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How Do I Talk to My White Son about Race and Gender?

Dear Cristy,

So. My brother in law offered to take my son and me to see Aladdin on

Aladdin on Broadway.

Aladdin on Broadway.

Broadway. I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but Aladdin. It’s no Frozen. My son hasn’t seen it and my m.o. is to watch the movie and listen to the soundtrack lots before seeing a live show so he is invested and familiar. Why am I telling you this? Well, because Aladdin is problematic in those classic Disney ways — racist and sexist — and I need help figuring out how to talk to him about those elements in a way that is sort of casual, but honest and earnest. I don’t want to jam it down his throat and I don’t want to talk over his head, but I think he is old enough to have a little dose of critical analysis with his Disney (which is why we didn’t watch any Disney at all until recently and have only just begun.) Anyway. You’re good at these things. You’re good at understanding kids and how to talk to them at their level and also really good at decoding racist and sexist images and messages. Got a few minutes to weigh in on this? 

Thanks,

White Lady

Hey, White Lady, thanks for your kind words. Truth is, I love talking to kids about critical thinking and media literacy. So, thanks for noticing! Secondly, way to go wanting to have this conversation now, and I assume, many times again. This won’t be your only opportunity, and white parents tend not to talk about race with their kids, and parents in general don’t talk about gender. But these conversations matter, for all families.

I really love what Trudy at the Gradient Lair said on the subject last August when asked a similar question by a white reader. She suggests reading Black mamas’ writing as a start, and I am a big proponent of reading the work of folks who are marginalized (which is also why I am suggesting Trudy’s work) when it comes to processing our thoughts around those marginalizations. Trudy also recommends being honest, and not sugar-coating or falling down the “all people are equal” trap. I support these ideas!

While we desire or hope that all people are equal, the reality is that people are not treated equally. But it is true that we all have the same value and worth as human beings, and it’s okay to talk about that. I use money as an example. I use a quarter and two dimes and a nickel. I put the quarter in one place (hand, spot on the table, etc.) and the dimes and nickel in another. I ask how much money is there, in each place. The point is to show that even though the coins are different, the value is the same. The differences are fine, and we can and should respect them. But the value, the worth of those coins, is the same and we should respect that too (you could also use M&Ms or Skittles if using money is not for you. I am not 100% comfortable talking about people’s worth in terms of dollars and cents, but it can make the idea more concrete for kids-which they really need).

We can then draw an analogy to people-“My body looks different from yours in these ways (bigger, smaller, different plumbing, different skin color, different hair, etc.), and that’s really cool! I love it that we are different in these ways. We are both human beings though, and we have the same value as people. But, a lot of times, people get treated badly because of those differences, like women get paid less than men at work and black people get arrested more than white people. What do you think about that?”

Additionally, smaller kids struggle with abstract concepts, so I would bring it up watching the movie. In questions: “Why do you think Jasmine is dressed like that? Isn’t it weird that all the men have lots of clothes on and she doesn’t?” Or, “What do you think about how that brown guy was acting? Do you think all brown guys behave that way?” These are just suggestions, and the possibilities are endless. Be prepared to pause the movie or song and talk about what just happened. Be forthright and honest.

PBS Parents also made a list of helpful tips to navigate stereotypes in media, which is good broad advice, but borders on too generic. It’s handy though, as a starting point.

Cardinal Rule: When talking to your kids about race, or gender, or other marginalized identities, be honest and forthright. Don’t ignore the hard stuff in hopes it will go away (it won’t), but instead use concrete examples from real life AND the media to illustrate the different ways people are treated. Let them express opinions, and support their critical thinking. And be sure to have the conversations at least 800 times. Good luck! ❤

 

 

 

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Lesbian Speed Dating Ain’t Nothin’ New

Question: I’m only three months into my New Romance, but living apart, it’s killing me–yet I don’t want to jump the gun and inhabit the lesbian cliche’ of UHauling too soon. How do I cope?

Signed, Lovestruck Lesbianuhaul

Yes. Yes, I understand. Your shoes? I have worn them, I have walked 2500 miles in them, back and forth across the US when my ladyfriend lived in Portlandia when our romance first began. That was hard. I wanted, more than anything, than to have the option for some part of my body to be touching some part of her body ALL THE TIME. Being away from her was gut wrenching, and we were filled with longing. Pining, really.

But, um, when we were together? IT WAS FUCKING AMAZING because of the pining and the longing and the whatnot. The missing made the meeting sweeter. Or the mating, whatever.

Because we couldn’t be together all of the time, spending time together felt precious and luxurious. It heightened the already super-alert falling in love feelings, and we always had something to look forward to. Waiting also made the falling in love period last longer, which was thrilling, and on this end of things, I am really grateful for it.

I could fill this column with the typical admonishments like, “How well do you really know her at this point?” and “Too soon, too soon!”, but I won’t, because I bet you’re already saying those things to yourself. I want to encourage you to enjoy the excitement and thrill of being apart-because it means you’ll be together again!

Cardinal Rule: What’s the rush? Relish in the pining, the romance of being apart, because the being apart is what makes the being together so much fun!

To Forgive or Not?

Content notes for child sexual abuse/predation and suicide. And as always, for foul language.

I’m a survivor of sexual assault and rape four times over. The one that broke the seal was a certain student we’ll call Wyatt when I was in 7th grade. Wyatt would goose me in the halls and with a black heart, he’d tauntingly laugh at my reaction. I would change my route to my classes daily to avoid his unwelcome touching. He couldn’t bother me if he didn’t know where I was, after all. I couldn’t escape him on the bus though, and every day he would kick whomever I was sitting with out of my seat and spend the next 15 minutes trying to touch me, sometimes even prying my legs apart to get at me. It was always a great source of amusement for him, and he would laugh while his hands would invade me. Kids around us never intervened, and I never spoke up. Why? I don’t know. I was embarrassed. I didn’t know my own voice. I didn’t have the tools to manage the abuse. Who knows. God, I hadn’t even started my period. 

I recently came out as a survivor to my husband, and in doing that I’ve allowed myself to really explore my past with the eyes of a woman who has the knowledge and experience to rationalize all of these events. I can see now that my thoughts about myself started changing the year that I endured Wyatt’s harassment. That was the year that I allowed myself to become an object. He set the tone of what I would expect from men for decades. 
 
This morning I found out that Wyatt is dead, by his own hand. Of course, I found out about it on facebook. I refrained from commenting, but I read everyone else’s comments. There are at least 10 people chiming in on Wyatt’s strengths, and going on about how much he’ll be missed. What a great friend. What a nice guy. The world will miss him apparently. 
 
After my initial glee, I settled down on the reality that my tormentor had actually killed himself, and it allowed me to see him as a victim too. 13 year old kids don’t just start sexually harassing pre-teen girls in a vacuum. I have no idea what Wyatt’s home life was, or what he had seen in those years before middle school. My god, I’m starting to feel sorry for him! 
 
I’m looking at this now, not only as a 12 year old girl, but also as the mother of a 13 year old boy, and I’m not really sure how to process it. I don’t want to forgive him, but I’m not sure what to think, or what’s healthy to think. 
 
~ Touched at Twelve
Oh, pal. I am so very sorry that Wyatt did those things to you when you were KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAtwelve. I am also sorry that you carried this burden for so long.
You are not alone. I’ve known lots of women whose first experiences of boys’ sexual attention mirror your own. It fucking sucks, and it’s unfair and it taints many of our future interactions with men, and if we are straight, it really complicates partnerships. I am so glad that you told your husband, and I hope that he is supporting you in the ways that are helpful.
Before I talk about forgiving Wyatt, I also want to encourage you to let go of blaming yourself. And not just about the things that Wyatt did, and not saying anything about it. But about the ways what he did impacted your future relationships. Childhood trauma changes the brain, so try to give yourself a break. Those “mistakes” were normal human responses to having been hurt before.
Seeing that Wyatt took his own life, you are probably right that he had some struggles of his own. And that’s sad, maybe even tragic. We’ll never know what took him to that place, other than we know that mental illness, particularly depression, can be a terminal illness.
But it has nothing to do with you. He still made the choice to hurt you, to invade your space and body, and to negatively impact all of your future relationships. He still hurt you, even if he was being hurt, even if he was only 13.
So, forgiveness. It takes a lot of strength to forgive people. You have to be ready to do it. And just as Wyatt’s suicide had nothing to do with you, forgiving him has nothing to do with Wyatt. He’ll never know whether you did or didn’t, right? Even if he was still alive, he probably wouldn’t have known. Forgiveness is for you, to set things right in your own heart. Sometimes, folks can get caught up, thinking that by forgiving someone who harmed them, they are saying that what happened is okay. In reality, when we forgive someone who has hurt us, we are saying that we are okay, now. If you don’t feel okay, then it isn’t time to forgive Wyatt.
When you are ready, you might even feel relieved. Hating someone takes as much emotional energy as loving someone does. Forgiving Wyatt means that you’ll move from hate to indifference, which actually takes no energy at all.  You deserve to not spend anymore energy on this guy.
Cardinal Rule: There’s an adage from the Buddha, about forgiveness and anger, that I come back to a lot: carrying anger around for someone else is like carrying a hot coal in your hand waiting to throw it at them–you’re the one who gets burned. When you forgive Wyatt, you’ll let the coal go. It’s pretty hard for the coal to burn you if you aren’t holding it anymore.

Gaslighting, Rape Culture and Consent

Content note for sexual assault.
Question: I think I might have been raped 10 years ago. I had a good first date w/the guy and on the second when we were kissing, he got handsy. Before the third, I told him the limits of how far I wanted to go (and before I practiced what I was going to say so many times) and he agreed. Half an hour later, he starts doing the things I said I wasn’t ready to do. I kinda froze and became compliant. I partly wanted to just get it over with since it was obvious he wanted it so much. Also, I thought that since I’d gained a lot of weight since the last time I had a boyfriend, I wasn’t going to do any better. I wasn’t scared or threatened, I just felt like I couldn’t say no.
 
That’s what makes me so unsure, because many years ago when I was 10, my cousin tried to rape me and I fought back and got away. Of course, he was obviously violent in his attempt. But with this other guy I wasn’t frightened so I don’t get why I didn’t just tell him to stop. I’ve thought about this before though I used the terms that he pressured me into sex. But the more I’ve read about consent, the more I wonder if there are stronger words to describe it. The thing is, I don’t really know what he would’ve done if I said no. He might have stopped completely. So I blame myself. I don’t know what to think. On one hand, there were times I could’ve said no and asked him to take me home, but on the other, I felt like I just couldn’t say no. I don’t think I have PTSD from it, per se (I did after the rape attempt when I was 10) but my depression did get dramatically worse right after. But then he dumped me soon after and I was begging him to take my back so maybe I’m doing the scorned woman thing. All I know is that I haven’t dated since then and the idea of me having sex really grosses me out. It’s like I’m tainted everywhere he touched me. I guess I’m just asking would this qualify as rape or what? Sorry for rambling.
Was Not or Was?
Hey, pal. That sounds awful, and you bring up one of the Cardinal Rules of Upholding the Rape Culture: convince victims to not believe themselves.
I want to bring your attention to a few of the things you said:
…he starts doing the things I said I wasn’t ready to do. I kinda froze and became compliant. I partly wanted to just get it over with since it was obvious he wanted it so much.
and
I just felt like I couldn’t say no
and
I blame myself.
and
I could’ve said no.
In the first two, it’s very, very clear that your consent was violated. Rapists don’t always use force or violence or threats. Sometimes they just don’t listen to the words of the person they are hurting. Sometimes they nod and smile, but do what they want anyway. Sometimes they are so insidiously coercive, it takes years to sort out what happened.
You were raped. I am sorry. I am sorry that he didn’t listen to you, and I am sorry that the way it happened filled you with self-doubt, evident in the last two quotes from your letter.
A very important tool of rape culture is gaslighting, which is why you are doubting your own experience of the events.
In the 1944 film Gaslight, Charles Boyer played a man who used abusive tactics to manipulate his wife, played by Ingrid Bergman, and make her think she was going insane.
It sounds like this man gaslighted you, by letting you believe that he would respect your boundaries (and that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg). But rape culture also gaslights us by teaching us the mythology that rape must always happen in a certain way to be real. There has to be violence. The victim has to say “no” at least once. The victim must be afraid. No one is drunk. No one knows each other. The victim said “no” loud and clear, right at the beginning. The victim fought back, but was held down. The perpetrator used force. There were witnesses. And on and on.
So, when we are raped, and it doesn’t fit the rape culture narrative of what rape is, we don’t believe it. We get confused, we call it something else.
And many of us, like you, still experience aftereffects that can be classically linked to sexual assault. Depression. Feeling dirty or tainted. Anger. Confusion. These are all reasonable feelings. What that guy did to you was wrong, and being upset about it makes sense to me.
Cardinal Rules: Sexual activity without active, voluntary consent is sexual assault. Yes, and only yes, means yes. Consent is a question, and an answer, with all parties involved able to freely give either “Yes” and “no” as both equal and valid. Consent can be revoked or given at any time. “Giving in” is not consent. Consent is an enthusiastic “YES!”
I am sorry that you are feeling so badly about yourself. I am not a doctor, or a therapist, but I would strongly encourage you to find a counselor to talk to. Rape Crisis Centers often provide both group and individual counseling free of charge, and can even offer some services over the phone if transportation is an issue. You can find out which organization is local to you by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE. Good luck, I really do wish you the best. I believe you.

Savage Love Re-Answer: The B in LGBT

This is an oldie, originally published at Savage Love on December 23, 1999, but it really encapsulates Savage’s biphobia-which hasn’t mellowed over the years.

Question: You recently gave this advice to a gay man involved with a married bisexual man: “DON’T MESS AROUND WITH BISEXUALS.” You went on to say he shouldn’t mess around with married men, either. Staying away from people who are in committed relationships is sound advice. But condemning all bisexuals as poor relationship material is prejudiced, biphobic, and hurtful.

Most condemnations of bisexuals are made on the basis of their presumed inability to be monogamous, a generalization that is in many cases false. But you yourself admit that most gay men are equally unable to be monogamous. Therefore, the only possible explanation for your anti-bisexual response is pure, irrational bias. You do all your bisexual readers a disservice, along with the gay and straight people who love them, by allowing your prejudices and fears to color your otherwise valuable advice.

Jennifer Coderre, Co-Founder, Bisexual Insurgence

450px-Bi_flag.svg

The Bi Pride Flag

So, obviously, this is in response to a previous question answered at Savage Love, and per my policy of not intentionally giving him traffic, I won’t provide a link. You can search for it in the archive if you really want to.

What Dan said to the original reader was that he shouldn’t have gotten involved with a bi guy who was married to a woman, because he was always going to choose his female partner. The problem, as Dan saw it, was the bisexuality of the dude with whom the reader was involved, rather than the desire the reader had to be his boyfriend’s primary partner when there was already a primary partner in the picture. I wonder how Dan would’ve answered had bisexuality not been a factor?

Dan Savage’s main thought on bisexual folks, particularly bi guys, is that they will always choose a long term partner who will afford them heterosexual privilege, and so they are not a good choice of partner for gay men. Consequently, stay away from them if what you want is a long term, primary partner. The best you can hope for is to be a side bizzle (as my friend Keeana might say), or a trick.

There is so much wrong, and this is so full of Dan Savage’s own personal hangups, it’s tempting to just say, “BELIEVE THE OPPOSITE OF WHATEVER DAN SAYS ABOUT BISEXUAL FOLKS,” and call it a day.

That’s pretty good, actually. Do that. But I won’t quite call it a day. Here’s a list, as those seem quite popular on the internet.

1. Bi folks, when they want to be, are quite capable of monogamy. Monogamy may not be their cup of tea, but it’s not a lot of other folks’ either. Better advice on this point is: date people who have similar views/hopes around monogamy or polyamory as you do. Talk about that shit before it presents itself as an issue. Seriously, don’t make assumptions.

2. Bi folks, like the rest of humanity, fall all along the Kinsey scale. Some may never even act on same/similar gender attraction, and some may act on it almost exclusively. It’s not a compulsion, and it’s ridiculous to imply that eventually, that bi boyfriend of yours is going to have to hook up with a woman, and will choose her over you because privilege.

3. Bisexuality is a valid sexual orientation. Some folks are attracted to all  of the gender possibilities. I heard a friend once describe her own bisexuality as being attracted to a person, not their genitals. Other folks might just enjoy a variety of genitals. Either way, or in any other way, it’s valid.

4. Dan Savage doesn’t want to hook up with bi guys, so bi guys, stay away from Dan Savage.

Cardinal Rule: Bisexuality is truth for many people, and they aren’t inherently scoundrels incapable of long term same gender relationships. Don’t make assumptions about what your partner expects, talk about it.

Friends in Low Places

Question: I moved with my then boyfriend to the pacific northwest 2 years ago. I was really lonely at first, so I took advantage of meetup.com and went to several different groups. I’m a crafter so I started with a local yarn crafting group. I’ve made a lot of friends in this group. We laugh, share our lives, and just generally have a good time. The organizer of the group stood up for me when I married previously mentioned bf. We are really good friends. Unfortunately, the group has had some problems recently. Back in June the organizer started her own yarn business and really became too busy to keep up with organizer duties on her own. She added a group member who has said some really hurtful things to and about me (behind my back) as a co-organizer and this person has taken the opportunity to really mess up the group dynamics. It started with little things at first, then it escalated. At the most recent meetup, a member was gone and the c0-organizer lead the group in a personal attack on the absent member. Another member of the group (who is my friend) made it clear that she wasn’t going to sit and listen to the hour long bashing session anymore. The co-organizer then proceeded to scream at her and kicked her out of the group. The group’s original organizer wasn’t there for this incident and because of that hasn’t done anything about this. When I tried to bring it up to her she defended the co-organizer and basically brushed my concerns off. I don’t know whether I should go back to the group or not. I don’t want to cut ties with the friends that I’ve gained and I feel like leaving the group would force me to do that. Do I stay and hope things get better? Or do I cut my ties and hope for the best?

Don’t Go Cutting My Yarn

Hey, Yarn, what a tough spot! I can certainly understand not wanting to lose the few good friends you’ve made being part of this group.

As you describe her, the co-organizer seems like a manipulative jerk who is feeling inordinately powerful in her new role, and there seems to be at least a few people enjoying her power trip and meanness. That’s really too bad, and immature on all of their parts, but you don’t have any control over their behavior so it may not be worth your time or the emotional cost to talk to her/them.

If you feel strongly that you need to say something to the co-organizer, do it privately and directly. She might react less harshly if there isn’t an audience to entertain. She still might not care or change, but if you feel up to trying, who knows? She may surprise you.

Alternatively, I bet you can cut ties to the group and still keep the good friends you’ve made. It sounds like the friendships have already transcended the group (which was your goal in joining, right?). Tell your friends, including the original organizer, that it’s time for you to leave the group but that you still want to be friends with them. You can tell them it’s because of the new dynamic, or you can just say you want to move on, or whatever reason you’d like, that’s up to you. Except: don’t gossip, tell them your feelings if you choose to elaborate.

Cardinal Rule: You went to a meet up, you met some good friends. Chances were high that there would be one or two in the group who wouldn’t become your pal. It’s okay to cut your losses, and cut your yarn somewhere else, with people you actually want to be around.