I’m trying to remember a teacher I had at The University of Kansas a long time ago, but I keep getting jammed up. I can see the classroom. It’s one of those basement classrooms that old universities have. It was in Wescoe Hall, across from the library, where I spent too many hours walking the stacks. Listening to the birds who’d come in through, what, an open window? I can remember the stacks. I can remember the moldy classroom. And the birds. I can even remember the kid who sat behind me. People thought he was cool because he’d been a walk-on to the KU football team that year. Of course this was back when KU football was consistently on the highlight reel for “Horrible pass of the week” or “Too many sacks in a row”. Back then, when you said “Kansas football” you weren’t talking about the Jayhawks.
So it’s the particulars I’m jammed up on. I guess. I know she was young, not a professor. That she was blond, and that she had large breasts. I’m not so sure about the blond, but the breasts, those I’m sure about. They were so large, that at 18, I felt both inadequate and sufficiently aroused. This was before I knew how to buy a good bra, based on my size and shape. This was back before areas of my brain and body had fully developed. Back before I could recognize deliberate flirtation. Her areas were fully developed.
The red-headed walk-on yammered on a lot. Spoke in small sentences about things not found on the syllabus. I wondered how many times he’d been hit in the head. He’d yammer on about video games and metaphysical anomalies. He wrote short stories about aliens. He picked his nose sometimes, when he thought no one was looking. I wrote bad poetry. The kind of poetry that 18-year-old girls with virtually no life skills or relatable experience, write about. I hadn’t yet had my heart broken. He’d yammer. I’d write, and steal glances at the teacher’s breasts. She’s ask him to stop. Tell him to leave it for another time. He’d smile. She’d smile. Or at least I assume she smiled. I still can’t picture her face.
The birds in the stacks would flutter above my head. Jump from bookshelf to bookshelf. Was someone feeding them, I wonder now. Did they routinely flush them out? I wonder about the birds a lot, the birds stuck in the stacks.
Maybe it was the breasts. The reason I can’t remember her face. Can’t remember much of it. If I close my eyes, think back to my first semester, that’s all I can remember. The stacks. The red-headed walk-on. The moldy classroom at Wescoe Hall. The birds.
I wonder, now, what happened to the red-headed walk-on. How birds got into the stacks. If they’d lay eggs in nests above the harsh overhead lighting. I wonder, now, how the babies learned to fly, surrounded by bookshelves, and dumb freshmen looking for Kafka. I wonder why I fought so hard and so long against higher education. I wonder, now, who my teacher was in that moldy classroom at Wescoe Hall.
A few weeks ago Jerimiah and I went to switch our tags from North Carolina to Georgia. It’s a lengthy process that involves lots of paperwork, phone calls for titles, insurance, and inspections, and a shit ton of money. This was our second time attempting this, and we were pretty sure we had all our ducks in a row that day. We didn’t, and were there for over an hour, but people were all very nice. That wasn’t the thing that stuck with me from that day. What stuck with me was what happened while I was in line to get into the Motor Vehicle Office.
Jerimiah and I had walked in together, then as soon as he was about to go through the security checkpoint my phone rang, so I stepped back outside to answer it. It was the dog groomer and we had just dropped Duke off for a trim, so I knew it was a question. I was only outside for about five minutes, but by the time I got back inside the door, Jerimiah had a number and was seated inside, and a long line had formed at the checkpoint. So I shrugged my shoulders and prepared to wait. I knew our number wouldn’t be called anytime soon, so it was no big deal.
As I was waiting in line I noticed that in front of me were three young women. They were not together, and they were all carrying folders with paperwork, their car keys, and their cell phones, with crossbody bags slung across their shoulders. At first I didn’t pay much more mind to them. I just noticed, as I do, their presence, as well as an older couple in front of them, and a few single men and women starting to line up behind me.
It wasn’t until the first of the young women walked up to the checkpoint that I made a realization. She gave her purse to the officer to look through, she put her keys and phone in the bowl, and she walked through the metal detector. She reached back for her purse, keys, and phone and the officer said, “You can’t take your mace inside. You want to just leave your keys with me?” She hesitated for a minute, then said, “Sure,” and walked up to the number queue. That’s when I noticed the girl behind her fumble with her keys. She walked up next. Same thing. Keys, purse, phone, metal detector, did she want to just leave her keys? Sure. Third woman, the exact same. So by the time I got to the checkpoint with only my phone, I put it in the bowl, walked through the detector, eyed the three sets of keys sitting with the Sheriff Deputy, and walked to find Jerimiah.
When I sat down next to him, he saw in my face something was up, so he asked. I explained that three young women in front of me all had pepper spray on their key chains and had to leave them with the officer. He shrugged his shoulders and said something like, “Oh sure.” Then I got really mad at him, even though it wasn’t his fault. I got made cause he’s a guy, and for him sure, yeah, that makes sense. You can’t carry pepper spray into the MVD, but that wasn’t what was bothering me. I had already jumped three steps ahead of him. He must have seen the anger flash in my eyes because he said, “But I mean, it’s sad that they have to carry it at all.” Good save, husband.
Because yeah, it is sad, and it’s also total fucking bullshit. It’s total fucking bullshit that as women we know we have to always be on the lookout for someone, ahem a man, to hurt us physically. Or want to. We can never rest. We can never not think about walking to our cars in an empty lot late at night. My husband doesn’t think twice about it, meanwhile I’ve been told countless times, since I can remember, to kick at the groins. To stick my fingers in eye sockets. To hell, “Fire!” To kick headlights out. To never let them take you to a second location. I’ve been those young women. My mom bought me my first can of mace when I was 16, and got my first job. I’ve been scared in a hotel hallway alone with a man I didn’t know walking my direction. I’ve nestled my keys in between my fingers to use as a possible shiv in a moment of panic. We all have. It’s what we’ve been conditioned to do. And it’s such fucking bullshit.
I don’t have an answer here, y’all. Never usually do. But I do want to say that rape culture is real. And we need to start believing victims. We need to start teaching our boys about consent. We need to start teaching our boys that just because a girl wears a short skirt, doesn’t mean anything to you. We need to start having these real, tough conversations. And we need to get people like Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh out of our high offices. Because it starts from the top. I know there is a lot to be mad about right now, but there is nothing more important than helping people feel and be safe. Especially women and children. Especially women of color. Especially transgender women. Especially those who can’t defend themselves. Especially. Especially. Especially.
Take care of yourselves ladies. I wish you didn’t have to carry that pepper spray, but please keep doing it, cause change takes time. Remember to be vigilant. To watch out for yourselves, and for others.
Jackson is headed to his first fifth grade field trip today. Normally this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but this is the first field trip that I have not been invited to chaperone, like, uhh, ever. In fact, there were no parents invited to chaperone this one because this one is to the Fernbank Science Center. And this one is Just for Boys. And this one is chaperoned by Mr. Budd, and Mr. Board, and Mr. Hammonds. And this one came with an accompanying vocabulary list, words like:
Yeah. That is this field trip. And I gotta say, I am glad I am not there.
It’s not that Jackson doesn’t already know these words. We are always a little ahead of the game. You don’t get a kindergartner with a third grade reading level if you aren’t. Likewise, we didn’t want the kid that says “balls” for “scrotum” and giggles a little. We want a kid that knows to never use the word “pussy” in any context. Like any of them. Yeah, even cats. Cats are called cats. That is to say we are raising a man with a respectable mouth. Sure he might yell, “What the hell?!” when a car cuts me off, but that’s learned behavior and I’m okay with that. But if my son ever referred to his penis as his “dong,” I’d probably lose my shit.
Our son is, naturally, a bit nervous about today’s trip. He said, and I quote, “I’m just gonna keep my head down and my mouth quiet.” And I believe him. Though I encouraged him to listen attentively, to not giggle when the other boys do, and to try to keep his head up. This is all valuable information. Then I warned him that I want to know EVERYTHING that happened, so he should try to take copious amounts of notes. He rolled his eyes.
I have a fifth grade boy on the brink of puberty. That is amazing. And scary as hell. I have this smart, funny, honest child who is just a bit shy about saying the word “vagina,” but will say it when it is appropriate, because he knows better. He also knows the term, “Sexual Intercourse,” probably much to his grandma’s chagrin. He knows about “consent,” and he knows about birth control. His birth control. His responsibilities. It seems a bit early to bog him down with the wonders of “the pill,” though I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I hope there is a male version before he is of age.
I guess I am telling you all this today because I am nervous. I hope he behaves. I hope he represents. I hope he learns. I hope he lets his guard down just a bit. I secretly hope he does giggle a little bit to himself. Or turns red in the face. Or makes eye contact with his best bud Lucus, and they both make that face. I hope this is just another step in teaching my child to be the best version of himself he can be. And I hope one day he will know how much I worry, but push through anyway.
Teach those babies right, y’all. Have the tough conversations. Because if you don’t they will have them with people they shouldn’t. It is inevitable.
I don’t usually get political. Bahahahaha! Just kidding, I get political all the damn time. I get political when it calls for it, when it doesn’t call for it, and when I’m drunk at a party and I say some shit like, Jesus, our president is a fucking piece of work, ehhh, then I nudge the very quiet guy next to me, who happens to be my husband, and he whispers, Dude, don’t do this here, it’s my boss’ house… In short, I get political any chance I can, but I wasn’t always this way. It has been in the last five years or so that I have found my voice and have come to educate myself on such topics as: Healthcare for all, women’s reproductive rights, the Supreme Court, our country’s diplomatic ties to China, and the LGBTQQIA+ community, of which I consider myself part of (Heeeyyy girl heeeeeyyyy! 😉 But I’m happily married, sorry for your luck.) And now that I have my voice, well, I don’t plan on shutting up anytime soon. Which leads me to memes that have been floating around my Facebook feed for a few months now. Some of them are photos with words over them, some of them are ugly paintings, some of them are pics of celebrities who apparently say negative things about people in the LGBTQQIA+ community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, and asexual, for those of you who do not know). Here is one example:
I know why many of my friends are sharing this one. They think it’s funny. In fact, it gets tons of likes and laughs and people comment things like, Now that is funny right there! and Truth! I don’t even know what a girl even looks like now (actual comments from FB). But the thing they all of these memes have in common is: Fear. These memes really stem from your fear. And here is how I came to that conclusion.
Let’s say you are at the grocery store. You want to get in and out. You go in there kinda knowing what you need, but you know you are in a hurry. If you’re like me you wrote a list, then you left the damn list on your desk, so you text your husband to ask what you need and he’s all, There was a list on your desk and you’re all, I forgot it and he’s all, This is why I told you to use your phone like a normal person, do you want me to download that app that has the… and you are like, Shut-up I don’t want to do this right now asshole, do we need bananas or not?! And you don’t, so you skip the fruits and vegetables, because ehh, and head straight for the ice cream. So you grab your 12 items or less and run up to the express lane. You are standing there bouncing up and down, while you juggle the ice cream, pack of discounted pork chops, and butter, while you look in desperation at the cashier to see if they are a fast one who has their shit together (can we just take a moment to thank the fast cashiers, they are amazing). Turns out they are fast and that makes you happy, but then you notice something. Is the cashier wearing a bow tie? That’s not part of the uniform, I mean, the men wear the bow ties, but not the women. But those are boobs under that shirt. And she is wearing lipstick, but her hair is buzzed short. You recognize that it’s about a two on the sides because that one time when you decided to cut your son’s hair the salon had to shave the sides to a two after your hack job. Hmm, you think to yourself, is that a man or a woman?
Now I’m gonna stop you right there and ask this: What difference does it make?
I’m going to go a step further and ask, when would it make a difference, in your actual life, to figure out what the person standing next to you on the train, or the person in the car who passed you, or the new co-worker, or the person cutting your lawn, or your insurance person is male, female, both, or neither? And I really want you to consider this, you guys. Like, when do you honestly feel like it matters to know “what a girl even looks like now”. Does it matter if you are hiring someone to be a server or a cashier or a doctor or an accountant? It shouldn’t, because #EqualPayForEqual work and all. Does it matter when the person has an actual hand in your life, like your hair-stylist, your housekeeper, or your yoga instructor? Honestly, the only time I could think that knowing the sex of someone (who wasn’t going to be a sexual partner), for me, is my gynecologist. Hand to the holy, spiritual universe, I only want a woman rooting around in my vagina every year with that long-ass cotton swab. I don’t even care if my gyno was born a woman, I just need to know that she gets it, when she’s pushing my breasts into weird shapes and I’m looking at the ceiling trying not to make eye contact.
You guys, I have been thinking about this for awhile now. Like, when would it actually, really, fucking matter in your normal, everyday life, to figure out what gender a person identifies as, short of them being someone who you are actually interested in seeing their genitals, because you think they are kinda hot, but you know you only like people with penises? The only people who really want to know if they are talking to a man or a woman are usually people who want to degrade the other sex in some way. Either they want to feel comfortable telling a sexist joke, or they want to offer the woman less money for the same job, or they want someone who is the opposite gender so they can flirt with them, or check them out, or feel superior (talking to dudes here). If you know who you are, and what you like, and you are kind, and try to always live your life that way, and you are solid in your sexuality and your preferences, what difference does it make how the person standing opposite you identifies? Answer: I doesn’t.
And here’s the thing, a lot of you say that.You say, I don’t care what you do or how you live your life, just leave me alone. But you don’t leave them alone. You fight for bathroom bills, and to stop Drag Queens from reading to kids. You share memes like the one above, and far, far worse ones, just to get a laugh from your friends who also say, Doesn’t matter to me if they are Black, white, purple, Gay, straight, whatever, I respect everyone who respects me. But they don’t.
So, why, oh why Wise Missy do we continue to talk about the LGBTQQIA+ community like we do? Why don’t we want trans people in the military, why don’t we want to talk about protecting trans kids, why do we still say shit like, I would rather drown my kids than let them ‘choose’ to be gay? Fear, y’all. It’s pretty straightforward, don’t ya think?
We absolutely fear what we don’t know, what we don’t understand, and in some instances, what we are trying very hard to push down in our own lives. Believe me, I know, I was there. My best friend in high school came out in our junior year, and I immediately stopped hanging with her, something I still regret to this day, and do you know why? Cause I was questioning my sexuality too and I thought if she was out, then people would assume I was a lesbian, and then I’d be labeled and ostrisirzised and I didn’t want that. I was afraid. And so are some of you, and that’s okay. It’s totally okay to be afraid of things you don’t understand. We all are. I am totally and completely terrified of sixth grade math, y’all, and you will find me routinely telling whomever will listen, Fuck 6th grade math! We don’t need that kind of shit in our lives!
But, uhh, yeah, we actually need 6th grade math, I just don’t understand it.
Now listen, we usually always wonder, right? Like in the grocery store scenario I would wonder if it was a man or a woman, or how that person identifies, it’s part of human nature. It’s what we have been taught to do. We wonder about people and that’s okay too. What isn’t okay, is using your fear to belittle, berate, harm, or otherwise oppress actual human-fucking-beings because the way they dress, or the way they talk, or whose genitals they like to touch, makes you feel uncomfortable. That’s gross, y’all. Stop it. Keep the wondering to yourself.
Now I know I have totally dumbed down this very complex topic, and let me just apologize to the LGBTQQIA+ community for the injustice I have done here. But please know that my goal is to actually make people think before they share shit like this. Think about the person on the other side of the check-out line, or the train, or the counter. Think for a second how it would feel to constantly feel like you don’t belong in your own body, then have to go out and feel like you also don’t belong in your own world. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Ask questions to those who are living through it, who are striving and thriving. Ask questions to educate yourself, to quell the fear that runs under the surface. Ask questions and stop judging. Those two things can save us all a lot of time, and when we are talking about the LGBTQQIA+ community, it can also save lives.