Musings on Privilege

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I had a good discussion with a friend today and I was confronted with the reality of my privilege again. We were talking about school and how they were having trouble going back because they would have to work and I asked, confused, if they didn’t get loans. They are very kind and answered that they did but it wasn’t enough.

I listened for a while as they sketched for me the life they were living right now and what that life cost and why and I was really convicted, and angry. Not angry at them but at a system that would force this brilliant person to have to make these kinds of choices. And I start thinking about how lucky I have been.

I have not only been able to go back to school, but I have had a tremendous amount of help. My network is no minor thing. I separate myself from my family but they are so much a part of my existence, like it or not. When my car broke down my aunt loaned me money for a new one. When I needed money to pay for summer tuition up front, my aunt loaned it to me. I have been living in Bellingham for two years in a quite large apartment, free to come and go as I please, paying nothing but a small portion of the utilities, all thanks to the generosity of family members I literally almost never speak to.

When my friend talks about the reality of class and how they have just in the very recent past begun to realize what that means for them, I realize just how intangible it has been for me. I have not had to work hardly at all in the last 4 years. My mental health will always be something I keep an eye on but it is vastly improved and that is certainly largely because of how much my life has improved. And somewhat just pure luck of the draw, I imagine. Even now, as I plan to head off into the “real world” to find a job and such, I am moving in with people I love who are established and who give me a cushion.

I am stupidly lucky, is the moral of this story. My life continues an upward trend not so much because of my hard work and brains, but because I got dealt a good hand. It is stupid and it is unfair that my friend, who is certainly every bit as talented and intelligent as me (if not more so, honestly) hasn’t had the same opportunities because of systemic things that have nothing to do with them.

I feel frustrated and at a loss. On finding out that Trump is the pretty much for sure Republican candidate last night, I felt a sense of profound dread. But talking about it today, I wonder what that means and why. I am a middle-class white girl who will soon have her first degree. Yes, I’m queer but not in a particularly noticeable way. What am I afraid of for my life if Trump becomes president? And if it’s not for me, then am I preparing to use my voice, face, and whatever power I’ve been granted to fight for the people who will almost certainly be disproportionately affected? Am I doing that for people who are being disproportionately affected by things now? Is there a moral obligation to my own position  that I’m not meeting?

I don’t know the answers to any of these things. But I’m asking out loud because I’m hoping that will make it harder to ignore.

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Dylan Farrow Thoughts

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Can I just say I’m tired? I don’t just mean physically, although I’m totally that too because I’m a college student taking 20 credits and doing just way too many things. But no, I’m talking about a different thing. This week I read Dylan Farrow’s heart-breakingly honest and brave open letter about what happened to her, what Woody Allen did to her as a child. And then I started seeing the very, very predictable response. People who knew her, people who didn’t. Suddenly people were coming forward, claiming she just wanted attention, attacking her mother, attacking her. It was blood in the water and the sharks descended.

And I’m just… guys, I’m just tired. See, I have to admit that there is some part of me that just cannot fully understand, cannot wrap my mind around why we can’t just agree to agree on this one thing. I understand there are so few things we can agree on. Politics and religion and so many things get in our way but surely it is not such a stretch as a society to come together and say, “You know what? This is it. We are going to come together and say that rape and sexual assault is where we are going to draw a line in the sand. We will agree on this thing.” Especially when it involves children. Because surely there can’t be anything that controversial about saying hey, you should not have sex with children. Ever. You should not force children to have sexual acts with you. Ever. And if you do that, there is no excuse or justification. It doesn’t matter if you are a great artist. It doesn’t matter if you make really wonderful movies. There is not something, there is not anything you can do in the rest of your life that will balance out your sexual assault of children, no matter how masterful at it you may be. This seems like one of the most common sense things I can imagine, and yet it isn’t. I know that it isn’t because I keep reading things telling me that this is not the common sense. I’m not seeking them out, because I’m not that masochistic yet, but I keep running across them and I see the same things. It is apparently easier for our society at large to blame this very strong girl than it is for us to accept that a cultural icon may have raped her. And as long as we are willing to do that, it’s never going to stop.

I am so tired, you guys. I’m tired and confused. I really, truly believe this is not the world we have to live in. I really think it’s possible that there’s a reality we can live in where, when we find out that coaches have been covering up the rape of children for 10+ years like at Penn State, if there’s a riot on campus it’s not because the coach has been fired. I really believe it’s possible to live in a world where child rapists don’t win Oscars, where they don’t get Lifetime Achievement Awards and where the survivors are not passed off as deluded or attention whores. Woody Allen is throwing a fit about how she is trying to ruin his career, his life but we all know it won’t. It didn’t when she was 7 and it’s not going to now. If there was any justice, it would. But at the end of the day, people are going to care more about staying on the good side of Woody Allen than what happened to Dylan Farrow. People will keep watching his movies. If he survives another ten years, people will have forgotten this even happened. Our attention spans are not so good.

I truly believe in a better world. I believe we’ve made progress. I believe we’ll make more. I believe that someday, when an intelligent, brave young woman like Dylan Farrow steps forward and says “This is what happened to me,” we will believe her and there will be genuine consequences to pay. But we’re not there yet and it hurts me for her and for every other survivor I know who wasn’t believed. Abusers will happily keep exploiting this system we have created, where powerful men are given immunity because they are powerful men. Dylan Farrow is a rich, white, intelligent, well-educated woman. But it’s not enough. What about for those who have none of her advantages? We have so far to go, guys. I just wish we were moving faster.

Homeschooling and Anger

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My brother posted this article on Facebook yesterday. It’s long but worth a read if you’re interested in homeschooling or some of the cultural effects of it. I started reading it and I was completely astonished. I was homeschooled my whole life. I was part of this subculture, pulled into this life against my will but somehow I never knew that there might be thousands of us who had done what I did. It never occurred to me that there might be a movement of kids raised across a spectrum of abuse or neglect simply because no one was watching. Not all of this article applies to me. A great deal of it doesn’t. We were raised in a strange in between place. My parents didn’t try to keep pop culture out of our lives, they didn’t believe they were inviting Satan into our homes if we watched a movie. They loved movies, they loved books. Our watching and reading habits were strictly controlled, of course but it wasn’t about Satan, it was about political agendas and what was “appropriate.” I didn’t grow up culturally unaware. I loved culture, I spoke the language fairly fluently, especially by the time I got into high school. Although questions of modesty and shame weredefinitely on the table a great deal of the time, they never took the form of denim skirts or how long my hair needed to be. My parents considered themselves to be pretty reasonable Christians and, compared to some that I knew, they were.

There’s a lot in this article that I could talk about but the thing that really stuck out to me was several paragraphs in.

James Dobson would become the most persuasive champion of homeschooling, encouraging followers to withdraw their children from public schools to escape a “godless and immoral curriculum.” For conservative Christian parents, endorsements didn’t come any stronger than that.

I was startled to read that. I don’t know why. Like a lot of things, it seems naive. I knew that it had been my mother’s idea to homeschool us. My father had not initially been on board but she had convinced him and he says that now he’s very glad she did, in spite of the fact that it’s one thing that all three of the kids seem to agree is not something we’re grateful for. For some reason it just never occurred to me to ask where my mom got the idea. It never crossed my mind that someone gave her marching orders. I was surprised at how angry I found myself.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to unravel my mother, figure out who she was. While we’ve never had much of a relationship, I think I’ve managed to get a pretty good picture of what things were probably like for her when she was young (my age), getting married, having children. My terrified, insecure, closed off mother. Who as far as I can tell has always been overwhelmed with fear of everything. Of being a bad mother, of her past, of her future, of being close to people, of losing people, of being open. Of the huge world outside full of bad things that could suck her back in, that could destroy her children. I can so clearly picture her listening to or reading Dr. Dobson telling her that this was the thing, this was the fix. If you homeschool your children, you can protect them from the Very Bad Things. This will keep them from the evil schools, from the terrible agendas. This will guarantee that you raise good children, happy children. Moneyback guarantee, you will have perfect godly children. This is how you ensure you don’t screw up your kids, this is how you keep everyone safe from all those Terrible Things. That’s my mother’s language. Playing on her fears, playing on everything she believes lives in the dark. It’s knowing those things are there that she thinks keeps her safe. For years those things were the only things I knew.

And you see how it works, don’t you? You see how it falls apart, how cruel of a joke it is? My mother, who was never cut out to be a teacher, who was never cut out to have children around her 24 hours a day, sets off to do the thing. She sets off to teach us because the point isn’t in what you give us, it’s in what you keep us safe from. It’s everything she had, the only thing she had was her fear and her certainty and she threw herself into it. She would protect us from the wolves. It’s just that it was hard. It’s just that we were so demanding and 24 hours a day was so much. It’s just that she wasn’t prepared for a daughter, wasn’t prepared for how it would remind her of herself and how that would break her. She just started pulling back. She taught us to read and write and tried desperately to teach us math. Hours and hours of screaming and crying at a table and why was she failing? Why were her obviously smart children refusing to learn what was so easy for her? Her daughter rebels, just like she was most afraid she would but not in the ways she thought and there’s just nothing she can do. She pulls back and pulls back. Her children grow up and become liberals. Her daughter stops speaking to them. Do you see? She did everything right. She did everything exactly as she was told, she sacrificed so much and it didn’t work. What is the only conclusion to draw from that? When you are already broken and you’re already so certain you are a failure as a mother and a person? You’ve failed even more. You broke the fool-proof thing. Your children are lost and it’s all your fault. She learned the wrong lesson. It’s like a lifetime of learning every single wrong lesson. And my brothers and I are the ones who pay for it.

I am bad at being angry. Bad at expressing it, bad at feeling it. I know that what Dobson did doesn’t take away my mother and father’s responsibility. They still made their calls, their own decisions. But I still feel a lot of rage thinking about it. How dare he? What made him think he had the right? He stood up there and played on people’s fears and told scared and hurting people to make their children afraid, to hurt them more. I know he wouldn’t see it that way. I know he believed he was doing what God wanted. But how do you take the ear of that entire subculture and encourage that radical of a move and not think before you speak? My story is mild compared to what a lot of people suffered. Ongoing abuse, serious neglect. I’m not saying that these kids would have had amazing home lives if they went to school but there is at least a chance that someone might have noticed. It’s the isolation that kills you, sometimes more than all the rest. It’s not having any way of knowing that there’s anything outside of this tiny square and the walls are closing in and if you fight, if you kick or scream or tell anyone, you lose everything. You lose the people you love, you probably will go to hell. Hell is a real place and it’s reserved for gay people and Wiccans and people who walk away from their parents. Telling someone can literally put your soul in jeopardy. There are few more compelling guns to the head than that. That’s assuming you even have the ability, the words or the voice to tell anyone. The only thing you know is always the only thing you know. Normality is relative and finding words to explain that you’re suffocating is not nearly as easy as you’d think. I was in my 20’s before I could say out loud “my dad was not a good dad.” The simplest things make the world fall apart. Homeschooling is a part of what makes the world so much smaller.

So I’m angry. I haven’t really been angry at my parents for this for a while, it just seemed so pointless. But I’m angry at the idea that someone played off their worst fears to make them crazier, to make them hurt more, to drag us all down into this. And apparently, according to this article, I’m not alone. There are thousands of us.

Shit to Get Done

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I am looking for the holes
The holes in your jeans
Because I want to know
Are they worn out in the seat
or are they worn out in the knees?

Do your politics fit between the headlines?
Are they written in newsprint, are they distant?
Mine are crossing an empty parking lot
They are a woman walking home, at night, alone

(Looking for the Holes, Ani DiFranco)

Until very recently, I was a Christian. I don’t really know what I am now – I haven’t settled anywhere and I’m okay with that. Right now I’m just wherever I am, doing the same thing I’ve always done, which is mostly trying to be honest. I’ve grown up my entire life in “the church.” Not just in the church but in the Conservative Christian Church. For those of you who grew up in that world, you know what I’m talking about and you know that, no matter what they claim, the order of those C’s is important. I spent most of my life very firmly in the Conservative camp in part because I believed you had to be. They were championing the Important Things, after all. Pro-life, that was a major one. Sanctity of marriage, that was obviously vital for the protection of our… homes and stuff. It got a little fuzzier the further down the line you went. It started getting more difficult (although not impossible) to explain why exactly it was important to Jesus that we fight for no additional taxes for the wealthy or against any kind of gun control at all costs. Somehow it all had something to do with the precarious balance we were always maintaining. This was God’s Country and we were keeping it safe for him. All of this played into that. Good stewardship meant we would fight to combat the rising tide of liberals and feminists and homosexuals and who even knew what else who wanted to take this country over. That was our job and it mattered. For the record? It does feel good to matter, even when you’re delusional.

I always had friends on both sides of the political fence. I liked people who challenged me and, to be honest, I was always more drawn towards liberal people than conservative people. I liked to discuss things. I was certain I was right, of course, but I liked to talk about it. I got more and more uncomfortable as the years went on and there were things I couldn’t reconcile. Whatever the issues were, they got a lot messier when it was people I was looking at, people I loved. I started reading more liberal Christians and, over the course of about a decade, my politics began to shift incredibly slowly. I read Donald Miller, Brian McClaren, Madeleine L’Engle and a number of others I’m not thinking of right now. I read many of them and shared them with my father and he expressed concern that they were focusing on “love at the expense of holiness.”  I found this to be such a curious concern. I had spent my entire life seeing the damage that seemed to be being wreaked by people focusing on holiness at the expense of love, surely our natural tendency was clear? Surely we had to be fighting towards love. I got more and more frustrated.

Here’s the thing. What I’ve discovered over the last year or so is that I’m essentially pragmatic. I like theology up to a point, I find it interesting. Regardless of what my beliefs are now, this is all a part of me and I can’t walk away from that entirely and I wouldn’t. But I want to know what’s going to help people in the here and now. There’s so much to do. Have you seen the statistics on poverty in this country? On racism? Have you looked at our sexual abuse and assault statistics? Do you understand that all it takes is for a family to have one medical crisis and, if they’re not one of the lucky ones with great healthcare, they can lose absolutely everything? Did you know a man in Montana was sentenced to 30 days in prison for repeated rape of a 14 year old girl, who later killed herself?

Guys, there’s shit to get done.

In the middle ages, people actually died over theological arguments (and realistically that still happens in the Middle East today). But people die every day in this country while we argue about taxes and health insurance and things like whether or not racism still exists while young black men get gunned down in the street and continue to make up the vast majority of our prison system. It’s a bit tiring. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important that we work out things like the details of budget. I understand that money has to come from somewhere, I really do. It’s just that the details seem less important when confronted with the realities of people dying. Or at least they damn well should.

The truth is that I find I feel the same way about the church much of the time, about God. I don’t know what I think, I don’t know what I believe. And I find that not knowing makes absolutely no practical difference in what needs to get done. Whether or not God exists, whether or not everything I grew up believing is true does not change a single thing that is in front of me. Not one of the things I debated so furiously really helped me help anyone else. It’s all what you make of it. I have nothing against it, I don’t think it’s bad. It’s just that all of the things I most care about are here, everywhere I look, and it’s not getting me there. I am not convinced it truly makes a difference if you believe in Jesus or Mohammed or nothing at all. There’s so much to get done and I just want to know I’m on the team that’s doing it.