Thursday, December 30, 2010

"No Easy Decision"

The other night, MTV aired an episode of their show 16 and Pregnant titled "No Easy Decision." Dr. Drew Pinsky interviewed three women about their experience with abortion. if you missed it, you can view it here.

I don't watch too much TV, but a former roommate of mine watched 16 and Pregnant all the damn time, so I'm more familiar with it than I'd be otherwise. As someone who is adamantly pro-choice, I couldn't help but notice that abortion was never mentioned as a viable option for any of the women whose stories were featured on the show.

So when I heard about this episode, I decided to tune in. I was intrigued. Skeptical, but intrigued.

Overall, I was impressed with how MTV handled the subject. I'm bummed that they didn't air it prime time. And I wish it had been longer than thirty minutes. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't all walking on eggshells. And they managed to cover a lot of ground despite the time constraints. Natalia, for example, got the judicial bypass. As feminist Shelby Knox tweeted the night the show aired, "Kudos to MTV for talking about how parental notification effects [sic] women."

But of course, there's been backlash. CNN's Brooke Baldwin said that Markai "got herself pregnant." And Bryan Kemper of Life News couldn't get his facts straight. In an article titled "Youth Pro-Life Leaders Respond to MTV's Abortion Episode," he twisted the words/emotions of the three women and decided that they must have regretted their decision to abort.

Katie Stack, who was one of the three women interviewed, responded to that by writing a blog post. In it, she explained that she didn't cry on camera because she regrets having an abortion, but because she loves her family and felt badly for hiding something so important from them for such a long time.

By speaking out, she's doing her part to end the stigma attached to abortion. To me, her blog post was just as brave as her willingness to talk about her abortion experience on television. Her explanation should not have been necessary. Why the hell should she have to legitimize her tears to anyone, least of all an anti-choicer who couldn't even put the effort into getting his facts straight? But she took the time to explain herself anyway.

And I'm so very glad about that, because as much as I wish people would just respect others' decisions, these are the very stories women need to tell if we're ever going to succeed in putting a face on the issue, and make people understand that pro-choice is not pro-abortion. If anything, her display of emotion should serve as evidence that this truly is not an easy choice to make.

As Katie so aptly pointed out in the interview, "It's a parenting decision."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Feminism and crappy limericks

"Part of getting older is owning the facets of your identity that frighten you the most." - Jessica Valenti

2010 has been a year of transition, of change. I transferred schools and finally gave myself the opportunity to explore interests of mine other than poetry (which, until a year or so ago, was the one thing I was totally comfortable with and felt 100% confident about). This year I learned to be patient. For once, I did not expect to come out on top. And let's get real for a second: I hit rock bottom (perhaps more times than I made known).

I made one hell of a mess. This mess looked much like the one I made when I was nine and just starting to familiarize myself with poetry (I'm referring to the stage where I spent all of my time writing crappy limericks). What's different now is that I'm not nine. I'm twenty-two. And crappy limericks aren't so cute anymore when you're trying to convince people to start treating you like an adult.

Anyone who knows me knows that identify as a feminist. And I have since my senior year of high school. Back then, my green-haired friend Stephanie and I spent all our time spouting off in AP Lit class, thinking we were total badasses.

But the more I explore the zillion layers of feminism, the more I realize that it isn't easy. It takes effort the same way honing my poetry did.

And man, poetry and me go way back. I attended the annual Controlled Burn Seminar every summer for years. I studied at Interlochen. At SVSU, I majored in creative writing. I competed in poetry slams (one of which was held at the Grand Hotel on Macinac Island). I worked as editor-in-chief of two art/literary journals (Looking Glass in high school, Cardinal Sins in college). And I had my work published in a couple of national undergraduate literary journals.

I lived and breathed poetry. But it took a lot of time to cover that much ground. And it wasn't even one solid thing. At nine, I wrote limericks. At fourteen, I wrote couplets and quatrains. By sixteen, I had moved on to free verse. By nineteen, that free verse was better polished. A never-ending process. Endless change and (I like to think) a great deal of growth.

And so even though I've identified as a feminist for three or four years now, I still feel like I'm in the crappy limerick stage of it--the stage where I litter my Facebook Wall with angry shit and walk around with Audre Lorde quotes pinned to my tote bag. But don't really know where I fit in in the midst of it all.

I just finished reading a book called _Click_, which is a collection of essays written about "that moment" when its contributors knew they were feminists. Feministing editor Courtney Martin wrote, "It makes me sad now to think that much of my first feminist searching was born out of such desperation. I wish I had come to feminism celebratory or even outraged. Instead, I came like so many...on my knees, confused, heartbroken" (90).

I've never thought of it like that. (Strange image to couple with feminism, yes?) But the same is probably true for me. Even though I've considered myself a feminist for years now, I had to experience a couple of things that hit a little too close to home before I could realize that it's more than believing in equality--it's also acting on that belief.

And that's some tough shit.

And so I've finally moved past desperate and heartbroken (anyone who knew me a year ago knows what that looked like). Now I'm pissed. Pissed and frustrated because there's so much out there to be done and I don't even know where to start, or how to start. Because I'm still just learning to trust myself and my voice.

You know, limericks.

But despite my inability to trust myself, people have told me for years that it's obvious to them that I'm a feminist. Well, duh. I scream it. But like I said: I've got angry shit all over my Facebook Wall, and Audre Lorde quotes on my tote bag. Lots of noise. (Eloquent noise, but still.) I hide behind all that noise. Where the fuck is my own voice in all of that?

So to me, growing as a feminist is a lot like writing poetry. As a poet, I subscribed to the idea of "saying as much as possible in very few words." A lot of the women I admire don't even have to go on raging, long-winded tirades for me to understand that they mean business. I can just see it in their actions--in the way they live their lives.

I want to reach that point, whatever that means for me. I know that these interests of mine aren't mutually exclusive. I could just write feminist poetry and call it good. That is, in and of itself, a form of activism. But right now, that isn't fulfilling enough for me.

I'll admit that I don't really know what the hell I'm going to do to satisfy this need. But I'm going to find it and live it. If it brings me back to poetry, awesome. If not, I'll keep moving on to whatever's next. I've taken one huge step away from my comfort zone. I can take a few more.

I'm pretty excited to see what 2011 has in store for me.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

How I became the "Cuntlovin' Ruler of My Sexual Universe"

I just finished reading _Cunt: A Declaration of Independence_ by Inga Muscio. Mind: Blown.

In case you're not familiar with it, here's the blurb from the back cover:

An ancient title of respect for women, the word "cunt" long ago veered off this noble path. Inga Muscio traces the road from honor to expletive, giving the woman the motivation and tools to claim "cunt" as a positive and powerful force in their lives. With humor and candor, she shares her own history as she explores the cultural forces that influence women's relationships with their bodies.

Sending out a call for every woman to be the Cuntlovin' Ruler of her Sexual Universe, Muscio stands convention on its head by embracing all things cunt-related.

A copy of it had been sitting on my shelf for years, and was mentioned several times in my women's studies class this semester (it wasn't assigned reading, though). So I decided to get with the program and read it already. 373 pages later, I'm the proud, "Cuntlovin' Ruler of my Sexual Universe."

I don't think I've ever read anything so critical of capitalism. (But then I guess you can't really call yourself a feminist without being critical of it... or whatever economic system you're living under, for that matter.) Momentary brain fart, there--sorry. I should not have been caught off-guard. After all, I've been critical of capitalism for a very long time.

Picture it: Boyne City, Michigan, 1997. I'm eight years old and spending the weekend with a friend's family at their condo. On our way to said condo, I turn to my friend and ask her, "So, who lives there while you and your family are at home in Grosse Pointe?" She looks at me incredulously and answers, "Um. No one. Right, Dad?"

I'm profoundly disappointed and mutter something about how I think it's unfair that there are homeless people locked out of an empty condo in a place as cold as Boyne City. My friend's dad laughs and says, "It looks like we've got a little socialist on our hands."

I repeat the word "socialist" a few times to myself so it'll stay in my mind until I have the chance to look it up later. I have a very hard time (even to this day) understanding why what he said was meant as an insult.

Given the incident explained above, you'd think that someone like me would just smile and nod through a book like _Cunt_, right? Oh, sweet. Someone understands my perspective!

Wrong-o.

In an earlier post about feminism, I mentioned that I'm in awe of just how much I don't know. In _Cunt_, Muscio does an excellent job of picking out little things that we're conditioned to accept as the norm, and points out how they contribute to the very things we work against as American feminists.

Take tampons, for instance. Part of life, right? No. Muscio points out that you don't have to pay $7.99 for a simple box of cotton. "Why the flying fuck should a woman have to pay some huge corporation over and over because the lining of her uterus naturally, biologically sheds sheds every month?" (30).

I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of assigning a dollar value to people and things that people need to survive. When, at the age of eleven, I found out that my parents had to pay a water bill, I wanted to call the city officials and demand an explanation.

So maybe the tampon thing would have been common sense to me once--like when I was eight and 100% altruistic and just wanted to help the homeless.

But in my twenty-two years on Earth, I've encountered many people like my friend's dad. So I go to the freaking drugstore every month and buy my box of tampons because I'm a woman who lives in the good old USA and menstruates.

But this book brought back some of my old mindset, and made me a little ashamed of having lost it in the first place.

Meanwhile, other things she mentioned actually made me feel a little better about some of my habits/practices.

Like trying to reason with my uterus, for example.

I've never used the Pill. I don't sleep with dudes, and therefore don't need it for reproductive reasons. I know a lot of women who use it just because periods really suck, and having them less is nice. But I've never been into that. It just doesn't suit me. Seems unnatural and unnecessary. Don't get me wrong: I respect the hell out of the Pill. I no longer have a healthy relationship with my Protestant grandmother because I've put so much energy into defending it. But I've never actually used it, and doubt I ever will.

So I was glad to find that this book contains a whole section on the importance of getting to know your body and your menstrual cycle. It's something to which I have devoted a lot of time. My periods have always been intense; if I don't do something to control the pain before I start bleeding, I'll be stuck in the fetal position for days. And since I'd rather not take birth control, I've just gotten really good at figuring out when it's going to happen. I've tried to explain that to a few people and gotten funny looks. So it was nice to see my beliefs and practices within the pages of this book (especially since I needed something to make me feel better about the fact that I've been inadvertently adding fuel to the very fire I've been fighting all my life).

Although her main focus is on the US, Muscio does not ignore other cultures. And in mentioning other experiences, she strengthens her argument that capitalism is incredibly damaging to women. One of the most eye-opening parts of the book for me was an interview she conducted with Soraya Mire, a woman from Somalia who points out, "In America, women pay the money that is theirs and no one else's to go to a doctor who cuts them up so they can create or sustain an image men want. Men are the mirror. Western women cut themselves up voluntarily. In my country, a child is woken up at three in the morning, held down and cut with a razor blade. Western women pay to get their bodies mutilated" (126).

And yet in the afterward, Muscio acknowledges that despite her best efforts at being inclusive of all women, she missed something pretty tremendous and has been kicking herself since. "What I did not consider--and this is totally a result of my socialization--is that the world is made up of more than women and men, boys and girls. In writing _Cunt_, I completely overlooked the realities of gender-variant people" (239).

In the "expanded and updated second edition," Muscio explains that after the original publication of _Cunt_, she was asked many times about her "position" on trans-inclusion, and was entirely caught off-guard. It made her want to go back and edit entire sections of the book she had written.

High five to her. In admitting that, she touched upon something I've mentioned here many times: Feminism is still relevant because just look at how much we're still learning. We've all got our biases. And we're living in a capitalist society whose ideal is white, male, and heterosexual, so we're still going to catch ourselves inadvertently leaving people out. Shit, I'm gay and have kicked myself for not meeting the expectations of compulsory heterosexuality. I'm female and I've used sexist language. And yet I, like Inga Muscio, have identified as a raging feminist for quite some time now.

Like I said, reading _Cunt_ has made me aware of how I've been fueling the very fire I've been fighting all my life.

It's time to stop. I don't know how fully I can do that without leaving the US, but "I promise on a holy stack of _Beloveds_ by Toni Morrison" (69), I will spend some time with my inner eight-year-old.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Let's be honest for a second, here.

Tomorrow I'll be twenty-two (which I guess just means that I can -officially- relate to just about every single Lily Allen song ever written). This one's my favorite.

And like everyone else, I'm trying to convince myself that it's okay--okay to be unsure, okay not to know, okay to acknowledge that I feel a little lost (or a lot lost, even). Okay to admit that even if I am strong, I often don't feel that way.

People keep asking when I plan to graduate from college. The truth is that I don't really know or even care. I finally looked at my credits and figured out that I'll probably be able to graduate sometime in 2012. But I only did that so I'd have a "real answer"to give. I'll get there when I get there. It's kind of hard to pinpoint it when I'm not even sure what "getting there" means to me yet.

I spent the day working on my women's studies final--a series of short essay-length responses to questions about articles we've read throughout the semester. I was geeking out so hard. I loved it. I'm lucky. At least I know that there's still something out there I love, even if I don't quite have a firm grasp on it just yet.

I keep repeating to myself that we're all different--myself included. And we all have our own ways of handling things.

Tragedy, for instance, affects me more profoundly than it does many people, no matter how distant it is from me. And I was surrounded by a lot of it last year. I felt as though I was expected to to push it aside because it wasn't "mine." My friend Liz (who's my age) lost her parents and brother suddenly. A month later, Tracy's house burned down. And three months after that, Sharon's six-year-old daughter drowned in Otsego Lake during a church outing.

I tried to focus on my own shit. At the time, I was very busy with work I didn't really find fulfilling. The trouble wasn't the workload or even the fact that I didn't find it meaningful, but rather, that I couldn't bring myself to admit it. And time was a'wastin'.

Everything that had happened to Liz, Tracy, and Sharon, plus the fact that I was still closeted and thus living dishonestly, made me realize that life's too short. Well-intentioned adults (my parents, professors, etc) kept telling me to chill out because I was only twenty and had all kinds of time to figure shit out. But I had learned the hard way (by attending a funeral for a six-year-old) that you don't know how much (or how little) time you have. No one can really afford to live the way I was living--if you can even call it living.

So this year, I've tried really hard to be honest. I came out to my parents (and just about everyone else who hadn't known). I gave up on editing, transferred colleges, and am undoubtedly happier than I was a year ago.

But since I'm being honest, I'll admit that I'm still scared shitless. I don't really know what's next and know that it's not over because I'm still living and therefore, becoming.

Life is messy. I am messy. Admit it, you're messy too.

It'll be okay.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Meme? (That's a funny-sounding word to me.)

There's this silly meme on Facebook where you're supposed to write 25 things about yourself: random facts, quirks, etc. I thought it'd be a fun topic for a particularly self-indulgent blog post (read: fine way to procrastinate on all the homework I've got do do before the semester ends). So, here goes.

1) According to my mother, I was born able to tell time. That's really too bad for her. She could never trick me into going to bed early.

2) I sob uncontrollably every time I watch The Fox and the Hound. I'm not exaggerating. I really can't handle that scene where the old lady abandons her pet fox in the woods when it's raining. Brings me to pieces every time.

3) I never scrape frost or snow or anything like that off my windshield on cold Michigan mornings. Instead, I just get into my car earlier than necessary, turn on the defogger, and read a book.

4) As addicted as I am to Facebook, I'm very glad that I have a really boring cell phone that doesn't let me connect on the go.

5) I'm not really a big fan of pancakes. My body demands protein and caffeine upon waking in the morning, and pancakes just do not provide the goods. Sorry if that makes me un-American or something.

6) I hate cheddar cheese. Swiss is where it's at.

7) Every time I'm forced to watch Barbie and Strawberry Shortcake videos while babysitting, I think about the cartoons I watched as a kid (The Rugrats, Recess) and am certain that they contributed to my androgyny. Thank goodness.

8) I will go out of my way to avoid left turns at busy intersections.

9) Although I'm not overly fond of my middle name, I think it goes nicely with my first name. (Amelia Nicole--pretty, yes?)

10) Not only am I not religious, I'm also not even remotely spiritual. I tried really hard to be, but it just didn't work out. (Sorry, Mom.)

11) My first concert was Hanson in June of 1998. Don't make fun of me.

12) My taste in music is really questionable (see above fact). But so is yours, most likely. At least I'm willing to admit it. :-)

13) I love the idea of traveling, but my agoraphobia often gets in the way.

14) If I don't do things ass backward, they don't get done.

15) I was born in mid-December, and am really bad at math. So sometimes I lose track of how old I am, because for eleven and a half months out of the year, I cannot simply count backward to my year of birth to get my age.

16) I can't remember the last time I wore makeup.

17) My glasses leave my face so seldom that I often lie down in bed or get into the shower and then realize that I'm still wearing them. Actually, I'm pretty sure I was wearing them the last time I made out with someone, too. Hm.

18) I really can't stand Sarah McLachlan's music. I don't really know why. Maybe I just associate it with animal abuse commercials and don't like being depressed. But at any rate, I'm pretty sure that the only way I'd be able to handle her is if she suddenly did a cover of "I Touch Myself" or something.

19) I freaking love seafood--even sushi. All you haters can shut it.

20) My mom told me once that I had a healthy mind because one day when I was super thirsty I told her that I could easily drink an entire gallon of milk.

21) A year or so ago, my friend Tracy and I were sitting at Starbucks on SVSU's campus making up stories about where we'd be in ten years. Tracy came up with an elaborate tale about how my cat Mac was still alive but really old and in a lot of pain. She went on to tell me that he lost control of his bowels and had trouble walking. And she told me that although I knew it'd be better to put him down, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. When she got to the part where I put him in my car and drove halfway to the vet only to drive home again, I burst into tears and a bunch of strangers sitting nearby became concerned. Tracy felt really badly about it. I don't know if this anecdote says more about her talent for telling really colorful stories or my sensitivity/ridiculous level of attachment to my cat.

22) I love gift cards. This probably means I'm a huge tool.

23) I consistently refer to Christmas as "Grinchmas," not so much because it makes me grumpy (even though it kind of does), but mostly just because I really love the color green. And the Grinch is green.

24) I was raised by someone who is adamantly against abortion in pretty much any circumstances, and considers it "a form of genocide." But here I am, absurdly passionate/vocal about reproductive rights. (Again: Sorry, Mom.)

25) I love rain/snow as long as I don't have to drive through it. I'll gladly ride my bike or walk through it. But if I have to drive through it, it can damn well keep itself up in the clouds 'til I reach my destination.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving

Okay, so I guess I take back what I said in an earlier post about not being a fan of holidays. I freaking love Thanksgiving. This is because like birthdays, Thanksgiving gives me a chance to celebrate who and what I love. (I also like that it just means I get to eat myself into a food coma and drink wine and lie around doing nothing on a weekday. And Thursday is actually my busiest day of the week this semester, so I'm really diggin' the fact that I'm writing this from the comfort of my bed.)

So, here's a (non-exhaustive) list of things I'm thankful for, in no particular order:

1) My mom
...Without whom there would be no Thanksgiving dinner (or no dinner ever, for that matter). Who comes along with me on all my crazy adventures (i.e. "let's skip real life today and go see Michael Franti in Ann Arbor"). Who does all kinds of wonderful things; it'd take me a lifetime to list 'em all.

2) The "blogosphere"
I usually read a lot in the summer, but for some reason, that didn't happen this year. Instead, I watched oily pelicans on the news and when that became too overwhelming, I'd switch to The Golden Girls. Rinse, repeat. I was pretty bummed out about it. I did read a few books: short novels, collections of poetry, that sort of thing. But it didn't occur to me to ditch books altogether and turn to the Internet for good reading material.

Thanks to the "THIS IS WHAT A YOUNG FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE" blog carnival (held this past August), I was made aware of just how many blogs are out there. There are the big ones (like Feministing), and the funny ones (like Hyperbole and a Half), and then there are the ones written by college students procrastinating on their homework (ahem). It's endlessly interesting to me, how much is out there, and how many perspectives there are. I was telling my mom the other day about how much I love blogging. It's got me reading and writing again. I've really missed that. No wonder I'm happier now than I was at this time last year.

3) Everyone's support when I came out to my parents
Even though my parents are wonderful and took it well, telling them I'm gay was still one of the most draining experiences of my life. I was blown away by all the support I received from people who helped me through it: my fellow LGBT friends who answered my endless questions about their coming out experiences, people who listened even if they couldn't relate, and everyone who left comments on my Facebook page and here on Blogger. It meant so much. I say this because, to put it lightly, things haven't gone as well with my extended family. It's been really hard, actually, and I'm not ready to write about it yet. But suffice it to say that all the support I've received has given me the strength to deal with the reactions of those who haven't been accepting.

4) Angela
I met Angela in an English class earlier this year--right before I transferred to Wayne State. I was hesitant to make new friends that semester, because I knew I'd soon be leaving SVSU. Therefore, I was purposely standoffish. I regret that now. She has done a better job of keeping in touch with me since I moved than anyone else has (and that really says something, because I'm still very close with quite a few people from the Saginaw/Bay City area). But lately, Angela and I have talked literally every day, and she's coming to visit next month. It's wonderful, and I'm sorry that I was at first so hell bent on preventing this friendship from forming. Lesson learned.

5) Libraries
Okay, I know it's the 21st century and all, but libraries are awesome. I say this as someone who hasn't read very many books recently. I say it as someone who spends way too much time online. I still think libraries are fabulous. I hope they never go away. Also, if you live in Michigan and don't use MeLCat, you are missing out. Interlibrary loans = endless knowledge, endless geekdom, and endless fun...for free! This nerd is getting off her soap box now. But really, libraries win.

I should sign off now and help my mom do whatever she's doin' in the kitchen. Happy Turkey Day, everyone. What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How I became a feminist

A week or so ago, I was poking around on Twitter and came across a link to this post titled "How I Became a Feminist." And I realized that while I've blogged quite a bit about feminism, I haven't actually written about how I got here in the first place.

I come from a very traditional family. My dad's the breadwinner, and my mom's always done the stay-at-home thing. I like to think that my parents might not have assumed traditional gender roles had they been given the chance to figure out what else was out there, though. They were both raised in very traditional settings, and married young.

Kids worry about all kinds of weird things. And because my parents were the people with whom I spent the majority of my time, I tried to picture myself in their shoes and worried incessantly about what my future would be like. Neither of my parents were born in the United States; they're not native speakers of English. I remember thinking that in order to ever be considered a "real adult," I, like my parents, would have to learn a whole new language/culture. And it scared the shit out of me.

But the funny thing is that in becoming a feminist, I've done exactly that.

Although feminism was not a part of my upbringing, it entered my consciousness when I was still very young--long before I had a word for it. I distinctly remember being in the first grade and going to a friend's house after school to play for a few hours. I was surprised to find a babysitter there instead of my friend's mom. I'd never had a babysitter before, and asked my friend where her mom had gone.

"She's at work," my friend replied (with a tone suggesting I was an idiot for not having known that instinctively).

She didn't know it, but she had, in only three words, eliminated the anxiety I'd felt about my future. I didn't have to grow up to be a stay-at-home mom. Maybe that meant I didn't have to be a mother at all. Maybe I didn't even have to get married. To this day, I think this is the most liberating realization I've ever made: Holy crap, people have all kinds of ways of going about things; there are choices.

From that point forward, I looked for affirmations of what I'd discovered at my friend's house: that as a female, I was equal to males and wasn't limited to gender-specific roles in society. This was hard to do, being that I was an elementary school student with a limited vocabulary. (Feminism? What's that?) But I got lucky anyway. I grew up in the 1990s--a time when women dominated the music scene. My mom was a big Tracy Chapman fan. And I don't even think she paid all that much attention to the socially conscious lyrics, but I couldn't help but take notice. I've always had a fascination with language, and can't deny that those lyrics shaped the perspective from which I viewed the world.

I finally came to identify as a feminist as a high school senior. I have my friend Stephanie to thank for that. She had transferred from Interlochen Arts Academy, where she'd focused on her poetry. That year, I was the editor-in-chief of Looking Glass, the art/literary journal at school, and Stephanie joined my editorial staff. We were also in the same AP literature and creative writing classes.

She and I entered the same poetry contests and submitted our work to the same journals. We were both recognized with Detroit Free Press Writing Awards and placed in the Albion College Michigan High School Poetry Contest. We were on the school poetry slam team, and got to compete at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

Because of that, Stephanie and I got to spend a lot of time traveling around the state together, and I took advantage of every opportunity to pick her brain. I was passionate about writing, but she brought something to hers that was missing from mine: focus in terms of subject matter. She viewed the world through a feminist lens, and was able to articulate everything I'd believed in all my life, but had never had the words for.

Armed with what Stephanie had taught me, I enrolled at SVSU. Not having her around actually gave me the chance to further develop my own views. And the classes I took gave me a safe environment in which to do that.

I took a zillion English classes at SVSU, but none of them had anything about gender or feminism in their titles. Still, many of my professors did an excellent job of integrating feminism into their classes--such an excellent job, in fact, that I craved more and was disappointed when I had trouble finding it. Most of what I learned about feminism during my years at SVSU came from the English classes I took, rather than classes such as The Psychology of Sex, Sexuality, and Gender.

And so I learned firsthand what makes women's studies an interdisciplinary topic. I find it impossible to separate feminism from any of my other interests. It's a mindset, a lifestyle. I don't think I ever "became a feminist," exactly. I just learned that there was a word for my version of common sense. I try my best every day to use that word well and often.

What's funny is that even though I've openly identified as a feminist for quite a few years now, I'm still surprised whenever I hear anyone refer to my "reputation" as such. Maybe that's because of the negative connotation. Again, I don't separate feminism from anything else I believe in or do. It's not like I'm this average, ordinary woman with a "secret life" as a feminist behind the scenes. Please.

I'm still learning, and will be as long as I live. That's what's so incredible about it. I'm in awe of just how much I don't know. Maybe that means I'm still becoming a feminist (which would explain why I can't pinpoint the moment when I "became" one).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

On driving and living

I mentioned in an earlier post that I hate driving. Most people think that's because I'm a hippie and driving is harmful to the environment. That's true, but there's much more to it than that.

I hate the act of driving. At first, I was eager to get my license; the idea of independence thrilled me, and I took driver's ed at fifteen like everyone else. But I quickly realized that driving made me incredibly anxious, so after I got my learner's permit, I kind of just "forgot" about it and let it expire. This wasn't a big deal to me until my peers started getting their licenses. At that point, I started to feel like I wasn't measuring up because I had failed to meet this milestone of getting my license at sixteen.

Around that same time (my junior year of high school), everyone was starting to freak out about college applications. My parents and teachers noticed that my GPA/ACT score didn't match my work ethic. I took a ton of AP classes and worked as the editor-in-chief of my school's art and literary journal. But my GPA didn't reflect that because I kept failing my math and science classes.

Okay, so this is sort of thing happens to a lot of people. Not everyone is good at everything. But in my case, the disparity was huge. On paper, I looked like a C student because I'd get A's in one area and F's in the other.

I was born with a condition called Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension, which, from what I've heard and read about it, affects about one in every 1,000 newborns. Basically, I resisted "switching over" to breathing outside the womb (AKA using my lungs). Obviously, those who don't make the switch die, because you can't stay alive if you fail to use your lungs. I'm writing this, so clearly, I made it, but not without the help of a long hospital stay.

I can blame my epically poor vision on the damage that was done to my optic nerve as a result of the oxygen deficiency. I'm legally blind in my left eye. Those who love me affectionately refer to my left eye as "crooked" or "droopy." It's pretty funny-looking, and I actually keep it closed most of the time (those who have ever paid attention to me while I read know this). My glasses seldom leave my face.

I don't know who decided to explore the connection between my difficulty learning to drive, grades, and medical history. But at any rate, in May of 2006 (when I was seventeen), a psychologist came to my high school and administered a ton of tests, among them an IQ test. I'm cynical about IQ tests, but the results were interesting. Verbally, I placed in the 98th percentile (which is pretty damn sweet). Spatially, however, I placed in the 2nd percentile. The psychologist said repeatedly that she had never before seen such a huge disparity. And the disparity was consistent with my grade point average: On paper, I placed in the 47th percentile overall. But that speaks to neither my mad skillz verbally, nor my epic failure spatially.

Armed with those test results, I went to see a neurologist, who ran tests of his own and discovered that the part of my brain responsible for spatial functions had literally shut itself off. This too, he determined, was a result of the oxygen deficiency at birth. This means that literally everything I've ever done spatially, I've learned with parts of my brain not meant to learn those things.

Badass, yes?

People have asked me if I'm bitter about not figuring this out this until I was almost done with high school; I would have been eligible for a whole lot of help had it been discovered earlier. But whatevs. I try not to dwell on it too much, because I can't change how it happened. And besides, because I had no idea that it was "physically impossible" to learn certain things, I learned 'em anyway--or tried my damndest to, at least.

And I did get my driver's license, by the way, in August of 2008. I was nineteen. It's really hard to live in Michigan without one, for one thing. And as much as I love the people in my life, I don't like relying on them for much.

But I really limit my driving. I'm terrified of freeways, which makes visiting my friends in Saginaw difficult. When I lived there, getting my car to join me took the effort of both my parents. My dad would drive my car up there, and Mom and I would follow in hers. They'd leave my car at my apartment, and both drive home together. If nothing else, I'm very lucky that they've always been so accommodating. They tell me they'll continue to be as long as I try and always do my best. And I don't know how to live any other way.

It's weird. I realize more and more that the only reason I'm such an anxious person is because I have failed over and over again to fit into boxes. There are so many ways in which my life hasn't played out the way I was told it would. I didn't get my license at sixteen. I won't graduate from college within a four-year time frame. Grandma's dream of watching me get married and have babies is totally never going to be fulfilled.

I wish I could say that I'm happy and comfortable with all of this, but I'll admit that I'm not. I'm working toward that. But it's all part of the process of "unlearning." My own experiences have taught me that many of us are a lot braver/stronger than we'll give ourselves credit for. Sometimes it takes tremendous amounts of strength just to keep our heads above water and do what's expected of us as people.

Getting my driver's license was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Accepting/respecting my own personal limits is still really hard for me. But it's part of life, so I do it.

And this is why I'm such a big fan of small victories. Because they're not really small victories at all. Living isn't easy. But as long as we're doing it, we've got reason to celebrate.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Birthdays

Anyone who has known me for a while knows the following things about me:

- I'm not religious,
- I have a creepily good memory for dates, and
- I am particularly fond of birthdays.

I'm not that into holidays. People tend to chalk that up to my not being religious, but even the non-religious holidays don't get much attention from me (as I mentioned in an earlier post, I haven't celebrated Halloween since I was still young enough to trick or treat).

The exception to this is birthdays. My favorite holiday is your birthday.

I don't know why this is, exactly. It's partly because my brain works just like Facebook: The clock strikes midnight and I think, "Okay. Today is November 18. This means it's my cousin Sandy's birthday. And I'm jealous of her, because she shares a birthday with Margaret Atwood."

But I also really like birthdays because I just really love that it gives me a reason to celebrate the people in my life--their quirks, in particular. My friend Travis is a huge biology nerd. The year he turned nineteen, our mutual friend Tracy and I went online and bought him a couple of giant microbes. He wrote on our Facebook Walls when he received them in the mail: "Thanks for giving me mono and the flu!" The lack of sarcasm made the twenty or so dollars I spent on his gift more than worth it.

I am, admittedly, perpetually five years old about my own birthday (WHICH IS NEXT MONTH, YO). People keep telling me I'll get over it once I get older, but I hope that never happens. I think the fact that people have always been so good to me on my birthday adds to why I extend that to other people. I'm a pretty noisy person--it's quite easy for people to figure out what makes me tick. But even so, it means a lot when someone does something for me that they couldn't have done if they didn't know me all that well.

So this is why I love birthdays: It's my excuse to party err'day. :-)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Livin' the dream: Amelia meets Michael Franti

I'm not kidding when I say that I have a list of people I'd like to high five before I die. Until today, Michael Franti was on that list. But I checked his name off today. :-)

I went with my mom to Borders in Ann Arbor to see him. Some things are just worth skipping class for. And because I didn't have to work today, I saw this as one hell of a great opportunity to have some fun.

I first clued in to Michael Franti around the time he stopped wearing shoes (circa 2000). I didn't really understand the political significance of it then. I just thought it was cool, and told my mom that I was going to stop wearing shoes. Her response? "Amelia, you're eleven. And you live in Michigan. It snows here. No."

And that was that. I zoned out until about 2008, when All Rebel Rockers was released. And I've been a fan ever since.

I could write out every detail of the 40 or so minutes of awesomeness, but thanks to Borders, I can just show you what you missed:

Watch live streaming video from borders at livestream.com


My favorite parts:

The interview segment between the first and second songs they played--particularly the part about oranges. It's the little things in life, man.

Watching the kids dance around to "Say Hey (I Love You)." I'm a big fan of the girl who rocked that spontaneous solo. She's the coolest.

The best part for me was how it ended. I loved the last song that they played; I wish it had been included on the latest album. I found it so incredibly fitting; I came out to my parents just last month, and attended this show with my mom. And that song was about how it's okay to love whoever you choose--as long as you're loving, not hating, it doesn't matter.

The whole day was great. Afterward, I bought a copy of The Sound of Sunshine and got it signed. And Michael Franti gave me a hug. :-) There's photographic evidence of this; I'll put it up soon.

I'm in love with the world today. I hope you are, too.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Compulsory heterosexuality (and other things I don't like)

Someone asked me via formspring recently if there was a definite moment when I figured out I was gay, or if I've always just kind of known. In the two weeks since I posted my answer to that question, I've been thinking about a lot of things.

First, here's how I answered the question:

While I don't recall a specific moment when I "knew," I definitely had to go through a process of becoming fully aware of it.

In middle school, girls my age started getting boy crazy and I just wasn't into it. I thought for a long time that I was just a "late bloomer." It took me quite a while to realize that I was actually attracted to women, and that my attraction to them explained why I wasn't into guys.

And so I actually feel like I missed out on a lot in middle/high school, because I dismissed a lot of the things I was feeling instead of experimenting the way most of the kids my age did. For this I blame the idea of "compulsory heterosexuality." As a friend pointed out to me, our culture just doesn't provide us with the tools to deal with anything other than heterosexuality. So at that age, it didn't even occur to me to consider the fact that I might be something other than heterosexual. I just figured that if I was patient, I'd eventually find a guy I liked.

And I did, or rather, I met a guy who liked me, and went with it. I was sixteen at the time. We told everyone we were an item and I distinctly remember feeling extremely relieved. By that point I'd started to think that I might actually be gay. I probably would have come out a lot sooner had I never met him. I was discouraged from trusting my instincts, because they didn't match what I'd been told about how my future would play out.

In the weeks since I posted my answer to that question, I've been thinking about how "compulsory heterosexuality" affects everything, especially what's most important. And I can't get over how unfortunate that is.

Here's the thing: I wasn't sheltered from the idea of homosexuality. I knew, as a middle school student, what that meant. But couldn't have been taught that it was normal/acceptable. Had I been, I might have started to question my sexuality a lot earlier than I did.

Instead, I saw homosexuality as something distant from me. I didn't grow up knowing anyone who was openly gay. And so I couldn't imagine that anyone near me might be gay, let alone that I might actually be.

I didn't come out to my parents until just last month. I'm twenty-one, and in my fourth year of college. They were very accepting, but I know that they only reacted as positively as they did because by the time I finally worked up the nerve to tell them I'm gay, I'd experienced two things:

1) I'd first had a boyfriend and not enjoyed it, and then
2) I'd had a girlfriend and known that it felt right.

As grateful as I am that my parents accepted what I told them, I know for a fact that had the above conditions not been met, they would have told me that I was just still just questioning myself, and dismissed what I told them.

On my end, two conditions had to be met before I would give my parents the news:

1) I waited until I was out of my teens. I felt that the older I was when I told them, the more credibility I'd have.
2) I waited until I was more emotionally stable than I'd ever been. I had wanted to tell them a year earlier than I did, but decided against it because at the time, I was struggling for reasons entirely unrelated to my sexual orientation. I didn't want my parents to think that my sexuality was a contributing factor to the problems I was having at school, because it wasn't.

But this is both unfair and stupid because no one should have to legitimize their sexuality to anyone, or be "emotionally stable" to explore it. And they shouldn't have to literally "rule out" heterosexuality first, either. The fact that I feel like I have to first prove to people that I'm a good, functioning person before I can reveal my sexual orientation to anyone just doesn't make the slightest bit of sense to me.

But that's the way it is. We've still got quite a ways to go on the road to achieving equality. Homosexuality is still presented to our youth as something that's "different from the norm." And yeah, the majority of people aren't gay. But as cliche as it sounds, unless kids are taught early on that "different" isn't automatically synonymous with "weird," they're going to have a hard time accepting it. Because once you're taught certain things about the way the world's "supposed to be," it's hard to unlearn that. This is why it took me such a long time to come out of the closet.

I regularly babysit two girls, ages four and seven. They're awesome; I love them both. But I can already see how they're being conditioned to just accept certain things as the norm: namely that girls should look and act a certain way, and that boys should look and act a certain way. (Oh, and that they're better than the black kids two houses down. I wish I was kidding. But I digress.)

If we want to be honest, it kind of makes me wonder why the hell I even bother. A lot of people my parents' age (40s/50s) have told me that "my generation" is the one that's going to fix things. But we're still raising kids on the system that's doing all the damage. It's disheartening.

I have this really cool magnet. It's pink and there's a blonde girl on it. The girl is saying, "Mommy, when I grow up I want to help smash the white racist, homophobic, patriarchal, bullshit paradigm too!"

The world needs more kids like that. And they shouldn't wait until they grow up. They can start now.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Things I'm incredibly excited about

1) This morning I booked a flight to Oklahoma to visit my friend Sarah, who's living there while she finishes her MFA at Oklahoma State University. I'm really excited about it; I haven't seen Sarah since December of 2008. She is one of my favorite people; we met in 2005 as students in Mary Ann Samyn's poetry workshop at the Controlled Burn Seminar for Young Writers. Since then, we've done a good job of keeping in touch, even though we've never lived in the same city (and now don't even live in the same state). When I was still in high school and living in Grosse Pointe, she was in Saginaw. The year I moved to Saginaw to start college, she moved to Marquette to get an MA from NMU. And now I'm back in Grosse Pointe, and she's in Stillwater, OK. But at the end of January, I will be in Stillwater, too. :-)

2) In an earlier post, I mentioned that Michael Franti is on the list of people I'd like to high five before I die. I spent an entire week trying to win tickets to a pre-concert meet and greet through a local radio station, but was unsuccessful. Well, my hope has been rekindled! Turns out Michael Franti will be hanging out at Borders in Ann Arbor on Monday, 11/15, playing a few songs and signing albums. (And hopefully giving me a high five!) Oh, man. Power to the peaceful!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Growing up in Grosse Pointe, AKA "capitalism personified"

I live in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, and have most of my life. A friend of mine once referred to it as "capitalism personified."

Accurate? Yeah, basically. But weirdly enough, as a kid, I thought we were poor. Why? Because the majority of my wardrobe came from K-Mart. Smart move on my mom's part; why buy nice clothes for kids who are just going to outgrow them anyway?

Anyone who has seen where I live knows that I sure as hell didn't grow up poor--not even close. Or if we are, in fact, drowning in debt (which I'm pretty sure we're not), we're still living really comfortably. My sister and I each have our own balcony off our respective bedrooms, for crying out loud.

It was weird to grow up thinking I was poor and then realize that I actually have way more than many (if not most) people do.

That realization came long before I moved to Saginaw in 2007. Actually, I don't doubt that my awareness of it factored into my decision to move to Saginaw, of all places. I guess I just wanted something a little more normal.

Let me explain why it is I once thought we had so little. Many of the kids around here had literally everything and more (not that I can remember now what kinds of toys were popular in the '90s). Plus, virtually every vacation from school (Christmas break, mid-winter break, spring break) meant I'd chill at home with my books and toys while my classmates went to Hawaii or Florida or in some cases, Europe. Obviously, that wasn't everyone's experience. But enough people did that on a regular basis that I felt as though I didn't measure up.

I realized quite some time ago just how ridiculous that is.

So I've really struggled with the fact that I'm from Grosse Pointe. I try to avoid talking about it. The "Hometown" section of my Facebook page is blank. It is something that I'm almost cripplingly insecure about. Just talk to anyone who has ever asked me where I grew up. I beat around the bush like nobody's business. I get really defensive about it. Shit, even right now, I'm being defensive about it.

One of the best books I've ever read is _Let Me Stand Alone: The Journals of Rachel Corrie_. Corrie grew up in Olympia, Washington, was incredibly aware of how privileged she was, and understood that as someone who had so much, she had a certain amount of responsibility to those who weren't as fortunate as she was.

And I think part of why I struggle with my hometown is that as much as I hate this place, I've been here long enough to notice that a decent number of the people who live here realize this about themselves. Some of the most generous and creative people I know live in Grosse Pointe.

And so I try not to make generalizations about this place, because I know that for one thing, there are some great people here. And furthermore, I know that it's hard to be a great person in a place like this. I'm definitely not there yet. I'd like to be. I'm working toward it. But I'm definitely not there yet. If I was, I wouldn't find it necessary to write a blog post like this. I wouldn't give disclaimers to my friends who visit from Saginaw, and I wouldn't get offended when those people comment on what they see when they come here.

What prompted me to write about this in the first place: Last summer, a friend of mine who lives in Cass City told me that he had to volunteer at a Tigers game for his fraternity, and asked if he could crash at my place rather than drive all the way back home so late at night. I told him that he could. It was nice; we drank beer, caught up on things, blah, blah, blah.

Last night he told me that he plans to drop out of college (he's currently a student at SVSU). I told him that I wasn't sure how I felt about that. For some reason, whenever I hear that a friend of mine plans to drop out of school, I feel tremendously sad, even though some of the most amazing people I've ever met have done that (including my mom). I didn't mean to place judgment on his decision, but I think that's how he took it. He said something like, "Well, unlike you, I didn't grow up in Grosse Pointe. I'm not as lucky as you are. I don't have as many options as you had when you fell apart last year. I have nothing, and no one, to fall back on."

I can't disagree with that; he's right. I had a lot to fall back on: namely parents who are both financially and emotionally supportive.

If nothing else, though, at least I can say that I'm aware of how much I have, and am trying to make the most of that. Let's be honest: A year ago, I was profoundly unhappy and seriously considered dropping out of college to live in the Yukon with my mom's free-spirited older sister. But I realized how much of a cop out that would be, especially given that I have the resources to stay in school. So I stayed.

At least Grosse Pointe didn't shelter me. At least it didn't make me greedy. I'm getting there. But I still have all kinds of guilt that I need to get rid of. And I know that until I can rid myself of that guilt, I can't really live the full kind of life I'm striving for, which means, ultimately, feeling lucky instead of guilty, and using what I have to help those who don't have it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Vote!

Just a reminder that tomorrow, Tuesday, November 2, is election day! I'll be voting. And you should, too.

If you live in Michigan, you can view a sample ballot here.

And if you, like me, have a slightly vulgar sense of humor and lack of tolerance for those who don't vote, click here.

See ya at the polls!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I love my life because I love the people in it. That's really all it comes down to.

I felt kind of deflated all day.

I guess I was just cranky because this week is kicking my ass. And when school tries to destroy me, it's quite natural of me to think that I ought to let it. Who the hell am I? When am I ever going to graduate? I don't really know what I want to do with my life, and I need to get my shit together because I've been in college for quite a while, blah, blah, blah.

But all day long, I was reminded that the people in my life ROCK. And I feel the need to mention a few of them specifically:

A local radio station, 93.9, has been giving away tickets to see Michael Franti and Spearhead in concert and meet the band before the show. Michael Franti just happens to be on the list of people I'd like to high five before I die, so I spent the day trying to win tickets. I found out this evening that quite a few people called the station for me: My mom, Emily, Ben, Amberleigh, AND Amberleigh's mom (who I've never even met). The cool thing? Ben and Amberleigh don't even live in the listening area; Ben's in Saginaw and Amberleigh's in Lake City. But they streamed it online, waited for the DJ to tell them to call in, and gave it a shot. (I didn't win the tickets, but that's beside the point.)

When I got home from class this evening, I saw that I had received a Halloween card in the mail from my good friend Sarah. We attended the Controlled Burn Seminar together, and although we've never lived in the same city, have always done a great job at keeping in touch. In the card, she mentioned that she plans to move to Kentucky soon, and tried to convince me to join her. She knows I'd never go for something like that, so she wrote, "Oh, I know what you're thinking. But Kentucky needs people like us. We could go there and raise hell; there isn't a single Planned Parenthood within an hour of Bowling Green."

On Facebook, I found a status that one of my friends had posted: "Can anyone give me a good reason to go to college?"

Someone who used to teach English at SVSU left a comment: "Because you will meet some very cool people there. And if you take the right classes, you will learn something and find your passion."

I "liked" her comment and she added, "The funny thing was that I was going to say 'people like Amelia Glebocki.'"

Well, shucks.

Just after I read that, a former roommate of mine (with whom I'm not particularly close), sent me a Facebook message to let me know that she thinks of me every Tuesday night while she's in class, because the class she's taking is called "Teaching the Art of Writing." And writing has always been my thing.

That was nice to hear. I needed that to remind me that I'm not as aimless as I feel. I love deeply--so deeply, in fact, that people who don't even consider themselves close friends of mine can't help but think of me whenever they find themselves in certain situations. Maybe that means I'm obnoxiously vocal about what I think/feel. Or maybe in a more positive light, it just means I'm passionate, intense. And with how much I've questioned myself in the past year or so, it's nice to know I still have that in me, and that I'm surrounded by people who have that in them too.

I freaking love you people. Sorry if I don't tell you that enough.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Toothless

Ten years ago today, on October 23, 2000, I flipped over the handlebars of my Razor scooter on the way to school and lost one of my front teeth. I was eleven years old, and in the sixth grade.

Those scooters were really popular around then, and I begged my grandparents for one. My grandfather, having heard that they were dangerous, told me he'd buy one for me as long as I promised to only ride on the sidewalk. That wasn't too smart of him; the scooters were dangerous because of their tiny wheels. It was much safer to ride them in the street, which was smoother than the sidewalk.

Except at this time of year, when there are leaves and branches everywhere. A block away from school, I hit a twig and went flying. I landed face-down on the cement, and it took me a few seconds to realize that my tooth was loose and my bottom lip was all bloody. I just sat there in a daze for a few seconds, and finally, a seventh grader named Martha came over and helped me up. She flagged down a car, and the woman driving gave us tissues from her glove box and offered us a ride to school.

We went to the office and the secretary called my mom. By that point, I was crying and shaking and generally reacting the way you'd think a typical eleven-year-old would, so it was determined that I wouldn't stick around for classes that day. My mom took me to see the dentist, who stitched up my lip and told me that the tooth would probably work its way back into place and that would be the end of it.

Not so.

A few months later, my lip no longer resembled an overinflated balloon, but my tooth was still loose, and turning funny colors. So I underwent a series of root canals.

Everyone hears that and cringes. Root canals are unpleasant, and I was especially young. But to be honest, I didn't mind it all that much. I have a high pain tolerance. And all the pitying attention was nice. And I got to miss a lot of school.

The "dontists" (as I called them: endodontist, periodontist, orthodontist) were unable to save my tooth. The bone inside my gum was deteriorating, and so in June of 2001, the tooth was extracted.

So there I was, a twelve-year-old girl without a front tooth. Sounds like a self-esteem disaster, doesn't it? It wasn't; I had (and still have) the personality of a nine-year-old boy. They fitted me with a temporary, removable tooth, called a "flipper." I wore it until I reached the age of seventeen. I wasn't able to have a permanent one placed until everyone was 100% certain that I was done growing. Had they placed it too early, it would have interfered with the growth of my jaw.

So I spent my awkward teenage years freaking out my sister's elementary school-aged friends by taking out my tooth. I usually incorporated the missing tooth into Halloween costumes; one year I was a generationally confused punk rock grandmother, complete with dentures.

Then, when I was sixteen, I began the process of getting a permanent tooth implanted. It was crazy. For about a year and a half, I was in an out of the dentist's and oral surgeon's offices. I had a bone graft done to replace what had deteriorated, and then once that healed, they attached metal to it, and attached the tooth itself to that. On top of that, I had all the typical dental stuff done: got my teeth cleaned every six months, had my wisdom teeth taken out. I lost track of what my appointments were for. I just showed up when they told me to, and let them do their thing.

So in March of 2007, when I showed up for some procedure or another, I was surprised to find everyone in the office looking particularly excited.

Turns out it was my last appointment EVER. They finished it off and sent me home with a brand new tooth. You'd really never be able to tell that it's an implant.

And I took "last appointment EVER" literally, by the way. I finally went in for a teeth cleaning this past summer, and got seriously reprimanded for putting it off for so long.

But like I said, I have the personality/sense of humor of a nine-year-old boy. And if you told a nine-year-old boy that he never had to see the dentist again, he'd be really pissed off if you decided to put him in the car and take him in for a cleaning.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

DeRoy Lecture Series: Heather Love, "The Stigma Archive" at Wayne State


I miss out on everything, because I'm taking 17 credits and have a part-time job. But if I had time, I'd go to this (which means if you have time, you should go to this).

Here's what was written in the e-mail I received via Wayne State's women's studies listserv; the attached flier may be hard to read.

Thursday, October 21, at noon
English Department Lecture Room: 5057 Woodward, room #10302
Heather Love, "The Stigma Archive"

Heather Love is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. Her areas of interest include gender studies and queer theory, the literature and culture of modernity, affect studies, film and visual culture, psychoanalysis, race and ethnicity, sociology and literature, and critical theory. She is the author of _Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History_ (Harvard, 2007) and the co-editor of a special issue of New Literacy History ("Is There Life after Identity Politics?"). She is the editor of a special issue of GLQ ("Rethinking Sex," forthcoming later this fall) about the work of anthropologist Gayle Rubin and the feminist roots of queer theory. This year she is a Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center working on a book on the source materials for Erving Goffman's 1963 book, _Stigma: On the Management of Spoiled Identity_.

Love Your Body Day; wear purple

Today is Love Your Body Day. I didn't even know about it until earlier this week, when I received an e-mail about it via Wayne State's women's studies listserv. I found some great posters on this blog: Communications of a Fat Waitress. I've included one with this post, but if you'd like to see more, you can click on the link; they're hanging up all over campus. :-)

Also, I'm wearing purple today in rememberance of the recent LGBT suicides. I hope you are, too.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

We're okay; it's okay.

I haven't had much of a social life since I moved back to Grosse Pointe. And that hasn't bothered me too much; I needed a break. But over the past couple of weeks, I've finally had the chance to see quite a few of my favorite people, and it has me thinking about a lot of things.

First, our culture is messed up for demanding we all be pragmatic workaholics. I don't think it's any kind of secret that things went to shit last year and I freaked out. I'm very proud of how well things are going now--proud because I know that perhaps the biggest reason for such a vast improvement is that I was active in my decision making. I could still be at SVSU right now, but I'm not. I could still be in the closet, but I'm not. You get the idea.

And yet, whenever people ask me what I'm doing with my life, both short term and long, I get insecure and defensive. Yeah, I transferred after three years, which is strange as hell, but, but, but! I'm taking 17 credits and working, blah, blah, blah. See? Even us weird artist types are capable of being productive members of society. Wah, wah.

After work last night, I got together with my friend Stephanie for a couple of beers. We hadn't seen each other in way too long. We went to high school together; she lives in Chicago now, but came to town for the weekend to help her mom move. After we hung out last night, she updated her blog with, "I love you, Amelia. People like you make me feel like the rest of the world is insane and we're doing okay."

I feel the same way about her, and most of my friends, for that matter. And maybe that sounds immature. But I don't mean it the same way I would have meant it had I said that in high school. I just mean that I need my friends to remind me that even though we're oddballs, we're not alone.

And that leads me to my second point: It's okay. I feel really weird when the woman whose kids I watch on weeknights asks me what I do on the weekends. The truth: I geek out on Project Muse. I read Feministing. I bond with my cat. I watch countless episodes of The Golden Girls. I go out occasionally, but not often. And when I do, it's with people like Stephanie. And we talk about poetry and/or feminism.

I had lunch yesterday with a few of my friends from the Controlled Burn Seminar for Young Writers (pictured above). It was the most refreshing thing ever. Patric (who's a grad student at Wayne State) talked about research and Ireland. Lucy (who's an undergrad at NMU, and editor-in-chief of the newspaper there) talked about how much she loves her history classes and this swanky recorder she bought for interviews.

This past year, I've just really been learning to respect myself and my limits. I don't think I was a very good editor. But that doesn't mean I can't be a good...something else. Because I don't know what I want to do with myself yet, exactly. And that may not be okay by you, but I've finally reached a point where it's okay by me. I'm weird. I'm happy. I'm productive in my own strange way. I'm not alone. And that (right now, at least) is all that matters.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Coming out

Oh, wow. What an intense couple of days it's been.

I came out as a lesbian to my mom last night, and then came out to my dad today.

They both took it really well; I couldn't have asked for a better reaction from them. I'm relieved, grateful, and incredibly happy. I'm also exhausted. This was very emotionally draining; I can't imagine what it would have been like had they not been accepting of it.

I've felt ready to take this step for a while, and promised myself that I'd begin by telling my mom sometime this week. A few people have asked me if I was planning to do it because of National Coming Out Day, and the answer to that is no. I think it's pretty neat that I just happened to be ready to come out to my parents around this time of year. But regardless of what the calendar says, I couldn't have done this had I not felt 100% ready to do so. And it has taken me a long time to feel ready.

I had an opportunity to tell my mom yesterday. My sister was taking a nap and my dad wasn't home. And I figured that waiting wouldn't make it any easier. So I just did it. She was on the back deck reading a book. I interrupted and asked if we could talk. And then I just kind of told her. She looked taken aback and was silent for a few seconds; it was so awkward that I'm pretty sure I started rambling about who knows what. But then she said very calmly, "Okay. Tell me how you figured this out."

I told her everything: where I was at in high school, what happened during my three years in Saginaw. And then I told her where I'm at now, and why I hadn't told her sooner. I finished by giving her the opportunity to ask questions.

One of the things she asked me is whether I support gay marriage. I told her that yes, I do, and she asked me why. I explained that I believe "civil unions" (which she supports) would only segregate heterosexual and homosexual couples. I used the example of segregation in the South, and pointed out that the facilities blacks were permitted to use were not actually equal to those reserved for white people. I told her that the only way to achieve equality is to use the word "marriage": if heterosexuals can marry but homosexuals can only enter into a civil union, the wording would allow lawmakers to limit the rights of homosexual couples.

I don't know whether I changed my mom's mind on the matter, but she told me that my argument made a lot of sense, and didn't argue with me about it. That meant a lot to me. She just surprised me by accepting what I was telling her--all of it.

After we talked, I went to my room and sobbed for a solid ten minutes (which doesn't sound too ridiculous, but believe me, ten minutes is long time to cry that hard). I just couldn't believe I'd finally told her, and that she didn't think any less of me. It really, really means a lot to know that even though there's just so much we don't "get" about each other (she's pro-life, for crying out loud), she's still able to accept me for who I am.

This morning, I woke up feeling drained but happy. My mom and I had breakfast together before I left for school. And while we were eating, she told me that she had talked to Dad, and though she hadn't outed me to him, she had told him to expect me to tell him something very important soon. (Hint, much?)

I was a little annoyed with her for doing that. It took a long time to talk myself into telling my mom I'm gay. And it took a lot out of me; I didn't know how soon I'd be up to talking to my dad, especially since I figured telling him would be more difficult than telling my mom had been.

But today at school, the GLBTA hosted a National Coming Out Day celebration. One of the events was a speech by Dr. John Corvino, and one of the things he said really struck me: I'm paraphrasing here, but basically, he stressed the importance of coming out (if/when it's safe to do so), in order to live by example. People are more supportive of LGBT issues than ever before because they know us, and know that our sexuality doesn't keep us from functioning in society. Not only is coming out healthy, it's imperative. If we aren't honest about it with ourselves and others, we're enforcing the idea that homosexuality is a "dirty little secret." It infuriates me that people who build their lives/politics around love are made to feel ashamed of that. And with the startlingly high number of recent teen LGBT suicides, it's important to be honest and vocal. Doing so could literally save lives.

And so not only is this why I decided to come out to my dad tonight, but also why I decided to post this. I wanted (nay, needed) to write about it, but at first didn't think it wise to do so in a public venue. Wrong-o. Now I realize it'd be wrong not to.

As for coming out to my dad: It was pretty anticlimactic. I told him I'm gay. He asked me how I knew. I told him everything I had already told my mom, then gave him the opportunity to ask questions. He didn't have any. He just told me that he didn't understand it, but still loved me. And that was that.

I know that this is a process. It took me a long time to come to terms with my sexuality, and it'll take my parents a long time too, I'm sure. But I couldn't be more proud of them for how they handled what I told them. I really needed them to accept it, accept me. And they did.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why I blog

I started this blog in July of 2009, but have only recently started updating it often (several times per week instead of only once every couple of months). And because I have friends who maintain blogs with a specific focus (book reviews, feminism, etc), I've been thinking about my own blogging habits, and why it is I choose not to focus on any particular topic.

And I've come to this conclusion: This blog is an experiment. For me, it's as much about the writing process as it is about the subject matter of my posts.

It's been nearly two years since I last wrote a poem. Crazy, right? After devoting damn near all my time to poetry, suddenly being so uninspired felt unnatural and weird. I got sort of mopey and tried to make myself accept the frightening idea that writing just wasn't a part of my life anymore.

But after a while, I started experimenting with forms of writing less familiar to me. I didn't make a conscious decision to pursue something else; I just started writing and what came out wasn't poetry. I actually spent quite a bit of time over the summer working on a memoir. It was sort of silly; I doubt I'll ever finish it. And even if I do, I don't intend to share it with anyone, much less publish it. I just wrote it because it was there inside me and well, to quote the late Rachel Corrie, "Stories go rancid inside of you if you don't let them out."

And the same pretty much goes for this blog. I'm aware that it's a bit self-indulgent. I occasionally post links to my entries on Facebook and/or Twitter; sometimes people read what I post, and sometimes they don't. Whether they do doesn't make much difference to me. I'm just enjoying the chance to familiarize myself with a form of writing I didn't engage in much previously.

Over the past year or so, I've really embraced the fact that there's really so much I'm interested in/fascinated by/passionate about: politics, feminism, literature--the list goes on and on. I'm so much happier now that I've allowed myself to venture beyond my comfort zone. And I see this blog as an extension of that.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Let me gush about Han Nolan's new book for a second.

I just finished reading Han Nolan's latest YA novel, _Crazy_, which was just released last month.

Wow. Nolan never disappoints. I've gushed about her before, so I won't go on detail about why it is I love her books so much. Suffice it to say, though, that _Crazy_ is just as good as the books of hers that preceded it.

It made me laugh and it made me cry. It made my chest hurt and it made my jaw drop a few times. It's about a fourteen-year-old boy, Jason, whose mother has died. And he's living with/taking care of his father, who is mentally ill. Jason relies on the voices in his head to help him navigate through life, but slowly learns to accept that he can't manage everything on his own.

Here's a passage that really stuck out for me:

"The way people come and go in your life, where they're present and alive one minute, and missing or dead the next, is an idea that's too big for me to grasp. Life just seems way too fragile all of the sudden, and everybody seems to take it so lightly, as if they all think we're made like army tanks, big and strong and able to roll over anything in our way. And it's not just our bodies that are fragile; our minds are even more so. I don't know what fine membrane separates sanity from insanity, but after watching my dad slip-sliding around on the border between the two all my life, I know how easy it is to cross, and this scares me...It's too easy to slip up, to slip off, and flip out" (224-225).

As I read that passage, I thought about how much I wish this book had existed a year ago, when I went into existential crisis mode and suddenly wasn't able to recognize myself anymore.

When I picked up this book, I had not expected to relate to it on any level at all. I mean, let's get real for a second. My mom's not dead and my dad's not crazy.

But a year ago, I was struggling to care about school/my job as editor-in-chief of a literary journal. And I found it incredibly difficult because so much crazy shit had happened to my friends that year: One friend's mom and brother died, another's six-year-old daughter drowned, and one's house burned down. I was made aware of just how fragile life really is, and was afraid of losing everyone/thing. That fear made me lose myself just a little.

I don't know. I guess I can't really compare. But at the very least, I can't deny that this book was oddly really comforting to me, as all of Nolan's books are.

You're missing out if you don't read them.

Friday, October 1, 2010

I love Fridays. And everything/one.

I've discovered that it's physically impossible for me to wake up before 10:30 a.m. on Friday mornings. And I love that. Means I've earned it. :-)

This week has been great. Not because it's been perfect. It hasn't. But it's been great anyway, just because.

Because on Monday I received a card in the mail from a friend who lives in Midland.

Because on Tuesday morning, I woke up to rain and wind. And it made me grumpy, so I got online and bought a copy of the first season of The Golden Girls on DVD.

Because on Wednesday, my copy of Han Nolan's new book, _Crazy_ finally came in the mail.

And because on Thursday I baked cookies with the girls I babysit for, and they worked so well together. They took turns kneading the dough and didn't fight over the cookie cutters. And later that night, when the youngest (four) burned her finger on a light bulb in the bedroom they share, the eldest (seven) found the Band Aids and suggested I make an ice pack.

This week has had its moments of epic suckiness, too. I took an astronomy quiz that I'm pretty sure I bombed. And I've been following a story on the news about Michigan's assistant attorney general, who apparently has nothing better to do than write hateful things in a blog about U of M's openly gay student body president. Speaking of of the news, I found out earlier this week that my favorite anchor (Robbie Timmons on WXYZ in Detroit) is retiring. It's probably weird to have a favorite news anchor, but I've always been a Robbie Timmons fan. In 1972, she became the first woman in the US to anchor a 6 and 11 o'clock newscast. I think that's pretty badass, and will miss seeing her on the air every day.

Whenever I mention how happy I am these days, someone inevitably asks me what I'm smokin'. And even though they're kidding, it bothers me a little. Because it isn't euphoria or giddyness. It's just that I'm awake and aware and alive in a way I wasn't a year ago. Things still piss me off and break my heart and all of that. But I'm here, and I'm so glad I'm here, just living and doing and being.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Life, love, strength, and other abstractions

The Senate broke my heart on Tuesday by falling four votes short of the 60 needed to overturn "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." It's really depressing to realize just how far we have yet to go on the road to achieving equality. Even more infuriating is the fact that most of what upsets me politically can be filed in my brain under "violation of common sense."

Personally, though, things have been going well. I got 100% on my first quizzes of the semester in both English and women's studies, which made me happy. And even though I miss my friends in Saginaw, I don't doubt that transferring colleges was the right thing to do. And I've been able to maintain a balance between the life I had there and the life I have here.

Last winter, while I was still at SVSU, I started talking to/spending time outside of class with literature majors. I had been a creative writing major, so hadn't interacted with them much previously. And I'll confess that after I made the decision to transfer, I was wary of making new friends in Saginaw, for fear of losing touch with them as soon as I moved back to the Detroit area.

But not only have we maintained contact, we've also had some incredibly honest, intense conversations since I left.

There are a lot of things I'm still ashamed of in regard to what happened while I was a student at SVSU. I wish I had handled certain things better (or handled them at all, for that matter). And because I can't go back in time and change things, I've just been trying to live my life as honestly and unapologetically as possible.

So, while we're on the topic of living honestly/unapologetically:

Confessions:

1) I always leave women's studies class full of rage and usually spend the next little while wishing I had been born male. This is particularly scary to me because I've always been so proud of/embraced who I am and what I do as a woman.

2) I also occasionally wish I wasn't gay. Like being female, it's something I love about who I am. But part of me still wishes I could rid myself of it for entirely cowardly reasons. My gay friends are the strongest people I know. And I've taken until just recently to even begin the process of coming out because I've been scared and confused and still doubt whether I'm strong enough to live as honestly and openly as they do.

But these little internal battles I'm having with myself wouldn't even be taking place if part of me wasn't trying to embrace these challenges, and be strong and explore.

What I've discovered has been (and continues to be) eye-opening. The honest/intense conversations I've had with my friends recently have all caused me to question things I had never thought to question before. It really hurts, but ultimately, processing/accepting those things makes me feel really good about everything. And lately, more and more, I just feel like life will be life, I will be me, you will be you, and everything will be okay.

And somehow it'll all be worth it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Your silence will not protect you."

I saw this story on the news last night. It really pissed me off.

Here's the gist of it: Recently, Jennifer Tesch, a woman in Madison Heights whose six-year-old daughter was on a local cheerleading squad, objected to one of the cheers: "Our backs ache, our skirts are too tight. We shake our booties from left to right."

She brought it to the attention of the public (I saw the original story on the news a few weeks ago). And now the parents of the other cheerleaders have unanimously voted her daughter off the team for "casting a bad light on the league." Oh, and get this: The cheer stays.

Okay. I'll concede that maybe Tesch should have talked to the other parents or coaches before alerting the media, but that does not excuse the other parents' behavior; it's appalling. One of them is quoted saying, "This is like a family. And to me, if you attack your family, what are you gonna do? You know, people are gonna be upset."

Talk about hypocritical. Instead of discussing the issue of the cheer in question, the parents of the other cheerleaders voted unanimously to kick Tesch's daughter off the team because by bringing it to the attention of the media, Tesch "cast a bad light on the league."

Please. By booting her out, the rest of the cheerleaders' parents are the ones "casting a bad light on the league," and ought to be ashamed of themselves.

When we're kids, we're encouraged to stand up for what we believe in. Our parents, teachers, and other mentors tend to emphasize that our actions--despite any adversity we may face--will ultimately end in glory and honor. But it really doesn't happen like that (which is something I've learned the hard way, especially in the past year or so). And I have to applaud Jennifer Tesch for voicing her opinion; I admire her for doing so.

Lately, I've been trying really hard to live by the words of Audre Lorde: "Your silence will not protect you." This whole cheerleading fiasco is an incredibly unfortunate example of why so many people think their silence will protect them, and so keep their mouths shut.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Welcome to the 21st century?

A month or so ago, I landed an after school babysitting job that'll last for the duration of the school year. I've been watching two girls, ages four and seven.

I've mentioned this to several people, and a handful of them have responded with something like, "You? Kids? Really? But. But. You're a feminist."

Wow. Welcome to the 21st century.

Or wait. Maybe I shouldn't be too angry with them for sounding so surprised. After all, I've said many times that I can't picture myself ever having children. I just don't think I'm capable of being as selfless as my mom was (and still is, even to this day).

But that doesn't mean I don't like kids. About five years ago, I started working in a vocational preschool that was housed inside my high school. I taught there in the morning, and then attended regular classes every afternoon.

I did it because I realized that for some reason or another, I was (and still am) a kid magnet. And so I like kids. It's impossible not to like them back. Kids (especially younger ones) tend to think I'm a pretty cool person. Just a couple of weeks ago, for example, I was walking past a local elementary school. A kid (who looked about three) saw me and asked me to come push him on the swings. So I did. And then he wanted me to teach him how to use my iPod. So I did. He didn't like my taste in music.

It just bothers me to think that I should even have to explain to people that being a feminist doesn't mean an automatic rejection of things that are "traditionally" associated with being female.

I mean, come on.

Sorry for the anticlimactic finish. But really. Let's get real.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sincerely, "that feisty feminist bitch"

I found out the other day that some random douchebag I pissed off in Texas referred to me as "that feisty feminist bitch" after I left.

I was flattered, and posted what he said to my Facebook page. Four people "liked" my post. One friend left a comment that made me feel like my awful experience in Texas had been worth it: "For this, you have my love and respect."

What did I do to be called a "feisty feminist bitch," you ask? Well, he called his girlfriend a cunt about five times in as many minutes, and--upon noticing that she wasn't going to defend herself--I gave him a dirty look and told him to shove it. Then I hopped on a plane and flew home, because I didn't want to deal with his bullshit anymore.

He was clearly being a huge dick. I don't think you could argue against that. But at the end of the day, I'm the one who looked like an asshole. Because I had the audacity to tell him that he didn't deserve a girlfriend if he was going to treat her like shit.

I talked to someone recently who was referred to as an "extremist" (by someone who was obviously very close to her) for pointing out that the percentage of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 does not accurately represent the female population of 52%.

I'm flattered by the Texas douchebag's comment because I don't care about what he thinks of me. But I too have really struggled with comments made to me by people I care about.

At a recent family gathering, my aunt asked me why I had decided to transfer colleges. I listed a few reasons. And when I was done, my mom said, "The bottom line is that Amelia left because she needed to find a place where it would be easier for her to be a feminist."

At that word, many of my extended family members winced. I was grateful to my mom for saying it.

At times I've found myself frustrated with my family to the point of avoiding them. (Instead of spending Christmas with them, I spent it with my friend Victoria.) It makes me sad that I have to avoid them just to feel comfortable in my own skin. I don't want to have to cut anyone out of my life. But I've had to figure out what really matters more to me: Making Grandma proud, or identifying as a feminist. If I really can't do both, she shouldn't be part of my life. Even if she is my grandmother.

How's that for a tough truth to swallow?

It hurts to know that people will call me "a feisty feminist bitch" and mean it as an insult, or that someone else will use the word "extremist," knowing it carries a negative connotation.

Because all we're asking for is respect and equality. And I don't understand why that offends people so much.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"What I am is what I am. Are you what you are or what?"

My first assignment for my women's studies class is to write about how I express myself in terms of gender (with focus on the ways in which I both adhere to and break gender norms). And I also need to include others' reactions to how I present myself, especially when I deviate from what's expected of me.

I thought it'd be an interesting topic for a blog post, so here goes:

The bottom line is that I do whatever the hell I want. I'm a woman. Some days I look the part, and some days I don't.

I seldom wear makeup. My eyebrows only ever look decent when my friend (who works at a hair salon) gets tired of looking at them and ties me down to wax the hair away. I don't care whether my outfits match. I will mix colors that aren't "supposed" to go together, just because they happen to both be on top of the clean pile.

I love to wear dresses/skirts/sarongs, because I find them more comfortable than pants. I'd wear 'em year-round if I didn't live in a state with such brutal winters. I paint my toenails. I own well over forty pairs of shoes.

So while I'm not by any means a "girly girl," I'm not a tomboy, either.

In August of 2009, I was on my way out the door and happened to be wearing a little bit of makeup. I ran into my roommate's mother in the parking lot of my apartment complex. She stopped me, looked closely at my face and asked, "Is that lipstick? Oh, honey, you've come so far since freshman year."

Others' reactions are similar. What really bugs me is that people seem to think that because I don't wear makeup, I must have low self esteem. That's not the case. It's just that I'd rather spend more time in the morning drinking coffee and tooling around on Facebook than looking at myself in the mirror.

Most tend to react similarly in regard to how I dress, even though many of them have known me for a long time and should be used to my seasonal change of wardrobe. But when it gets warm and I bust out the peasant skirts, someone--used to having seen me in jeans, Converse high tops, and t-shirts all winter--tells me I "clean up nice."

I ignore people for the most part. But what bugs me is that they see my lack of femininity (in certain aspects of my appearance, at least) as a sign that I don't value myself or have any respect for my body.

But I do. Not that it's any of their business, but aside from a huge chocolate vice, I'm a very healthy eater (my favorite food is salmon). And my preferred mode of transportation is my bicycle.

I happen to be small-boned and thin: both features associated with femininity. And so I guess it bothers people that I have all this "potential" to be the cutest little thing on the planet. And yet, I won't "try just a little harder," as they put it.

I put my energy elsewhere. Maybe they should, too.

Followers