Monday, January 23, 2017

Your Feminism Should Be Intersectional

The Women's March on Washington made a huge statement. I think that's something we can all agree on here. However, I did notice some issues that I'd like to bring up.

I was not in attendance as I had some family business to attend to. I wanted to attend one of the marches because as an archivist I would have loved to document the event and do some oral histories with participants. (In fact, the oral history offer stands - contact me if you'd like to be interviewed about it.) Despite not being there, however, I did notice some issues with intersectionality that I'd like to address - feminism, after all, is for the benefit of us all, not just cisgender, straight, abled white women.

White Feminism Leaves Everyone Else Out

Traditional feminism has focused primarily on middle-class white women. Whilst it makes sense for it to have historically started this way, given that middle-class and upper-class white women have the most societal leverage and therefore will be most likely to be taken seriously, in the 21st century we need to make an adjustment here because middle-class white women are not the only women who exist. I saw a phenomenal sign from one of the Women's Marches imploring the white women marching to attend a Black Lives Matter protest in these numbers, too. There's a stereotype fueled by the media and our own prejudices that non-white people, in particular black people, are more violent, one that is decidedly not true. If you attend a BLM protest, you'll notice that it looks exactly the same as the Women's Marches did - loud and forceful, but peaceful. People who use protests to enact violence are few and far between, and they're opportunists. The media inevitably always chooses to focus on those few people instead of the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protestors, ignoring the message and selectively hearing the violence.

Likewise, non-Christian women are dismissed, as well, especially those from religions perceived to be less "woman-friendly," such as Islam. There are many Muslim feminists out there, and it would serve the movement well to listen to them and their take on the issues presented to women worldwide. White women are not inherently the most "liberated," just the most listened to due to their increased visibility and privilege. 

Indigenous women, too, are left out of this conversation. Groups of them showed up to highlight their own issues, of which there are many that middle-class white women couldn't even dream of (access to clean water being one of them). They were summarily ignored by many people at the protests, as well. Considering that the right to life is a major issue for the disabled, this struck a chord with me - who are we to deem who is worthy of life and who is not? Once you're born into this world, you deserve to have access to the things you need to survive and, perhaps even more significantly, you deserve the dignity of being treated like a human being. When your needs are routinely ignored because another group of people puts themselves above you, that's dehumanizing.

Disabled women are frequently left out of this equation, as well, although I'm glad to report that many of us were there at the Women's Marches this weekend. The Autism Women's Network had some representatives there (along with the fantastic sign "Autism is not a boy's club"), and I saw a lot of other disabled people who managed to make it. However, the Marches were not designed for us - they were not accessible to all, and that's a big problem. If you claim to support all women, you have to support all women, including those women that so many of you see as subhuman, the disabled. We have opinions and issues of our own, and these opinions deserve to be heard and our issues deserve to be addressed. We, too, are women, not inspiration porn or something to pity. Increased accessibility would have enabled us to attend in greater numbers. If your feminism doesn't include disabled women, it's not feminism. Period.

Not All Women Have Vaginas

Perhaps most dismaying of all was the large number of signs regarding the "grab 'em right by the pussy" quote from Donald Trump or about birth control and abortion that ignored a vital fact. Yes, sexual assault is a major problem for women. Yes, it absolutely needs to be combated. Yes, we need to stand up for women (and men and non-binary people) who are assaulted and raped. However, if your sign said something about your reproductive system, you ignored a large number of transgender women who don't have one. In a sea of cisgender women screaming about how their pussies bite back, transgender women, who face a unique set of issues of their own, felt lost and ignored. You don't need a vagina to be a woman, you just need to feel like a woman. TERFs routinely engage in transmisogyny and actively exclude transgender women from their feminism, and that's wrong. Feminism is for all women, not just the ones you want it to be for.

How Can You Help Change This?

Yes, you, dear reader, have the power to improve this for the better. Here are some of the things you can do:
  •  Actively research feminists who aren't white. Read their writing and learn from their perspective. Many white feminists' writing is still racist, so take it with a grain of salt.
  • LISTEN TO OTHER WOMEN. I cannot stress this enough. As a disabled woman, I find that I'm not taken seriously in certain contexts and that's incredibly frustrating. Listen to one another and support each other's issues. One of my best friends is a lesbian and I've learned so much about LGBT issues from her that I didn't know about before. (Incidentally, she was in Washington on Saturday with a sign reading "Angry Lesbians Against Fascist Pigs.") 
  • Accept that transgender women are women, plain and simple. If you feel like you're female, you are, no questions asked. 
  • Increase accessibility for disabled people in feminist spaces. With increased accessibility will come increased visibility as disabled people can assert their rights and their humanity. 
  • Don't assume that someone's religious beliefs mean they're "oppressed." No matter your religion, you can still be a feminist.
  • Explain to men why all of the above is important and also benefits them - because it does. If women are uplifted and are finally equal with men, men won't have to deal with toxic masculinity anymore. 
If your feminism isn't intersectional, you're probably not actually a feminist or just support feminism for cisgender, abled, straight white women, whether or not you actually realize this. It shouldn't be something we should still have to talk about in 2017, yet here we are.

Feminism should benefit everybody, not just a select few. Enough said.

Thank You, Google

This is just a quick hit here, but I just wanted to acknowledge that today's Google Doodle is of Ed Roberts, a disability rights activist.

It's nice to know that Google is aware of our hard work to be recognized as human beings worthy of life, too. Now let's keep it up - these are the sorts of things that motivate me to keep fighting!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

My Personal OCD Story

On this blog, I've been fairly open about my experiences regarding my Asperger's diagnosis that I received in 2009. At the same time, however, I received two other diagnoses, which go hand in hand with each other since they've been known to feed off of each other in certain situations.

I also struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety, with OCD being the chief offender. I've gotten a good handle on my social anxiety with the exception of one particular issue, one which my OCD has been feeding since 2009. It's very silly-sounding, but it's been something that's been virtually omnipresent in my life for eight years.

When I was an undergraduate student, I had trouble making friends. I wasn't connecting with very many people during my freshman year (with the exception of my online friends, most of whom I'm still close with). Finally, I met my future roommate by chance when I accompanied the Japan Club to Katsucon in 2008. We hit it off and talked online, and before long I was part of that friend group. I was so thankful to have friends I could spend time with at school, and I kept in touch with everyone as well as I could over the summer (especially since my future roommate and I had started a joke anime roleplay on Livejournal - I know, I'm old).

Over my first sophomore semester, however, I noticed things seemed off. My future roommate had lost her mother to cancer several months before we'd met, and the inevitable depression was setting in for her because they'd been exceptionally close. However, they were a lot closer than a normal parent and child would be, to the point that they had seemingly had something of an interdependent relationship on one another. I tried my best to be a good friend, but as time went on and she struggled more and more I started feeling responsible for keeping her alive since she had told me more about her mental health than other people. This led to near-constant text message contact and anxiety on my part as I assumed a sort of caretaker role. Unfortunately, this was probably the worst thing I could have possibly done - based on our interactions, I suspect that she projected her mother onto me, and she was a much more tactile person than I was. The physical closeness was awkward for me because I'm just not a cuddler to begin with, but she was fairly clingy and it made me uncomfortable.

In late January or early February of 2009, about a year after we'd met, my OCD started in earnest, although admittedly the anxiety I'd felt about having to be responsible if she hurt herself due to her mental health was likely a manifestation of it, as well. I'd definitely had flashes of OCD before (including convincing myself that I'd poisoned myself in chemistry class in high school), but this was the first time it was ever a disruption to my life on a large scale.

"So, Steph, you've never dated before. What if you've been gay this whole time and didn't know it?" my brain suggested one night. It then proceeded to never stop suggesting that despite evidence to the contrary. Everything had combined into one giant source of anxiety - the sort of responsibility I'd ended up feeling because my future roommate had become emotionally dependent on me, the general stress the situation was causing me, and my angst about never having been on a date due to horrible bullying as a kid. I had a full-on mental breakdown over the course of the second semester of my sophomore year, one which I only survived because on April 20th, 2009 I met the most important individual in my life, a little six-week-old kitten who I named Murphy.

Image: an exhausted Italian-American woman (Steph) holds a small kitten (Murphy) inside a baseball cap to show how small he is.
Murphy, who now more or less acts like I'm his mother even eight years later, gave me the motivation to keep myself alive, because my OCD had been telling me that the only way to stop the thoughts was to kill myself, something I decidedly didn't want to do.

The thoughts were very strange, on that note. They were uncharacteristic of an actual LGBT person realizing what their sexual orientation or gender identity was. They were frantic, unceasing, relentless, and anxiety-inducing. I'd only been attracted to men up until that point in my life, but I had always been characteristically shy about the mostly fictional men I'd crushed on, and the only time I'd ever really had a proper real-life crush I was too afraid to say anything (and later felt jealously for the first time when another girl was capable of talking to him without being anxious). These thoughts were the first thing that popped into my head in the morning and the last thing that I thought about before falling into a restless slumber at 3 am. I was nauseous a lot of the time and I also started constantly "checking" my reactions to people to see if I was feeling anything. Anxiety, naturally, can cause false arousals, so I was unable to tell what was going on downstairs, and that made it even harder for me to stop.

Additionally, I didn't understand the thoughts because they didn't come from a place of homophobia, but from a place of constantly questioning my identity. It was a fear of not knowing or not being sure. I knew if I turned out to be a lesbian, my family and friends would have been fine with it. It was a bizarre anxiety that I couldn't quite explain and that refused to leave me alone.

Finally, I found out about Purely Obsessional OCD. Pure-O, as it's commonly shorthanded, is a form of OCD where most or all of the compulsions are performed mentally, i.e. "checking" oneself for reactions and whatnot. I remember this occurring sometime in March of 2009, and I actively sobbed when I discovered a specific subtype, shorthanded as HOCD (for "homosexual" or "heterosexual" OCD) - people whose OCD focuses on their sexual orientation. Straight people with HOCD have prolonged OCD anxiety about suddenly being gay, whilst gay people with HOCD have prolonged OCD anxiety about being straight - and bisexual and pansexual people suddenly fear that they're only attracted to one gender. It's irrational, and everyone who struggles with it knows it's irrational, but it dogs us throughout our daily lives.

As soon as I knew my odd OCD thoughts were OCD and not anything else, I began seeing a campus therapist, and roughly a month or so later, Murphy came into my life. I made it through the semester, got home, and eventually got my diagnoses - Asperger's, OCD, and social anxiety. The next two years, I worked to get my OCD under control, but was now living with my roommate, and as her own mental illness continued to ravage her I dealt with unintentional emotional abuse, which made my recovery significantly harder. In 2011, I graduated and returned home for good, then slowly ended the friendship, knowing that it was the best thing for both her and myself. Finally, I was able to work on recovering my mental health to its former state.

OCD is still an ever-present part of my life. In retrospect, it always has been one from the beginning, but it never became a major factor until my 2009 mental breakdown. I'm confident in my sexual orientation now (generally attracted to men, although I may be somewhere on the asexual spectrum, but I'm not sure). I still have another major hurdle to get over - finally going on a date - which I'd like to work on in the future. Social anxiety from being bullied by boys my own age has taken its toll, and combined with my OCD flaring up when I'm not immediately attracted to the few men who have shown interest in me it's been difficult for me to get over the anxiety and try to meet people. Add my Asperger's to the mix and you have...well, not a very good combination for meeting men. It's something I desperately want to be able to do but which I'm too afraid to go out and try, and that fear is actually something I'm ashamed of. I wish I could explain it more articulately to people in real life because I'm well aware my fears are irrational (although my anxiety is based in cruel experience), so putting it in writing will have to suffice for the time being.

Yet do not leave this page thinking that my OCD is still ruining my life - I'm on Zoloft, which helps significantly, and I've learned various mental techniques for combating it, namely cognitive behavioral therapy and thought records (which are somewhat like keeping a Vulcan around to tell you that you're being illogical all the time). OCD is something that will be there, but which you can keep in check and shout down once you learn how to do it. I also recommend reaching out to other people with OCD to get advice, too - I know I've helped a few of my fellow OCD sufferers along the way and I encourage you to become involved in the OCD community for support. Knowing other people are having similar experiences to your own and can help guide you is sometimes a life-saver.

In conclusion, I've written this blog post in the hopes that other people will not have to suffer the way I did. OCD is awful and can be particularly cruel to people - it can make you fear an ever-looming disaster, doubt your identity, panic over hurting someone you love, or even make you constantly afraid that the people in your life don't want to be there. It's a menace, and we have to fight it with understanding and information. Together, we'll be able to beat this thing. I promise.