Thursday, November 13, 2008

Defining Sexual Violence

Last night, I opted out of an important event. I had been grappling with the idea all week, but I ultimately chose silence over support. I have mixed feelings about group speak outs. On one hand, sharing stories about sexual violence in a designated "safe space" can provide closure. On the other hand, it's downright depressing to share stories and then walk away, with no clear plan for prevention or personal empowerment.

I am not sure how this particular event was structured, but my absence boiled down to a single factor: I *still* don't know how to define sexual violence. I can parse it down and provide a Merriam-Webster-style definition, but I have difficulty defining the phrase within the context of my own life.

During my early high school years, I remember sitting silently at a table with a group of friends. I wasn't speaking much at the time, because I knew (subconsciously, perhaps) that my words would come back to bite me. If I said something to provoke or embarrass him, I always heard about it later. If I challenged him directly, I was chided for ruining the only time of day a teenager could sit back and enjoy - lunchtime. My closest friend eventually blew up at me for making everyone in our social circle so damned uncomfortable.

"I don't care what your problem is, but this has to stop."
"I don't like him," I said. "I'm sorry, but it's hard to sit with him."
"Then work it out on your own," she said. "Don't drag the rest of us down."

I took her advice, and I did begin to work it out on my own. On the surface, I retreated deeper into silence, which seemed to make everyone happier. In my mind, I began to make a tally. I counted every time I had come home with scrapes or bruises, every time he had pushed me down, every time I was verbally or physically humiliated (alone, or in front of friends). I was scared back then, but I wasn't entirely mute. I knew that it wasn't right. I had even tried to tell my friends.

"He's kind of rough with me," I said.
"It's because he's jealous," my forward-thinking girlfriends responded. "He knows he can't have you, so he treats you like one of the guys."

They were onto something, but I took their words as a misguided sign of assurance: It was okay. I was just overreacting. If anything, I should be flattered! If I had had the power of words back then - if I had possessed the power or naming - I could have better verbalized why this wasn't okay. I could have cited examples from a solid feminist discourse, using terms like "possession," "subjugation," and "patriarchal sexuality." But I didn't know the lingo; I just knew that I was reactive...and I knew that sometimes, when he wasn't hurting me, he made me feel worthwhile and pretty (*cough* textbookcase *cough*).

Because I did so little to confront the violence when it was most relevant, I've been left with a warped sense of sexuality and a convoluted sense of justice/judgment. When I hear terms like "sexual violence," I don't include myself in the category of "survivor." For two years, I was forced down to the ground, molested, and emotionally manipulated, but I was never raped. In our culture, rape has become somewhat of a red herring when discussing sexual violence. Because I wasn't raped, I still hesitate to speak about my experience. I still get angry with myself for being a reactive bitch. Because I can't define what happened using one morally reprehensible term, I don't define it at all.

I'm going to stop here for now. I'm sure that I can and will continue on this topic, but I'm feeling kind of spent...

In more optimistic news, I just learned that a small town in Oregon has elected the first openly trans mayor. The video at the end of the article is pretty superb. Also, I stumbled upon a wonderful blog about gay Armenia. Check it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Still here, kind of...

But in a nether-state where blogging is concerned. Obama is the President-elect, Prop K was defeated, Spitzer is in the clear, and Craiglist is making life harder for internet cretins like myself.

And so it goes...

Maybe I'll get back into the swing of things. Sooner or later, I promise.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Reflecting on days gone by (part 1)

Or, "The First Time I Considered Sex Work."

“So, how do you like grad school?” he asks shortly after we first meet.
“Oh,” I laugh. “I’m not in grad school. I’m still undergrad.”
“Undergrad? Isn’t twenty-four a bit old for undergrad?”

I realize that there’s been some sort of miscommunication. Do I tell him that I’m just nineteen? Do I start fabricating now, or will it come back to bite me later? I quickly add up numbers in my head. I had pictured a man in his early thirties, though we hadn’t bothered to exchange small details (like age) over the internet. Standing in front of him now, I cross my fingers and cap my guess at thirty-five. I confess my age, all the while holding my breath.

“Nineteen,” he whistles. “Nineteen. I suppose that makes me one lucky guy.” He takes my bag and we walk the few blocks from the subway to his apartment. “Well, if you can handle a forty-year-old man with the stamina of a college student, you won’t be disappointed.”

We order Chinese food and share a bit of awkward small talk. I’m nervous. I can’t recall what I’m doing in this stranger’s studio apartment. Could I be delirious? I had come down with mononucleosis a few weeks prior, and I was still feeling the physical effects. I wondered if the illness hadn’t affected my cognition as well.

The food arrives and I spoon a small scoop of vegetable lo mein onto my plate. I stare down at my tattered Chuck Taylors.

“So, why are you actually here?” he asks sometime between the egg rolls and the fortune cookies.
“I’m here to learn 'the ropes,’” I laugh, hoping he’s understood the pun.
“Oh, I’ll show you the ropes,” he says. “But I need to know the boundaries.”
“Like what?” I ask.
“Like, are you here to learn or are you here to fuck?”

It wasn’t that I hadn’t anticipated the possibility of a sexual encounter, but I assumed my physical state had rendered me utterly (and visibly) undesirable.

“But, the mono...” I trail off.
“Come on,” he squeezes my shoulder. “Isn’t mono like chicken pox? You’re immune by the time you reach my age."

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Lying for the Greater Good

They say that desperate times call for desperate measures, but who determines what's a desperate time and what's just a time to sweat a little?

This summer, I didn't wait for desperate times to put up an ad on the internet. I was stressed, yes, even scared....but not desperate. I kept my guitar, my computer, and my digital camera. I didn't sell my car, and I remained enrolled at an expensive private college.

When I put up my first ad, I sat in my comfy desk chair and pressed the submit button from my personal computer. In advertising myself, I used my intellectual and socioeconomic privilege to up-sell whatever goods I had to offer.
Want sex but feel too guilty to pay for it? What about an "intimate encounter" with a witty non-pro? I scratch your back you scratch mine, right? I've got student loans; you've got more money than you're interested in spending on your frazzled wife of twenty years. Really, it's a match made in heaven.
My mother called again today to gripe about the economy. "The money just isn't just isn't there," she said over and over again.

When I walk away with my diploma in eight months, I know that the money still won't be there. My dictatorial father is about to jump ship, and when he does, he will leave behind a stay-at-home mother in denial about her empty nest and two daughters with bachelor's degrees and a hundred thousand dollars worth of debt. When this happens, my mother will awaken to the reality of her financial destitution. She'll stop fooling herself into thinking that she can still support me, and long story short, I want to be prepared for the moment when the whole shithouse comes crumbling to the ground.

So what's my next move? I can put up another ad and jump back in before I reach a point of desperation, or I can hold off until I feel like it's my only choice. Yes, I know that my "supposed" desperation is directly proportional to my privilege, but here's the skinny: I want to graduate in the spring, and I want to graduate with a body of work that I feel proud of. I can sell my computer, I can juggle a full time job, but I can't do these things AND put all of my free time and creative energy into my academic work.

If I've made the decision I think I've made, I know that this decision involves lying to someone who loves me and lying to those who have lent me unconditional support over the years. I don't know if it's possible to lie for the greater good, but while I sit here and theorize, my tuition bills aren't getting any smaller.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Karma Police

Today, I went to the Salvation Army and bought a hot pink sweater with penguins on it. It's become kind of a seasonal trend. Every fall, when the leaves begin to change, I go to a thrift store and spend two to five dollars on a stupid, dated sweater.

I was in the process of checking out, when a woman exiting the store dropped one of her bags. A glass soap dish fell from the bag and shattered on the floor. I was standing close by, and saw no one else move to help her, so I stooped to pick up the pieces. The woman stood over me and watched. She then turned on her heels and exited the store.

I handed the broken glass to the cashier and apologized (for what, I don't know). I was peeved at the lack of thanks, but assumed the woman was stressed/having a bad day/in a hurry. When I left the store, the woman was standing outside screaming at the top of her lungs. She was addressing an elderly woman who appeared to be her mother.
"Fucking idiot," she fumed. "Fucking idiot can't even wrap a fucking soap dish."
"Why don't you ask for a refund?" asked the elderly woman.
"I'm not going to ask for a fucking refund. Nobody can do a god damn thing right in this fucking town. Isn't this just a dandy fucking day?"
I passed by silently and slipped into my car. For a minute, I considered stopping this woman in the parking lot. I wanted to grab her shoulders, shake her, and tell her to get a grip. I wanted to scream back - "Look around you! Look at all of these people! You only have to glance over your shoulder to see imbalance and struggle. Pull yourself together, get back in your car, and contribute something worthwhile to this godforsaken world!"

Fortunately (or unfortunately), I vetoed the confrontation. If I'm going to get arrested, it won't be for a brawl in a thrift store parking lot. On the drive home, I turned on Radiohead and put Karma Police on repeat. When I arrived home, I went straight to my computer and put Karma Police on repeat. As I type, I'm still listening to Karma Police. I'm not in the mood for Karma Chameleon, and it was the only other karma song I could think of.