Monday, November 24, 2014

That Other Shirt

Please check out my That Other Shirt Project to help close the gender gap in STEM fields! It'll be quiet on the blog here for a while as I bring this thing into reality.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I Didn’t Tell You So You Don’t Know

I was hiding in the bathroom from him because it was the only room with a locking door. I was sitting on the toilet while I cried and stared at the hole he had punched in the wall days earlier—a punch thrown directly beside my head. I remembered that instead of being terrified of how out-of-control he was, I was grateful he was in control enough to punch the wall instead of me.

Through the door he called me a cunt. He called me a cunt because he knew it is the word I find most offensive of all. I filled a glass with water, opened the door, and threw the water in his face. You could call this “instigating.” You could call this “the role I played in the incident.” But I was enraged and it’s all I could think to do to express it.

The next thing I knew I was shoved up against a wall and his enormous hand was around my throat. My toes were barely touching the carpet. He had 8 inches of height on me. I don’t know how much weight he had on me, because he always told me I was getting too fat and I didn’t like to think about my weight.

What I was thinking was which scarf would be the best to cover up the bruises he would leave on my neck.

I don’t know what made him stop, but I think it was because I was begging and telling him that my best friend would be arriving at any moment—fear of being caught, fear of a “private moment” becoming public. When she arrived, I was crying. Again, still, whatever. When was the last time I wasn’t crying? But it wasn’t because I was scared or upset about the fight. I was crying because I was so despondent and ashamed that I had let it come to this. I didn’t think I was the type of woman who would let a man put his hands on her. I thought I was stronger than that. I thought I would have fought back. I thought I would have called the cops, kicked his ass to the curb, shouted through a megaphone what a prize piece of shit this guy was. I didn’t do any of that. Over the next weeks, that humiliation forced me into a huddled crying mass on the floor many times until I finally got onto antidepressants, and eventually got him to move out.

I told my friend we’d had a fight, and we went to see some movie I can’t even remember.

You probably don’t know this about me, because this is a story I’ve told to only a handful of people. I withheld it because of the shame. I withheld it because I was raised not to say bad things about people. People might think less of him if they knew. (Yes, the internalized politeness that affects so many women can extend to an abusive boyfriend.) But I also thought people might think less of me for saying bad things about a person, even if they were true. I withheld it because I was able to get out before anything worse happened, and I guess I didn’t think it was a story worth telling when so many women have faced so much worse. And I withheld it because I thought some people would probably think I deserved it, just a little, because he’s such a chill guy who wouldn’t do something like that unless I really pushed him.

I am fucking sick to death of reading people defend Ray Rice, the Ravens, and the NFL—or worse, chastise them for doing “too much.” I am sick to death of hearing people say “But she didn’t press charges” and “But she married him.” I am sick of people convinced that this was a one-time incident. As if being psychologically capable of punching a woman in the face hard enough to knock her unconscious can possibly be anything close to an isolated incident, instead of one point on an escalating line. As if being drunk is an excuse. If you’ve ever been drunk you know that it lowers your inhibitions, giving you the mental wherewithal to say and do the things you’ve only been secretly fantasizing about. Being drunk doesn’t make you a different person; it magnifies what’s already inside of you.

Yesterday, I was frustrated and upset and didn’t know who to talk to, so I tweeted out into the void:
  • Yes of COURSE he was a "good guy." The fact that abusers are not 100% cloven-footed monsters is what fuels the apologists & victim blamers.
  • While wearing the charming persona of affability & do-gooderness, they take their darkness home to unleash on those closest, most vulnerable
  • You're insane to think the person you know from work or church or (LORD) the media is exactly the same behind closed doors.
  • We don't judge morality, ethics, legality by calculating the ratio of a person's good versus bad actions. We judge each action.
  • Each action--THAT WE KNOW ABOUT
  • If you know of a person's condemnable action and still choose to focus instead on his "good", you only truly care about his value TO YOU.
  • This is a time for issues to be black and white. Condemn the action. Offer aid and comfort to the victim. Period.
But today I realized I have a lot more to say than fits into 140 characters, tagged with #WhyIStayed or #HowILeft.

Every time I read someone defending any of the horrible decisions that have been made throughout this case, or talking about the part Janay played in any of it as if she were acting and speaking of her own free, unintimidated will, I feel like I’m back up against that wall with a hand on my throat. My experience is only a shadow compared to what other women have gone through and my empathy is brimming. But so is my anger and pain.

I firmly believe that the NFL and representatives from the Ravens saw the video before TMZ released it. But that doesn’t even matter. It’s not the point. We all saw the video of Rice’s callous disregard for his partner’s unconscious body. But THAT doesn’t even matter. We knew what happened. I don’t care if she called his mother a whore and told him his dick was inside out. I don’t care if she spit on him. I don’t even care if she hit him. I am disgusted by these “wait for the evidence” trolls who contemplated elaborate scenarios wherein he drunkenly teetered into her and the elevator door knocked her unconscious, and still, even now with the evidence in plain sight, assert that their skepticism puts them on the right side of history because "how could we have known."

We knew.

A man who is demanded to be in peak physical condition punched a woman in her face so hard that she lost consciousness. And most people weren’t horrified by this until they literally saw it with their own eyes.

The thing with domestic abuse is that people don’t get to see it with their own eyes because it happens in "the privacy of the home." You definitely won’t see it; it's a secret. And you know what? You probably won’t hear about it because of fear and humiliation faced by victims, who are attacked over and over again in their own minds whenever they feel obligated to silence.

I can’t boycott or walk away from law enforcement, but I am first and foremost angry that not only is Rice not in jail—he never even went to trial. I am angered that the existence of this video was obfuscated. I am angered that celebrities and the rich are protected classes in our justice system.

I’m done with the NFL for their too little too late policies and their godawful excuse for an investigation. (And for so many reasons unrelated to this case specifically.) I'm done with the lies and the pandering to calm down an outraged public.

I’m done with the Ravens for the same reasons, and also particularly for Harbaugh’s comments that he hopes the couple can “make it work,” with its implication that an abused woman is party to her abuse, and that staying with an abuser is a good and right thing to do. I’m furious no one in the Ravens organization ever made Ray Rice apologize to Janay Rice in public or express regret at anything other than getting caught and punished.

None of this matters, of course, because no one in the NFL or the Ravens is going to notice my absence from their legion of fans. I’m not going to affect anything. The games are still going to be on in my household. It doesn’t matter because no one in the NFL actually cares about women, unless we are buying up their pink jerseys and keeping their male demographic happy. I just returned from the supermarket where I saw Ravens logos on everything from flags to chips to cakes. I’ve seen two women today wearing purple Ravens shirts, one of them in my office. I just want to yell, “Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?” The logo is everywhere, and now it feels not only pervasive, but insidious. It serves as a brand to show membership in this giant machine, a machine that steamrolls everything in its path with a very clear message that “if you are not a part of us, you will be alone.”

It hurts to feel like you don’t matter, just like it hurts to feel your back against that wall, with that hand around your throat. But for some, perhaps many, the fear of being alone against something so big is the greater of two evils.

I’m not sure what else to say except that my heart is open to anyone who wants to feel listened to and understood. If you need help, please ask for it. You can reach the domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), 1-800-787-3224 (TDD) or at If you are in immediate danger, you can call 911 and they will help you. Read #WhyIStayed and #HowILeft on Twitter and Tumblr; it will give you strength and hope. Realize that alone is the last thing you are, and help, comfort, and empathy ARE available.

You are not alone.

You don’t have to be ashamed. You don’t have to be silent.

Monday, August 25, 2014


Hey look, I haven't blogged in months. I'm working on a graphic novel. Finally. More soon.

Be excellent to each other.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

If You Are in Favor of Religious Freedom, This is Why You Should Be Mad About Burwell V. Hobby Lobby

I do not agree with the recent SCOTUS decision on the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case. I have read the entire opinion as well as a substantial amount of associated legal and lay commentary, and I consider myself very well informed on most aspects of the case and decision. These are my very brief arguments:
  1. The case should have entered certoriari to begin with because it was premised upon two logical fallacies: 1) that a medical claim (which has no basis in medical science, and neither is supported by text in the Bible) can be considered a “religious belief” and 2) that a corporation can exercise religious freedom (i.e., the SCOTUS majority mis-applied the Dictionary Act).
  2. Evidence, including current financial investments in Teva Pharamceuticals, suggests that Hobby Lobby’s beliefs are not “sincerely held.”
  3. Compensation for labor is fungible. The possibility that an employee of Hobby Lobby could spend a portion of their paycheck on a good or service Hobby Lobby considers to be sinful is no less attenuated than the possibility of an employee taking advantage of health coverage that pays for the contraceptive drugs or devices in question.

But it is not my intent to spend this post arguing my side. I have been in this game long enough to understand that even the most evidence-based and logical argument may not be enough to sway the opinions of many, especially those with ideological beliefs that are deeply rooted in their religion. This post is directed, in good faith, at those of you who identify as religious and/or as defenders of religious freedom—specifically, those of you who think this ruling is a victory.

One of the most important aspects of this ruling is that women’s access to the four contraceptive drugs and devices in question will not change. To keep in line with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the ACA, SCOTUS could not change the fact that insurance must cover all 20 FDA-approved contraceptives and that cost-sharing is prohibited (i.e., women don’t have to pay anything for these items). The ruling states that corporations with religious objections, such as Hobby Lobby, now do not have to pay for plans that cover items to which they object on religious grounds. However, accommodation must be made to continue to provide the coverage with no cost sharing. This means that either the insurance issuer will have to cover it, or the federal government—i.e., the taxpayers—will.

Many religious conservatives are hailing this as a victory because the Greens of Hobby Lobby will no longer have to compromise their religious beliefs by contributing to an act they consider potentially sinful. However, under RFRA, ACA, and the SCOTUS ruling, someone still has to pay for it.

If the accommodation comes from the insurance issuer, that “someone” may be those in the same insurance pool. That’s how insurance works: your payments don’t directly pay for the care you receive; it is pooled to pay for the care of all people covered by the same insurer. If the Greens are part of their own insurance group plan, they are still (albeit in a convoluted way) paying for contraceptive coverage.

Alternatively, should the accommodation be that the federal government pays for the coverage (as is suggested by the SCOTUS majority), that “someone” may be all American taxpayers. This, of course, includes others who hold the same beliefs as the Greens.

In other words, SCOTUS has granted “freedom of religion” to a small minority of rich business people while taking away the same exact “freedom of religion” from countless other Americans.

Upon close examination, this decision is not about women’s rights (which haven’t changed). And it’s not about freedom of religion (because that “freedom” is now restricted across a much greater population). It’s about how much more power the rich have, and how they’re willing to leverage that power to further their own gains at the expense of everyone else. It’s about the dangers of corporate personhood. It’s about the powerlessness and the increasing minorityhood of the 99%.

If you are a sincere follower of Christ, you know that using one’s riches to create hardship on others is antithetical to his teachings. I encourage you to educate yourself about the true ramifications of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling, then take action.

There is no victory here but for the rich and powerful. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fear and Aspiration: on Gun Desire

I bought a gun when I was 22 years old. I didn’t particularly want a gun. But the thing with guns—as with many consumer products—is that whether or not you want one has not been entirely your choice to make.

It was 2004 and I had moved in too soon with a man I, by all accounts on paper and off, should never have been dating in the first place. Daniel (not his name) was a recent transplant from a poor town across the country. I was single for the first time since I was in high school. We found each other when we both needed someone, and that’s how these things start sometimes.

His life in his home town was what some might idiomatically call “hard.” He’d been to jail twice. He had a bullet wound to show me; he let me touch it. This kind of “hard” seemed to neutralize the naivety within myself that was growing tiresome at age 22.

Daniel and I moved into a suburban apartment 15 miles outside of Baltimore. It was the kind of apartment complex with a tree in its name, where every wall and furnishing is ecru, and the pool is open every summer but they don’t do much to maintain the tennis courts. This complex concerned Daniel deeply. He had seen questionable characters in the parking lot late at night. I realized later this simply meant “black people,” but at the time I figured someone like Daniel knew a crime when he saw one.

“You should get a gun to protect yourself.”

The reason he phrased it like this was that, as a convict, he couldn’t buy one; only I could. The underlying implication was that he didn’t need protecting; I did. Buried even deeper was the idea that I would never conclude on my own that a gun was what I needed, and that he needed to lead me to this important decision. I acquiesced, but the reasons I did are more complicated than they appeared on the surface. I began to believe that if he felt we needed a gun for protection, he must have been frightened, and if I could do my part to offer some solace I would. I loved him. I also believed that if a person had been shot by a gun, he had a pass to want one around.

It was also correct that I would never conclude on my own that a gun was something I needed. But suddenly this seed of desire was planted. While it would have felt powerful to say no to my boyfriend, no to the culture that said I needed protecting, no to fear, it actually felt much more powerful to say yes: I am going to buy a gun. I didn't immediately understand why, but I didn't question it because it is a perfectly normal thing for a gun to make a person feel powerful. 
Daniel did the research (by which I mean he visited gun stores and looked at guns and held guns and talked to gun-sellers about guns) and found the “perfect” used handgun that would fit our needs and our budget—a Glock .40. I played the part of the gun-shopping Independent Woman as I autonomously picked the gun out of the case and asked to see it. Daniel lurked across the room in a not-at-all suspicious manner.

“This gun is too big for a girl like you,” the gun-seller told me.

I took a breath and thought about the Desert Eagle scene from Snatch, how there were much bigger guns I could want. I said, “It’s the one I want.”

We took it out back and I shot it into a hill. It was the first time I’d ever fired a gun. My arm hurt for the next week because I locked my elbow when I shouldn’t have. He told me not to knock my elbow, and I did anyway. Independent Woman.  

Inside, I watched a training video and signed all sorts of paperwork that told me what I was doing—buying a firearm on behalf of a convict—was clearly illegal. I’m doing this for me, I told myself. I told everyone. I told myself.

Once I had the gun home, I almost never touched it. I shot it a sum total of about 40 times, at Daniel’s behest. But Daniel always had it out: to clean it, to show our guests, just to have it nearby. Once, it was laying on the couch and my cat cuddled up to it. It was funny, so I took a snapshot and posted it on Flickr. That picture later ended up in the satirical pamphlet, “How to Talk to Your Cats About Gun Safety.” Funny things, cats. Guns.

I talked about it though. I liked to tell people I owned a gun because it shook up their image of me. I’d always leaned punk and I liked anything that shook up people’s image of me. I liked to wear my Doc Martens and tell people I was President of the National Honor Society. I liked to vote Democrat and own a gun. Owning a gun was never about the gun. It was about the idea of the gun as a marker of status and identity. It wasn’t the power of being able to shoot someone; it was the power of being able to say “you don’t know me.”

Spoiler alert: Daniel and I broke up within the year. We split the cats and the furniture; I kept the gun, due to laws and stuff. But I was less interested in having it around than ever. I was moving to the actual city of Baltimore and, ironically, having a gun with me felt more dangerous than not having one. I got a gunlock from a free giveaway at Dick’s Sporting Goods, locked the gun, and left it at my parents’ house. I haven’t even seen the keys for the lock in almost a decade.

My father wants me to sell it. He works on an Army post and knows a lot of potential buyers. One of my best friends says Glocks are hot right now and I could make good money if I sell it, and besides—“It’s too much gun for you.” Locked up like it is, uncleaned and unshot for years, it’s a 100% useless tool and I don’t want it anyway. It makes all the sense in the world to trade it for $400. But I guess the reason I don’t want to sell it is that people want me to sell it. It’s a weird inverse of the same reason I wanted to buy it—because people didn’t expect it of me.

Ideologically, I am an outspoken proponent of gun control. In the wake of the UCSB shooting, my guts are turned inside out and I basically can’t stop thinking about how to approach the issues that so badly need to be discussed—but not in the way they have been. I’ve come to the conclusion that the most potent lesson I’ve learned from owning a gun has nothing to do with the physical capabilities of the gun itself, and everything to do with how guns get tangled up with your identity. This is why guns are different from knives and cars and other things that can (and do) kill people. Even the etymology of “arm” comes from the Latin prefix ar-, meaning “to fit together.”

This is the conversation that we’re just now starting to have. Journalist Adam Weinstein recently tweeted, “Elliot Rodger forces us to ask not whether America makes it too *easy* to wield a gun, but too *desirable*.” Richard Martinez, the father of one of the victims, recently said, “I am angered by how they [the NRA] have worked to normalize this.” The NRA and groups like them have worked to not only create a climate wherein guns are accessible; they have worked to manufacture a desire for guns that is as unconsidered and insatiable as a biological appetite. They buttress this appetite with questionable jurisprudence turned into sound bites, and the result is a terrifyingly polarized conversation that has people losing their minds.

The reality of my situation was not that I bought a gun because I was an Independent Woman. Rather, I can trace back the transference of desire for a gun like a chain of custody, or like a virus. How that desire manifests in each individual is itself individual—whether, as with me, as an act of subtle rebellion that grew uncomfortable, or as with Rodger, as the means to reach the Alpha status he’d coveted. Fear and aspiration have been the most successful and most insidious tactics of marketing and advertising for ages. They are intrinsic to identity. What are you afraid of, and who do you want to be? Fear and aspiration are also what drive gun desire.

I believe it’s irresponsible (and not to mention unproductive) to make this most recent issue into a discussion about gun control OR mental health OR misogyny. The topic an individual and groups grabs hold of is as wrapped up in their identity as gun ownership itself is wrapped up in the gun owner's identity. Our reactions are a barium swallow that makes a part of us glow to reveal what’s really going on inside. 

The first incremental step in being able to have the conversation that will move us toward a solution is to recognize the effects fear and aspiration have on our idea of self. Then we have to try to override our personal biases to the best of our ability. Only then can we start to understand the culture we have created, which is the same culture we have to transcend, individually and collectively.

We have to be able to lose ourselves before we will be able to stop losing one another.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"Clean" Reprinted in Literary Orphans

I am so honored and humbled that Literary Orphans has chosen to include a reprint of my short story “Clean” in their latest issue, Bettie. I have not published a short in a very long time, and I couldn’t have chosen a better venue (and in fact I did not choose it; it was recommended to me by LO alum Matthew Kabik). So many online literary magazines exist simply to eliminate layout and printing costs; I had one magazine print a story of mine without any line breaks. But LO uses the features of the web to transcend its paper counterparts, and the effect is entrancing. I plan to curl up with this issue glowing from my iPad later tonight, tea and cats beside me. 

There is beautiful and brave work in this collection. Please take some time to join me there to feed your brain and heart. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bali Day One

My fiance and I just spent a week in Bali, Indonesia. This is from the travelogue that I did not keep past the first day:

After 30+ hours of travel, we arrived on Sunday night to the Bali airport in Denpasar to broken ATM machines and difficult decisions about whether to declare Gabe's oranges. For brief moments I was terrified we would spend the week in Bali without a way to get cash. But we found a working ATM and for probably the only time in our lives, we got to view bank balances in the tens of millions. After an hour and a half drive to Candidasa, we did little more than pick at the delicious traditional Balinese meal, then fell into a hard bed in sticky heat with only a single three-blade fan to cool us, and had the best sleep of our lives.

Ryan warned us we would wake with the sun, around 6:30am, and his prediction was vindicated, for me at least. Gabe was still deeply asleep beside me as I rose, found the villa's promised yoga mats, and padded outside to the postage stamp lawn. The sun rising to my left, I faced the ocean and practiced five rounds of sun salutations. It was the most peaceful and beautiful I have felt in so long.

It is impossible to write about the events of today without overshadowing them with our accident. John, Ryan, and Gabe rented scooters. I was too afraid, as is usual for me, but rather than stay at home, my compromise was to wrap my arms around Gabe's belly and ride on the scooter behind him. I was terrified at first, but seeing Gabe's pleasure and exhilaration at driving gave me pleasure and exhilaration. Driving in Bali is nerve-racking for so many reasons, and the rain--which I assume we will face daily (as it is the rainy season)--exacerbates them all. After riding many hours to visit the Taman Ujung Water Palace and the Water Temple at Tirtagangga,  we were mere meters from home, when, having missed what we thought was our turn, Gabe attempted a turnaround on a slick incline out of a parking lot. The bike slipped out from beneath us and sent us skidding over the gravel.

Immediately, we were surrounded by people who wanted to help. They got us to our feet and aimed hoses at the dirt that stuck in our wounds. Gabe had landed squarely on his shoulder and suffered a deep contusion, but thankfully no dislocation or breakage. He had a deep, large scrape on his elbow and is already proud of the scars he will undoubtedly grow. I was not as injured: a big scrape on my knee and cuts on my right hand, with minor scrapes on my elbow, arm, and shoulder. Gabe seemed to have a tear in his eye when he told me how thankful he was that I wasn't badly hurt. I knew the feeling.

The Australian owner of the Bayside Bungalows took good care of us, strangers. He sent one of his staff for iodine at a nearby "dokter," then sent two more to see us home: one to drive us in a van and a second to follow with the fateful rented scooter. Our brains mush from the accident, we mumbled apologies to the driver as we stared desperately, trying to remember where we were staying in this new town that had not even known us 24 hours. Finally, we were relieved to find our road, which Gabe will attribute to me, but what was really a lucky accident of our driver. We paid the scooter owner 100,000 rupia for the damaged bike (about $9USD), then limped home to Villa Nilaya.

This was our first day in Bali.