ain’t nobody want a lady with chin hair

i am often asked why i wear my chin hair. i am often told that i am beautiful but would be so much more beautiful without it. i am often pointed at and talked about cruelly “behind my back.” my chin hair is a thing everyone sees and that few are neutral about.

in the past when i’ve been asked why i dont get rid of it, i’ve responded with the line that one) i like it, two) i think it’s all sorts of mad bullshit that i’m supposed to get rid of it and three) that i want to fuck with people’s ideas about gender. but until recently that last bit was more theoretical.

until last year when my partner’s son decided he loooooooved wearing dresses. a battle ensued with the principal of his school who was close minded, underhanded and downright hateful. in the end she conceded that he could wear dresses (not really her choice, it’s protected by city school policy). but that was it. there was no in school support for E around school bullying.

and after joyfully stepping into the hostile environment that is a school full of children bred into gender rigidity, E chose to stop wearing dresses altogether. because he doesn’t want to get teased for it (his words). and my heart breaks every time i think of how happy he was then and how unhappy he is now. i know it’s not all a result of  losing this part of himself, of being beaten into social expectations of what a boy should like, but i know that it contributes in a real way.

enter this summer, when i was unceremoniously fired from a nanny position for something that wasn’t my fault. fortuitously friends of mine were looking for another hostess at their worker owned inn and hostel, but that ended recently and i’ve been searching for a new job for the last several months.

i’ve nannied for many reasons but have recently considered trying to do something different. something less isolating, something with co workers maybe. but here’s the catch. i’m a lady with chin hair and almost anyone who might be interested in employing me before they know that are not so interested after i reveal this part of my identity. it’s been fucking hard. and i know that my chin hair is a choice. that i could get rid of it and be readily employed in many of the positions i’ve unsuccessfully applied to. i am a young, white woman. people love their young, body privileged white women. and i’m good at the things i do.

but ever since elijah’s learned not to wear his dresses i feel even more disinterested in modifying my body presentation to succeed. i do not want to reinforce that lesson for him. i dont mind enduring the stares and the snark (most of the time, i am not a rock though and sink into the pain from time to time). it makes me defiant when it doesn’t slam into my vulnerability. i want everyone to see that a lady with chin hair can be like any other lady: can be their friend, their colleague, their comrade.

so i will resist for as long as i can. but my family’s needs are real and we are not cradled by the luxury of wealth. i hate to consider being smooth faced. i hate to think of looking into the eyes of all the kids who have known me and loved me despite this cultural oddity. and i hate to give in. hopefully i won’t have to.

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fuck the police

this weekend i took the kids to visit my sister in DC. we were in the car and the kids were asking how long it would take us to get where we were going. we told them 20 minutes, unless we got stuck in traffic or lost, etc. what we didn’t anticipate was getting pulled over.

i hadn’t even noticed the cop car behind us until it flashed its lights and blew its sirens. i assume that my 8 y/o son didn’t either, though i dont know for sure. at first we didn’t realize it was us they were pulling over. but we figured it out and pulled 1908067_747129632018709_7864569770200059818_ninto some parking spots on the side of the street.

i have kids who say “fuck the police” when they see them passing by in their cars. and elijah had already revealed that he’d given this particular cop car pulling in behind us the finger. i quickly told them not to talk or interact with the police as we waited for them to sidle up to the car.

leaning down to speak with my sister about the smoky license plate cover she was illegally driving around with was a white male cop. standing silently outside my window was another officer, a man of color. the cop tried to insinuate that molly was hiding something with those tinted tags. but after throwing his weight around a bit, she got off with a verbal warning. when he was done with my sister he asked if he could have a conversation with her child.

which is when i jumped in and explained that that was my child in the backseat, that i knew what he had done and was supportive of his actions. either out of disbelief or upset, the officer asked for clarification. did i or did i not support my son giving him and his partner the finger? i did. i went on to explain that we’d been having a lot of conversations lately about how the police interact with different communities, when i was abruptly cut off by the cop standing on my side of the car. as soon as i’d made any reference to the reality of racist policing the officer outside my window who’d been silent the whole time immediately said, “we’re not going to talk about that.” which was also code for both officers to turn and walk back to their vehicle.

at first i was just startled by the abrupt departure, the trigger point of the conversation we could have had with the cops about how their actions impact how the population engages with them. and then there was the knowledge that if we weren’t white the whole situation would have been dangerous, as my partner reminded me when i texted him about the whole thing. i had no doubt that if my little boy were black he would have been pulled out of the back seat and that the cop would never have asked if he could have a conversation with e. he just would have taught a little 8 y/o boy what happens when you dont respect the police.

as i watch resistance to police brutality increase in communities that are not my own, as i wonder how to best support that resistance with my white body, i am left unsettled. i’ve seen the reports of white anarchists playing their tell tale role of outside agitator; i’ve heard the stories of white presence within the ferguson resistance inciting the police to even greater anger. ultimately i want to make the decision to place my state protected, beloved white woman’s body in between the police and the communities they are committing genocide against. but as i sit with the fact that my white boy got away with flipping off the police i wonder how best to use my white privilege when it comes to battling police brutality. how to use it without reinforcing it. because saturday’s traffic stop felt like a reinforcement of our white privilege instead of a blow against it.

An open letter to the white woman who cried “animals”

Dear Jeanne Doucette,

While others organize in protest of the Cville weekly’s racist, sensationalist faux-journalism in reporting your story, I find that my upset lies primarily with you.  For while there are two very different sides of the story of what happened on the downtown mall on December 20th, what is clear based on medical evidence collected in the course of the legal investigation is that your story was wildly exaggerated.  In a most dangerous and racist way.

You played on your white female privilege and deeply entrenched white fear of the black man.  We–white women–are the archetype of innocence; we are the ones who will be believed.  And you exploited that to condemn three unknown black men, your archetypal enemy.  You played it all out, you took up the mantel of Carolyn Bryant (accuser of Emmett Till) and cried your white woman’s tears and wrote your indignant indictment of the local police.  You spread a fictionalized version of events, grossly exaggerating the violence of your “attackers” pretending that it all happened unprovoked by you and your white knight of a boyfriend.  You used every element of a mythology that relies on white supremacist hatred to make your case: the savage violence of the black man, the pure innocence of the white woman and the valiant efforts of the white man to defend the white woman’s honor.  And then you posted blurry photos of these young black men and closed your dramatic telling with the blazing conclusion that they were “animals that need[ed] to be caged.”  Your words.  And yours was a rallying cry for white supremacists and garden variety racists–by which i mean most white people everywhere who would be moved by a story out of our worst white people nightmares–alike.

In a culture that sees the murder of innocent men and women of color at the hands of killer cops and racist vigilantes every 28 hours, you brought all those fears to a fever pitch and then asked people on social media sites to help you identify your “attackers.”  In a country where institutional racism translates into the school to prison pipeline phenomenon, where 30% of African American men between the ages of 20 and 29 are “under correctional supervision,” what effect could you have possibly hoped your fictional account would have?  What other than blatant racism and a desire to avert responsibility for your actions that night could have inspired you to write your woeful facebook account of that night?

Your words have power and you used them very deliberately.  I cannot believe you were entirely ignorant of that fact.  In fact I’m inclined to believe you knew exactly what you were doing.  None of it makes much sense otherwise: the dramatic appeal to the world of facebook, the wide discrepancies in your story and that of the other men involved coupled with interviews of witnesses and medical evidence that undermines your account, your choice choice of language.

You didn’t only endanger the three men you claimed as your “attackers” that night but every other young black man that anyone who read your words sees.  You have done your part to entrench the unjustified fear that leads white women to cross to the other side of the road when black men are approaching and the dangerous protective instinct of white men who believe the racist hype.

And now the men you asked for help finding are the only ones facing charges, despite police reports that indicate they may have been provoked and attacked themselves.  The age old story carries on with your help.  And you will almost certainly never be held accountable for your role in upholding the deadly, racist environment in which young black men try to survive daily.

Congratulations!

PS.  Even the NYPD, notorious for their racial profiling and abhorrent stop and frisk practices, seems to believe that the idea that a “knockout game” is spreading is nothing but an urban myth.  So bonus points to bulwarking that as well.

Consent with kids

I started a blog by this title awhile ago, but I had no idea what I was talking about.  Not really.  For those who don’t know I haven’t been back to my blog much because I’ve been transitioning into the role of co parent to my partners two, young children.  And while I’ve spent much of my life over the last few years nannying and building relationships with the amazing kids in my life, parenting is a whole new game.

Consent is something we just don’t do as a culture.  We don’t ask, we don’t check in, we don’t talk about it when we’ve touched someone who didn’t want that touch.  Couple that with the way many people view children as property that doesn’t know what’s best for them and we’ve created quite a dangerous world for our kids.  And what we end up teaching our kids is that their bodies are not under their control and that other people will dictate when and how they are touched, cleaned, clothed, etc.  And so we do, whether it be forcing a kid to give grandma a kiss goodbye or training them to acquiesce to the touch of others, put our children at high risk for abuse and teach them to ignore their own boundaries.

As a woman who was raped at 21 and who went through a series of relationships where I buried my own needs and boundaries, where i accepted my male partner’s desire as something i needed to accommodate, it has been very important to me that i equip Maya and Elijah with a strong sense that their bodies are theirs’ and no one else’s.  That if someone is touching it in any way 62a455be1bcfa0231ab8ddf62a31ed30that makes them feel uncomfortable or that they don’t want, it is not okay.  And that it is never their fault if someone does touch them that way.

After several conversations about our bodies, i was shocked and thrilled when M and E spontaneously started practicing consent culture.  One night they just started asking each other before any new touch.  They would ask, “can i give you a hug?”  And then, “can i give you a monster hug?”  There was no new touch without a check in.  It was fucking amazing.  And i recognized that
there were no “no’s” that night.  Which is maybe the hardest part.  So i waited.

And it didn’t take long for these resilient little beans to surprise me again.  A couple of nights later i was putting them to bed by myself, which always requires some creative cuddling, because i am one person and they both just want to be held until they fall asleep.  I was gently stroking maya’s head when she pulled her thumb out of her mouth and looked up at me.  And she said, “Sara, can you please not touch my head?”

I was more than thrilled to stop immediately and say yes.  I am sure we will have to keep reinforcing these norms as the kids grow.  But i am so excited that at four years old Maya can state a boundary.  It’s taken me years to articulate my own and i’ve got twenty years on her.  I want so badly for these little ones to be strong and powerful and confident in their bodies everywhere they walk.  And i want to be working with other kids on consent and boundaries as well.  Stay tuned for more parenting oriented posts.

over exposed

i am used to being seen: being pointed at, whispered about, openly scorned and a source of exaggerated disgust.  but the sheer density of those experiences as i’ve been visiting in south carolina has been overwhelming.  there have been many moments when i’ve felt so close to tears, like i just want to hide from all those pointed looks and unforgiving stares.  then yesterday, after about a day of reprieve, i was again sitting around feeling bitter and falling out of composure.  reminding myself that i chose this physical presentation, that i knew what i was getting into, that at least i have the option of altering this physical piece that makes me a target of hate.  my skin is pretty tough, but clearly not tough enough.  i let my absurd self-blaming thoughts swirl around me, salting my wounds, in the hyper material, hyper artificial world at the mouth of a target, surrounded by other big box consumerist spots.  alternately hiding behind my half a head of hair and curiously watching the people that pass in and out of the store, i find that the pain is either made worse or eased depending on the brief interactions.

then as i’m feeling a little lower in this volatile dance, i notice a woman leaving with her daughter and son.  the son is holding onto a bouncy blue ball and the little girl, dressed in a glittery pink dress is clutching an identical pink ball to her chest.  her mom is saying something about going to another store when me and the little girl catch each others eye and share a smile between us that lingers briefly.  and she is not looking at me with eyes that shine with scorn, like so many of the other people who have looked at me lately.  no, instead she is simply taking me in, trusting my smile and i hope, nearly beg her with my eyes, to take away this image, squirrel it away and use it as a thing that will absorb some of the attacks against her body she’s already fighting off.  i want her to carry this image of a girl in a pink romper, with hairy legs and armpits and chin, with half a shaved head and a mischievous errant curl as another possibility of what girls can look like.  it seems she will, but maybe i hope it too much to see anything else.  then as quickly as she came, she’s gone.  and again i feel tears hot beneath my eyes, but this time the sensation accompanying them is relief.  for a moment in this mean world i am reminded of part of why i weather the frequent judgments and mean words whispered loud enough for me to hear.  yes, part of it is a real love for my body, a real desire to celebrate every last piece of it in spite of everything else i’m taught.  but it is also to offer little girls another possibility of what a girl can look like.

it makes me want to get back into the grrrrrrrls studies guide.  it makes me want to scream and curl into a ball and hide.  and i know i must offer myself both of these acts of self love, to nurse the wounds and coax myself out of this dark place i’m currently inhabiting, and then to keep fighting.  and to keep fighting in a way that brings in the truth in the analysis from my self blaming thoughts of earlier–that acknowledges the even heavier shaming done to bodies of women of color and how i am choosing to wield my body as a weapon against beauty standards.  but first to remind myself how much i love my body.  because really, i do love it.

i havent posted anything of my own in a few days, but this is brilliant and explains a lot of where i’m at these days. thanks donna for re-posting!

FeministPlus

[I don’t think this post needs any warnings, but let me know if I’ve missed something.]

Having seen some more conversations around ally behaviour, and done some more ally-ing and been allied-to some more, I’ve had a few more thoughts on how to navigate this area.  I’ve realised that my original thoughts missed and crucial dimension of what it means to act as an ally:

Power

Power is one of the pervading dynamics that we’re grappling with when we do anti-oppression work. We’re analysing which groups have power over other groups in society, and trying to reveal and counteract this. Power also plays out within all smaller groups, and this is deeply connected to the wider power politics. So a group that is fighting for their liberation is struggling against groups that hold societal power over them, and this will probably involve fighting against individuals or groups who wield that…

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a summer practice

my life seems to be cycling with the seasons and i am ready for summer: bright, overexposed, extroverted summer.  about a week ago i made a commitment to myself that i would start documenting those juicy, vibrant, delicious moments that are so abundant in summer so i can savor them later.  so i bought a journal just for these moments, because my best chance at recreating the texture of each sensual experience is with my words.  and i love it.  i write in it every day and in the past six days have captured 12 different memories from the smallest moment to longer experiences.

and it’s proven to be a practice that feeds itself.  as soon as i started capturing these moments, i now hold it in my consciousness to pay attention to everything around me more carefully.  to follow all of the sensual experiences in the smallest of moments.  to pay attention to the juxtaposition of colors around me, the things i’m hearing, the touch of the sun on my skin, the touch of a lovers lips, the hidden planes under shirts, the feel of the darkness, the smell of the heat.  everything is more magical when you are really paying attention.

for example, on saturday i went to see snow white and the huntsman.  i was disappointed overall with the old messages about beauty being the seat of a womans power and the lack of more complex female characters outside of the queen and snow white.  but as i was sitting there waiting, i tuned in.  we had made it through the trailers, through the ads and then came that short pause between adverts and the movie you came to see.  the theater goes darker than it will be at any other point and there is a short breath, pregnant with everyone’s enthusiasm.  the air is heavy with muted noises: the sound of people talking fast and quiet words, the sound of people eating popcorn, the scratch of plastic on plastic as straws slip through lids.  it has the same ambient nature as crickets.  and then the screen lights up, the movie starts and all of those noises are still there but everything has changed.  the moment is fleeting, but rich.  i encourage you to pay attention the next time it happens to you.  pay attention to how giddy it makes you feel.

or after the movie.  i was slipping into the beginnings of a pouty moment.  we had ridden into town in the back of the truck share.  everyone had piled out of the car, kassia was the last person still out there with me and asked if i wanted to talk or if i just wanted a minute.  i just wanted a minute.  i sat perched delicately on the corner of the truck, absorbing sunlight through my black, sparkling cardigan.  paying attention to the blue and white stripes crawling across my dress and the layer of ripped gray tights revealing the shape of my thighs.  i hid behind the curling locks i still have on one side of my head, my face turned down to the privacy of the pavement.  alternating my gaze between the gold sparkles in my rich brown hair and the mesh of sun and shadow speckled pavement.  just taking in a moment by myself and enjoying the intimacy of the sunshine.

i highly recommend this practice.  it’s been an absolutely magical experience.  and it really does make me experience every moment more vividly.  every sense is alive and aware of what is happening around me.  its actually quite intoxicating!

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