the destructive behaviors in him, but Bart was mostly friendly towards me – maybe because I didn’t have a long or involved history with him, or because I knew exactly what to expect. I hope that now his soul is finally at peace. I think about this often, especially since death seems to be around me a lot more this year, and I wonder if souls review their lives and their lessons like I think they must. (I hope that Bart can see the humor in me saying that my wish for him is to finally understand why Trump would make a terrible president.)

In fact, I wish I could interview all of the people I knew who crossed over in the past ten months and ask them what they have learned. What were they surprised by? What was the biggest reveal? Was it all worth it, taking on this human body and signing this contract?