Friday, February 14, 2014

What the fuck, Buck?

Before the recent Indiana state senate vote on HJR-3, I wrote to my state senator, Republican Jim Buck, expressing my concern about it. I not only signed the pre-written e-mail through Freedom Indiana, but I took the time to write a lengthy personal e-mail to him as well. The following is the personal e-mail I sent to Senator Buck on January 28th:
Senator Buck,

My name is Susan C***. I live in Marion in Grant County, though I grew up in Fairmount, where I first proudly registered to vote when I turned 18-years-old. I've long been passionate about voting for people who represent me based not on their political affiliation but on how well I feel they will listen to and vote for the needs of their constituency. I'm now asking you: Please be that senator.

Last August, I married my husband. I have a very happy marriage, because he and I are more than just romantic partners. We're friends, roommates, cat parents, video game partners... We are two people whose individual lives now include shared experiences that intertwine and form a unique, personal, and intricate bond unlike a bond we have with any other person. It's really beautiful and exciting to be in love and to be married, and every day I am grateful for finding someone so like and yet so complimentary to myself with whom to share everything from vacations to dinner. But at no point have I thought to myself, "Thank goodness the state of Indiana -my home and heart for my whole life- wouldn't allow me to experience this on the same level I am now were my husband to have a vagina".

I have had relationships prior to my husband, both with men and women. They were long-term, monogamous, loving relationships, but fate is a fickle mistress, and we were lead in separate directions in life. Rarely with hard feelings, but always with gained experience and, at the end of the day, a fuller, happier, more experienced soul. No two relationships were the same, but the love every time was just as real and true and sincere as the time before. My heart and mind couldn't tell any more the difference between their sex than their hair color or their favorite sandwich, but it didn't matter, because those weren't the things that determined my ability to love them.

Of course, not everybody is as lucky as I am to be naturally attracted to men and women. Some people only seek out romantic partnerships with the opposite sex and some only the same. Both of these options seem very foreign and unfathomable to me, because in my mind and heart, all the way down to the deepest marrow of my bones, I know that I simply cannot feel any different than the way I have always felt. But I also know that as my sexual orientation is as instinctive and out of my conscious control as my skin color or shoe size, so is theirs.

While researching your voting history, Senator Buck, I found that four years ago today you voted in favor of SJR-13, the precursor to the now infamous HJR-3. I am very disappointed in this finding. My entire adult life, I have strongly favored less government control over civil matters in the lives of private citizens. While identifying as a Democrat I did. The same held true later when I converted to Libertarianism, and the same holds true now as I write you as a concerned Independent voter. Equal marriage could have a colossal, positive impact on the state of Indiana, but in the meantime, we need to focus on not cowering in the face of the ever-rolling tides of a constantly changing society by pushing away the inevitable but instead stand with our heads high, proud of our fellow Hoosiers for bringing diversity to this great state. We have so much to offer America in terms of educational and career opportunities. We cannot let potential brains, talents, employees, and business owners be turned away at the gate by suggesting their personal relationships make them less deserving of their liberty or potential to become a contributing Hoosier.

And if you are concerned that same-sex marriage will affect opposite-sex marriage, rest assured that it will change mine. If same-sex partners are given the same legal rights as me, then I will be able to rest assured knowing that my civil right to marriage is just that: A protected civil right. Love is not a privilege, Senator Buck. It is beautiful and rare and exciting and an honor to experience and share, but it is not a privilege reserved for only a few, as the Supreme Court proved in 1967 in Loving vs. Virginia when it chose to stand on the right side of history, despite cries for the preservation of "traditional" marriage. GLBTQ Hoosiers deserve to have it proven to them now in 2014. I'm not asking for churches to be forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies (my opposite-sex marriage didn't occur in a church, had no religious involvement, and was officiated by a friend), because that would infringe upon separation of church as state (and likewise governing morality based on religion steps on the toes of the first amendment). I'm not even asking you to propose marriage equality, because as the country around us is showing, it is happening, whether Indiana chooses to lead the charge or not. What I am doing is asking you to stand up as a conservative lawmaker against HJR-3 because of the damage it will do to civil liberties for Hoosiers. A marriage license is a legal document binding two consenting, sound-minded, legal adults. It is a cog in the democratic, economic, and societal machines that keep Indiana moving. It is, at it's bare-boned self, a legally-binding contract. And who are you or I to tell a tax-paying, hard-working couple that our personal bias should trump their ability to exercise their rights?

Please stand on the right side of history and vote against writing this type of unconstitutional, personal bigotry into the constitution of this great state.

- Mrs. Susan M. B******-C***

Today -the day after the senate failed to get HJR-3 on the November ballot- I received responses to both e-mails. My Freedom Indiana e-mail received the following response:

"Dear Ms. C***,

I appreciate being advised of your position concerning HRJ-3. While I stand in support of traditional marriage, I believe the issue of HRJ-3 is one that deserves the careful examination of Hoosiers and should be decided upon through the democratic process. I believe the residents of Indiana should be given the opportunity to have their voices heard and vote on the marriage amendment this fall on November 4th, 2014.

Again, thank you for writing and expressing your views. If you have any additional questions or concerns please feel free to contact my office at (317)232-9466."

Pretty canned, right? Well here's the response I received from my much lengthier personal e-mail to Mr. Buck:

"Dear Susan,

I appreciate being advised of your position concerning HRJ-3. While I stand in support of traditional  marriage, I believe the issue of HRJ-3 is one that deserves the careful examination of Hoosiers and should be decided upon through the democratic process. I believe the residents of Indiana should be given the opportunity to have their voices heard and vote on the marriage amendment.

Again, thank you for writing and expressing your views. If you have any additional questions or concerns please feel free to contact my office at (317)232-9466.

Jim Buck
State Senator"
What the...what?

Okay, look. I'm not surprised. Most of our elected officials don't give a sliver of a fraction of a portion of a half of a fuck about anything but lining their pockets and pushing their personal agendas. But that doesn't stop me from being absolutely outraged about this. My solution? Another e-mail:

Senator Buck,

I recently wrote you a lengthy personal e-mail concerning HJR-3 as well as signing and sending a message through's website in regards to the same issue. I received replies from both messages, and both replies were clearly copy/pasted, as they were near identical in phrasing. I have to say, I'm severely disappointed in the complete absence of any sense of personal interaction you have with your constituents.

Senator Buck, with all due respect, do you give a sliver of a damn about the people you have been voted and are paid to represent, or are you -like so many politicians- only in office to push a personal agenda? I understand you are a busy man, what with kissing babies and shaking hands, but if the issue of marriage is so important to you, if your passion for the democratic process is so important to you, if you truly are working for the people and not at our expense, then why are you not seeking to be more involved with your constituents? It quite literally is your job to do so.

You said in your response(s), "I stand in support of traditional marriage". That's all well and good, and you are entitled to your beliefs and opinions, as we all are. But -not to insult your intelligence- you do know that churches will not be required to perform "non-traditional" marriages? They have that right currently, in fact, and as recently as November 2011, at least one congregation (the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church of Pike County, Kentucky) has gone on the record and voted to acknowledge only "traditional" marriages by refusing to allow interracial couples to worship with them. Equal marriage is not about changing "traditional marriage", it's about expanding and adding to that tradition. Traditions change with society, that's just a fact. Even Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is only 75-years-old, but I don't see anyone trying to legislate against that because it's somehow taking away from "traditional Christmas". You either involve secular modern traditions in your celebrations or not; you don't try to legally deny someone the right to sing about a rosy-beaked caribou because it doesn't jive with what you personally consider Christmas celebratory practices.

Same-sex couples are going to be together regardless of legal status, but it's a terrible stain on this country's history to be fighting against it. Like it or not, homosexuality is no more a choice than heterosexuality (as is evidenced by the scientific observation of same-sex romanticism in over 1,500 species), and whether or not you choose to accept it as such, this is a civil rights issue. How is my potentially marrying a man with whom I share a great-grandparent (or a grandparent, were the prospective man and I at least 65-years-old) more "traditional" and acceptable in the state of Indiana than my potentially marrying a woman with whom I share no genetic material? How is same-sex marriage more detrimental to "traditional marriage" than opposite-sex divorce? If it's the sanctity of marriage you're concerned about, propose legislation to ban divorce under any circumstances outside of the health and safety of those involved. Furthermore, how is "traditional marriage" a legal issue if the only argument for "traditional marriage" is religion-based if we live in a country that is not under theocratic rule? The separation of church and state denies the government the right to favor one religion over another, and yet there is no non-religious reason for denying same-sex couples marital benefits. These are legitimate questions I've been asking "traditional marriage" proponents for years, but I've yet to get an answer based on sound legal reasoning.

You also stated in your response(s), "
I believe the issue of HRJ-3 is one that deserves the careful examination of Hoosiers and should be decided upon through the democratic process." Again, you're the politician, not me, but do you understand how rights work? Rights are not to be voted on, and as was recently evidenced in the federal ruling against Virginia's same-sex marriage ban, HJR-3 and the rights it seeks to deny Hoosiers is blatantly unconstitutional.

You are an elected official, sir, and it is your duty as such to protect and fight for the rights of the people you represent. Banning same-sex marriage does not offer rights; it seeks to remove them. I'm thrilled to know that the push to re-add the second sentence to HJR-3 resulted in its crashing and burning. I only wish that I could say that my senator helped to make it so. However, now that I know something as minor as replying to the expressed concerns of your constituents is far more involved and concerned than you care to be for those who elect you, how can I expect you to care enough to vote in our best interests? The truth is, Senator Buck, that I cannot. Your desire to push a personal agenda at the expense of your constituents may not be as surprising as it ought, but regardless, it is wildly infuriating and disappointing.

I anxiously await your reply vis-a-vis the intern responsible for copying and pasting your canned responses.

- Mrs. Susan C***

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

About that "disturbing new feminist trend"...

I've been humbled lately to have other women coming to me and asking my opinions on a recent “feminist trend” circulating on social media. Seriously, thank you. It's one thing to be passionate about something, but it takes it to a whole new level when your opinion on it is sought out. Again, I'm honored and humbled and very excited to know that all of my writing and ranting isn't falling on deaf ears and that it all makes enough sense that I seem to know what I'm talking about. ;)

The feminist trend in question, of course, is freebleeding.

Freebleeding first showed up in the blogosphere nearly ten years ago on a blog called All About My Vagina. The piece was well-written, personal, and concise. The author discussed how she sometimes doesn't feel the need to wear a pad, tampon, or cup, often out of convenience (her flow wasn't very heavy, she was already in bed and comfortable, or she was keeping busy doing other things and simply didn't feel the need to break away and put a product in her underwear and/or vagina), but mostly because she just didn't mind leaving a little easily washed out blood on the sheets or in her underwear. “I am not lazy! I am not irresponsible! I just think it is ok to overflow sometimes! And it doesn't make me a new age flake who organizes women's retreats (not that there is anything wrong with that, it just isn't me)! It is nice to notice that 'free bleeding' can be a smaller, less extreme gesture than the way I usually see it portrayed.

The last line there is huge in what I'm about to discuss regarding the recent alleged resurgence of freebleeding. You've certainly by now seen the Modern Woman Digest article  “Disturbing New Feminist Trend: Free-Bleeding”. Right off of the bat, I'm going to put this out there: The “new feminist trend” being ranted about in this article is not an actual new feminist trend. Not because it was first blogged about in 2004, but because the entire social media buzz about it is a hoax, originating on 4chan's /b/ forums on January 31.

But more about that in a bit.

First, let's talk about freebleeding.

1. Most of us who have a menstrual cycle freebleed at some point during our period. Whether it's a light day so we opt out of using a product or we're taking a shower, at some point during our monthlies, we're not using a pad/tampon/cup. I rarely wear a pad my first or last day of my period. I may be wiping blood, but if I'm not at all or only lightly spotting in my underwear, what's the point? It's unnecessary discomfort and a waste of a pad to wear it if it isn't doing anything for me. And I never wear tampons, so during my shower -even on heavy days- I'm not using a product to collect my menses. What I'm saying is that freebleeding is WAY more common than many of us even realize.

2. Freebleeding during heavy flow days isn't for everyone, and many freebleeders actually DO use products on heavy flow days.

Everyone has their own preference for how they handle their period. Some prefer pads, some tampons (with or without a thin pantyliner). Some prefer a reusable cup (such as a Diva Cup) or reusable fabric (often flannel) pads. Some even choose to mix it up, depending on how heavy their flow is or how bad their cramps are (part of my aversion to tampons is that internal products add to my already regularly painful cramps). And some choose to freebleed. Ultimately, though, the way someone else chooses to manage their menses has no affect on me, and therefore it isn't my place to tell them how to have a period any more than it is for anyone else to tell me how to have mine.

Now that we've established that freebleeding is just one of many period-managing options and that the “feminist trend” sweeping the internet is just a hoax scraped from the bottom of the /b/arrel, let's look at what this hoax is doing to women and feminism on the whole.

First, the photos being used are mostly the products of photoshop or out-of-context photos (one in particular, of a freebleeding woman jogging, is part of a photographic art series by Emma Arvida Bystrom called “There Will Be Blood”, featured on Second, the social media accounts praising freebleeding are sock puppet accounts created by the 4chan users responsible for the hoax and are not actual people. Third, this hoax is not only not feminist, it is actively anti-feminist and is seeking to degrade and mock modern-day feminists.

photo by Emma Arvida Bystrom, as seen on

By pretending to be feminists advocating for radical freebleeding to challenge patriarchal period-shaming, they are actively being those very patriarchal period-shamers. The “periods are gross” trope in our society is being used as an exaggerated pawn in their anti-women game by being used against women under the guise of being pro-women. In short: It's a double-whammy of viral bullshit.

THIS fuckin' guy.

Let me make something very clear: Vaginas are not dirty. They are well-known self-cleaning organs, and over-washing them (particularly vis a vis douching) can screw with the natural pH balance of the vagina (and in doing so can actually INCREASE odor, which can lead to an unhealthy cycle of trying to wash away the smell). If the odor of your vagina is strong and your pH balance should be otherwise right, it could be your diet, your vitamin intake, or an indication of a health issue. But really, only the outer labia need a regular soap-and-water cleaning during your regular bath or shower. This does not change just because of your period, though many people (myself included) prefer to do a little more maintenance during our monthlies out of personal preference. Therefore the only reason periods are thought of as being dirty or gross is because of the social stigma attached to them.

Does this mean we should all throw out our tampons and freebleed? That is entirely up to you. I don't freebleed on heavy days, because [a] I don't like the feeling of bleeding down my legs and [b] I wear khaki pants to work and don't want to bleed onto them/stain them. I'm not ashamed of having a period. (I'm on my period right now, in fact.) It's part of having a vagina. I'm thankful for my periods, really, because I like knowing my vagina is healthy and working the way it should. I just prefer not to freebleed.

Also, spilling blood in public is a health hazard to those around you. There is nothing wrong with embracing or enjoying your period, but the risk of spreading bloodborne pathogens make exposing others to your blood an all-around inconsiderate, unsafe, rude thing to do, regardless of the source of the blood. I'm not opposed to freebleeding, but in the interest of public health and safety, I am opposed to people spreading their blood around in public. Cleaning up blood is never a party (I've been babysitting off and on for 20 years and working retail for 5, so I've done my share of cleaning up other people's blood and am relatively unfazed by it at this point), but when you don't know the source of it, it can be downright scary.

So is freebleeding an over-the-top, new-age feminist trend set on grossing out people and shrugging off man-made products intended to shame women for having periods? Not exactly. The fact of the matter is simply that a few assholes started a viral hoax with the intention of tearing down women, attacking feminism, body-shaming by highlighting how “gross” periods are, and marginalizing rape victims by equating the use of tampons to rape by exaggerating freebleeding under the guise of feminist caricatures. The silver lining, though, is that in attacking women and feminism they've proven exactly why what we do as feminists matters. They've blatantly put on display the kinds of shaming women actually have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. And while they may think they're really sticking it to a bunch of hairy, angry feminists, they've done nothing but fuel the fire that keeps us fighting. If you want to silence vocal feminists, stop giving us reasons to raise our voices. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Personal Things

Darling friends,

I've been very negligent in this blog. Maybe it's my anxiety; the posts are overwhelming -writing, proofreading, images, research- and sometimes it's just too much. Maybe it's my depression; I lose my motivation when I feel no one reads what I'm putting out there, and the whole hassle-heavy process feels for naught. Maybe it's my bipolar disorder; when I'm manic, I want to write a lot, but when I'm low, it's all I can do to shower or eat, let alone write. Whatever it is, I wish I wrote more, because the creative energy is euphoric.

That being said, I'm skipping the observations, the visual aids, the hot-button issues (well, for the most part), and the research. Today this is raw, from the gut, honest, personal stuff. No fluff or filler or re-written jokes. This is just autobiographical shit focusing on my struggles and acceptance with my sexual orientation, gender identity, worldview, religion, and ultimately, my personal convictions. It will be wordy, but it will be therapeutic. It also may not be very coherent or proofread. Hopefully, it will be worth your time, though. Thank you in advance.

Much love,

I remember being a child, maybe about 6 or 7, maybe younger, and seeing a copy of TV Guide in the living room. On it was a picture of Madonna in some kind of bejeweled bodysuit. That, I guess you could say, was the first time I felt "feelings" of any physical nature because of visual stimulation. I didn't think about the fact that it was a woman, I just knew she was pretty and I felt funny looking at the picture. I remember sneaking it to my room and just looking at her. Not masturbating or thinking "dirty" thoughts -I was a kid, and those thoughts hadn't even entered my brain yet- but just being overwhelmed at how beautiful she looked. Not beautiful in the same way the other women I knew were, but in her own way. A way that made me feel weird and that I liked. I'd sneak the TV Guide back to the living room where I found it after gawking at the cover, and go back to my Care Bears or Barbies and be done with it. A few days later, a new TV Guide arrived and the old one got thrown out, and that was it.

A couple years later my parents divorced. I'd stay with my dad on the weekends. One day I found a stack of Playboys hidden in the bathroom. They were on a shelf and cloaked (either a towel or a curtain or something, I just remember they weren't displayed openly). I locked myself in the bathroom and slipped one off of the shelf. I opened it and was...nervous? The feelings I felt were like those with the Madonna TV guide, but stronger. It was warm and cool all at once, and it was almost shameful feeling because it felt TOO awesome. I flipped to a page that had a comic strip on it, glanced it over it, and put the magazine neatly back. I would continue glancing at the magazines on my weekend trips, enjoying the beautiful curves on the bodies on these differently beautiful women, but not being able to pinpoint the strange feelings that, years later, I would realize were arousal. I didn't understand sex, and because of that, I was freaked out by the feelings that came with arousal. I didn't know why I felt it, but it was in my privates, so I was afraid to ask about it. Not because pictures of women caused it, but because my private parts were "no-no" places. They weren't to be acknowledged unless they were touched by someone or it hurt to pee. So I kept it to myself. Homosexuality was never discussed at home. Gay slurs were never uttered, but it could be because at my age, my parents watched their mouths around me. I remember hearing my dad yell "Cocksucker" at a driver who cut him off, once, but in my mind, I couldn't figure out why you'd accuse someone of sucking a chicken, so I brushed it off.

By sixth grade, I'd discovered masturbation to a degree. I knew there was a place down there that felt good when I put my fingers (or, in my exploration, the end of a pen) in it. I knew my nipples felt good-funny when I touched them. But until I got the internet, I didn't know an orgasm. In seventh grade, I was using the internet for school, and was becoming more familiar with search engines. So one day while home alone, I went to and typed in something. I don't remember exactly, but it was with the intent of finding pictures similar to the ones I'd enjoyed seeing when I was younger. I knew I liked the pictures, and now I knew how to masturbate and I liked that in the same way that I liked the picutres. I'd sometimes think of people -men and women- I found attractive when doing it, but even still, not in an overtly sexual way. I found a picture that would become my go-to picture (seriously, I'd Ask Jeeves the same thing every time and go to the same page): A young woman, maybe 20, sitting on a chair, wearing nothing but some strappy heels. Her legs were spread, and she had a man on each side of her. She held their erections in her hands and had what I imagine was supposed to be a sexy look on her face. Eyes partially lidded, mouth agape, and face turned slightly away from the camera, but in a three quarters-rule for the stage kind of way. I combined the photo with the masturbating and soon found myself experiencing my first orgasm. It was exciting and strange all at once. I shut down the computer and went back to my room. When home alone, I'd do the same thing, and eventually figured out that I didn't have to look up the picture to achieve the same effect.

I started doodling pictures in notebooks and hiding them under my bed. Some were men, some were women. They were all nude, though. I enjoyed drawing them and looking at them. One weekend, I went to a winter retreat at church camp. When I came home, my mom and stepdad sat me down. My mom had "found" my pictures while cleaning my room. The notebook "fell open" to the page -something I tested later and couldn't get it to do- and she was devastated. I slumped down low as I was told how dirty sex was and how I wasn't to do it, but I wasn't grounded. I had a memory of a similar drawing a couple years prior, doodled in a diary, that my mom found when it "fell open". I accused a friend of doing it without my knowledge, but the diary had already been thrown out (and it was awesome, too, covered in dinosaurs with a "lock"). I now had my feelings confirmed: My vagina was a dirty, awful hole of shame. Sex was bad, and my enjoyment of it in any form was bad. I continued drawing the pictures (sometimes writing stories alongside them), but keeping them for only a few days at a time before staying up all hours of the night meticulously cutting them into confetti, tying them up in a plastic grocery bag, and burying the bag under other trash in my trash can. Once I even had a large Nalgene bottle of water in my room, and used it as I cut the paper into pieces and swallowed them, washing them down with the water. I didn't want to shame my mother -still very religious at the time- by having a daughter who had sexual urges, so I did everything I could to hide it from her.

It was also around this time that my mother started learning how to clear browser history on the computer. Sometimes my stepdad would look up porn, and she didn't want me seeing it. Between my stepfather being allowed to look at porn and my dad having Playboy magazines, I came to a conclusion that would haunt me for many years: Men were allowed to enjoy sex. Women were just supposed to be sex. A man had materials at his disposal for his enjoyment, but as a woman, I was wrong for enjoying the same feelings; I'd been reprimanded for it, after all. Maybe -in my parents' minds- it was because I was young, not because I was female, but I didn't FEEL young. I felt like if I was capable of the feelings and physical responses, I was old enough to enjoy them. So in my mind it HAD to be because I was female.

This was also my first inclination that I was different because of my attraction to women. If men enjoyed looking at naked women and were expected to, it was normal. If I, as a young woman, enjoyed looking at naked women and was expected not to, it was abnormal. I shouldn't even enjoy it, so surely the fact that I did was something internally problematic.

I went through most of high school keeping my same-sex attractions to myself. I'd hear "fag" and "dyke" jokes, I'd see the occasional same-sex couple get picked on. I was scared. I was also very active in Bible studies and youth groups. I don't remember ever hearing that being gay was a sin, which I think helped me a lot in the long run, but I also only knew a bunch of straight (or closeted) people. My freshman year, I got my first boyfriend. We dated off and on for several years, and aside from a couple years after our last, roughest break-up, have remained friends even to this day. I figured I was done being attracted to women and that was the end of it. However, by my senior year, I was as sure as ever of my bisexuality, and started coming out quietly to some friends. I wasn't out-out, but I was getting there.

When I came out to my mother, I was sitting in the car with her. I was very stressed out. We'd just gotten home from church. I don't think anything was said that made me feel particularly hated for my sexual orientation. I was a Quaker, and as such, I always felt accepted, because Quakerism very much encourages fellowship as personal reflection with God in the company of others in lieu of talkative fellowship amongst fellow parishoners which may lead to seeking humanity's approval over God's. I just remember blurting out to my mom, "I'm bisexual". She was incredibly unfazed, and I'll forever be grateful for that. She just said not to worry, and that whatever man or woman I ended up with who made me happy would be loved by her, regardless of sex.

I graduated high school in 2005, and was already accepted at the local Christian college where my mom worked (hello, free tuition!) When I went to college in the fall of 2005 at Indiana Wesleyan University, I became extremely self-loathing. I had taken a couple of classes in high school that focused on world cultures, and the more I learned about world religions, the more I came to doubt my own. Sure, I had the Jesus Camp high by living in what was basically a church, but I couldn't help but doubt my faith. I also found myself quickly retreating back into the closet as speakers in our mandatory chapels -once even a member of leadership from Focus on the Family- would preach the evils and deviancy of same-sex attraction from the pulpit. Once at chapel, we were asked to stand if we were flawed and needed more Jesus or something, and I was the first in the packed building to stand. More popped up whack-a-mole style, and our peers came to pray over us. Everyone cried and thanked Jesus and took communion and sang praise and worship songs through our tears with our hands in the air. I was commended by one of my wind ensemble bandmates later at rehearsal on for my bravery.

But I wasn't brave. I was scared to death. I wasn't straight, I wasn't really a Christian, and I was going to hell for those things. I fell into a deep depression, and was too sick to leave my dorm most of the time. I was afraid of my roommate finding out I was bisexual, because I didn't want her to feel betrayed or scared of living with me. I also had 6 other suitemates in my large dorm suite. They were such sweet girls from all different walks of life. Nursing majors, elementary education majors, an opera singer, a soccer player... It was exciting to have so many cool people to surround myself with. I didn't want them to find out I was attracted to women, because they might not want to be around me. They might turn me in and cause me to need "counseling" of some sort. What if I became a black sheep and couldn't live on campus anymore? I didn't know the "gay" protocol at IWU, but I knew I had signed a "contract" saying I wouldn't have sex, smoke, drink, or be gay, so I knew it was serious business.

During one discussion class in particular, I stood up for gay rights, but not as fiercely as I wish I had. We were given scenarios by the teacher, and told to stand on one side of the room to strongly agree and the other to strongly disagree. Everywhere in between was grey area. She said, "Homosexuality is a sin". Everyone rushed to the "Strongly Agree" side, and I had to fight my way through the group to get to the other side of the room. But I stopped shy of the opposite wall. With all eyes on me, I explained, "I mean, well, the Bible says it is, but I don't think it's a choice. God makes us the way we are, and some people aren't straight." The teacher seemed uncomfortable, like she didn't expect anyone to disagree, and quickly moved on. After class, I received several Facebook messages from supportive classmates, but it wasn't as encouraging as they probably thought. If they were supportive, why weren't they supportive out loud? Why was not hating homosexuality so contraband that even if you agreed with me, you wouldn't dare admit to it? I thanked them and didn't speak of it again.

One day I came trudging back to my room from a College Libertarians meeting. They were a beautiful group of people who had a Breakfast Club quality. We all had our own stories and backgrounds and majors (or in my case, no major). We all fit in to society in different ways and would have otherwise maybe never have become friends. I loved CL, even though looking back, I'm not sure I was as Libertarian as I thought I was when going to meetings for getting the party symbol tattooed on my leg. Some of the only people I still talk to from IWU I met through that group; if I didn't meet them there, they joined it. It was wonderful. But anyway, one day I came back upstairs from the meeting (it was held in our dorm's lobby each week), and my roommates called me in to one room. They were doing what I thought college girls only did in movies: comparing their boobs. I was horrified. Maybe they knew I was bi and it was a trap. Maybe they didn't. Either way, I felt guilty. I kept my eyes down and refused to show my chest. They couldn't figure out why I wouldn't look up, but I just said I was uncomfortable and excused myself to my room.

I slept through most of my classes and subsequently failed out of college, dragging my high school GPA from a 3.7 down to a depressing 2.18. I got the letter on Christmas Eve and was crushed. I mean, I was relieved, but I thought my mom would be furious. She wasn't. She comforted me, and helped me move all of my stuff out. I didn't even tell my roommate or suitemates, instead moving out my things before they got back to campus from Christmas break and leaving them a note. My RA seemed ambivalent, but did her best to seem like she was upset. She gave me a half-hearted hug around the bags I had hanging from my body. A few days later, I started getting emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls from my suitemates, asking why I didn't tell them sooner. I also received messages from my friends in College Libertarians, asking me to continue coming to meetings.

I went back once a week for CL meetings. I was no longer eligible to the leadership positions I was studying to obtain, but I still had their companionship. I stayed with friends overnight on campus. At this time, I finally changed my MySpace orientation to Bisexual and started coming out to friends. Even the IWU ones didn't mind and still accepted me. I even had another friend in the group who was already openly bi, and it helped me feel safe coming out to the group, which I did during a gay marriage discussion. I started my statement, "As a bisexual woman," and kept going causally. After the meeting, several people came up to me and congratulated me and even thanked me for coming out to them. One even apologized for his anti-equal marriage views, citing a need to play devil's advocate for the sake of discussion. For the first time, I felt accepted at IWU. It just took not being afraid of them anymore to do so.

I soon started teaching Sunday School at my church. Most of the people there didn't know I wasn't straight, but I was okay with that. None of them knew I was an atheist, and that was preferred. I went to church more or less to appease my grandmother, who I loved dearly. I taught Sunday School because it made me happy to work with the kids. Once we had a Bible study/bonfire at my house, and the kids showed up. They were mostly 4th-6th grade age. One kid came who I hadn't seen at church before, but he was cute and pleasant and a friend of some of the girls in class. At one point a couple of the girls came up to me and said, "He's nice, but I think he's gay!" It was a scary moment, because I knew whatever I said would likely get back to their parents. "Really? Why?" I asked. Apparently he was kind of "girly" acting. Deep breaths. I said, "Well, is he nice?" "Yes." "Is he your friend?" "Yes." "Does he love Jesus?" "Yes." "Well," I said, "Jesus loves him, too. If he's gay or not, if he's a good person and a good friend, that's what's important, right?" They agreed and went back to playing. I never heard any more about it.

I eventually stopped attending church after a falling out with the pastor, and I eventually came to terms with my atheism (though I owned agnosticism for a few years). In my early twenties, however, I hit another wall. I was very attracted to women -maybe even moreso than men much of the time- but I felt like I was too feminine. I started dressing more "butch". I wore men's clothes, kept my hair buzzed, got rid of all of my dresses, replaced all of my panties with boxer briefs, started wearing compression bras, and even bought a suit. I started identifying as a lesbian. I got my first girlfriend. But something kept eating at me: Gender roles. I was always brought up, in my conservative Indiana town- that men were one way and women were another. I thought if it looked like a duck and quacked like a duck, it was a duck. There was no in-between. Because of this, I began identifying as trans*. I thought, "If I like women this much, if I like wearing men's clothes in lieu of women's, if I'm this not-feminine, then surely... surely I'm a man". I came out to my mom, who was arguably more rattled this time around, and showed her videos of trans* kids and their parents.

Still, though, I didn't feel male. I didn't feel feminine or even married to being female, either though. But I was severely uneducated on gender, sex, and orientation. My sheltered upbringing (sorry, mom), lifelong church membership, and half-assed college experience had me thinking I had it all figured out, and that gender, sex, and sexual orientation were all tied together so tightly that butch lesbians were just trans* men. I went by Stephen for a while, but eventually picked a more gender-neutral name: Elliot. I even wore a fierce-ass pink shirt and slightly pinker tie to a job interview in early 2009 (and got the job). (In fact, I still go by Elliot at work, because I still have the same job.) I had a friend from high school contact me upon my trans* coming out and explain to me that her wife was beginning her MtF transition, and the more I talked with her and looked into it, the more I realized how mistaken I was about my own gender identity.

I am not male. Am I female? Maybe. I'm feminine most of the time. I wore a beautiful dress in my wedding (to a man). I bought more dresses and makeup again, and started embracing my femme side again. I had missed it, quite honestly, but felt tremendous pressure to fit what would be easiest for the world around me to handle instead of what was easiest and best for me. I felt like, as a man, I would be more useful and respected by society than I would as a woman. I thought if I transitioned and married a woman and had some kids, I could be "normal" in the way I'd longed to be from childhood, when I first was shamed for my natural sexual desires depicted in those notebooks. Am I married to my sex? No. If I woke up with a penis tomorrow, I'd probably just go about my day. The world around me would have to do more adjusting than I would, but now I'm okay with that. I identify now as gender neutral or genderqueer with feminine inclinations and as pansexual. These aren't new truths about myself, though; they've always been the case. I just now know more about myself than I ever knew there was to know. I don't regret having a gender-neutral nickname, though sometimes I wish some of my work friends called me Susan, because it's more personal and intimate. Some do at times, though, and I no longer have Elliot as my name on Facebook, so online, they see me as Susan.

All of this, however, has shaped me into the person I am today. All of this is why I strive to tear down gender roles, stigmatization of sex, patriarchal nonsense, and the misguided belief in the synonymy of gender and sex and orientation. It's why when I have children, I don't want to know their sex until they are born, because I don't want to force gender roles on them before they're even out of my womb.

My life experience is why I am a feminist. My life experience is why we still need feminism. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Implosion of Duck Dynasty Part 1

I've decided to attack this in more than one part. The following will be part one wherein I discuss the obvious: Why and how were the things Phil Robertson said offensive? In later installments (the number of which is yet to be determined) I will focus on his subsequent suspension from A&E, the freedom of speech/expression/religion arguments surrounding said suspension, and where things stand for Phil Robertson regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with his statements.
Thanks for reading,

I realize I have seemingly abandoned this blog, and I regret that. Frankly, it's just very difficult to balance work and blogging with the mental and emotional stress getting fired up tends to bring. However, I cannot keep it in under the current circumstances.

As you know (if you're this deep into the internet on an unknown blog, you've certainly not bypassed the information), Phil Robertson, founder of the Duck Commander company and star of A&E's Duck Dynasty, recently went on the record with GQ about his views on sin, homosexuality, and Jim Crow era America.

Phil Robertson of Duck Commander and Duck Dynasty fame and homophobic, sexist and racist infamy

I'm going to attempt, now, to be as coherent and concise as possible and bring some order to what has become a massive PR and social media clusterfuck.

Let's first start with what was said regarding homosexuality.

Early in the interview, he offers the following (and arguably, one of the more damning moments in an interview full of them):

(I forgot the word "a" in "-as a man-". Sorry!)

He's speaking "as a man" about the undesirability of a body part belonging to another man, specifically "a man's anus". However, in referencing women in this statement, he does not actually say "women" or (cringe) "girls" or (super cringe) "females". Women are no more than "vaginas". Women are reduced, in Phil Robertson's mind, to being no more than their sexuality. The whole idea of sex, it seems, is about the pleasure of a man and what he can stuff his dong in order for him to have a pleasing sexual experience. Whether it's another man worthy of a worthwhile sexual experience or just "a vagina". And why is a vagina more desirable? Because it's another hole! "She's got more to offer!" than just an anus. By now, as well, he's made it abundantly clear than lesbians are not even a topic worthy of discussion, and homosexuality is exclusively resolved for men, who he has made clear are the only persons who have sex for enjoyment and not out of obligation. He drives home his misogynistic anatomy lesson with, "I mean, come on, dudes!" just to make sure we're well aware that men are the only ones who need sex tips, as sex is for men to enjoy, not women (er, vaginas). Finally, he writes off male homosexuality as nothing more than "sin" and "not logical". I've never had a gay friend tell me that heterosexuality is "not logical", nor as a pansexual woman have I thought being sexually attracted to only one sex is "not logical", because your sexual orientation isn't based on logic, it's based on instinctive attraction. If our sexual orientation were based on logic, more people would probably choose the "logical" option of heterosexuality so as to not go through the masochistic hell of being disowned, bullied, and harassed. Isn't it "logical" to want to not subject yourself to mental, emotional, and interpersonal torture? However, in Phil Robertson's mind, homosexuality is illogical due to it being a choice. And were it a choice it would, in many cases, be illogical due to the aforementioned hardships many face when coming out.

The following quote came about later, when Robertson was lamenting what he feels has been a decline in America's reverence for Christianity, which notably includes the removal of Christians symbols such as the Ten Commandments from courthouse (read: government land) lawns. He claimed it's lead to a blurring of "what's right and wrong" and mourns that, "Sin becomes fine". The interviewer then asked Robertson, "What, in your mind, is sinful?", to which he responded with the following:

In one sentence, Phil Robertson has essentially said that not only is homosexuality the first sin that comes to his mind due to its extreme sinfulness, but that it's some sort of gateway sexual deviance that leads to beastiality and promiscuity. I can say with extreme confidence that neither I nor any of my GLBTQ friends and family have ever thought, "You know what? This same-sex stuff is great, but I think I'm ready to upgrade to sexually assaulting animals". As for the accusations of promiscuity, I've touched on slut shaming in the past.

The GLBTQ community and women weren't the only ones marginalized by Robertson, however, as he also offers up his insight on Jim Crow-era America.

(I also messed this up. I'm very bad at The Gimp sometimes. pre-welfare*.)

Firstly, Phil Robertson has claimed, outrageously, that the black community was entirely happy and had nothing but good feelings toward the white community before the Civil Rights movement. While he personally may not have encountered any ill feelings, the chances are good that he was simply not privy to those grievances. Even in this time in America, hostility towards African Americans from whites was horrifyingly high. Segregation was law, and harassment and lynchings were still commonplace. It simply was not safe to trust the wrong people if you were black, even if the person was "white trash". Speaking of which, Phil Robertson seems to think that using the word "trash" to describe black people is perfectly acceptable because he threw the word "white" in front of it and claimed to be "with the blacks" himself, in the cotton fields, "singing and happy".

Furthermore, he blasts African Americans by suggesting that, since in his day the black community was "pre-entitlement, pre-welfare", that now blacks are now in a time of entitlement and eagerness to accept welfare. Perhaps he feels they are part of the godlessness problem in America, as they were also "godly" in the Jim Crow, pre-entitlement, pre-welfare days as well. He also during the interview justified his vote for Mitt Romney in 2012 by saying he'd feel he and his wife and children would be safer walking with a man from Salt Lake City, Utah, (though the author notes Romney actually hails from Boston) through his hometown than a man from Chicago, Illinois. You know, the white guy in the 75% white neighborhood versus the black guy in the city with only 31% non-Hispanic whites.

No one is safe from Phil Robertson's white, Republican, Christian male supremacy, however, as he goes on to cite the supposed correlation of violence and Jesuslessness in four other areas:

His ignorance becomes abundantly apparent here when he miscategorizes political ideologies as religions, and he makes sweeping generalizations about the religions he does correctly identify as such by writing them all off as murderous and violent.

Phil Robertson, in one interview, has shown his true colors. He is homophobic, sexist, racist, and general fearful of anyone unlike himself. Worst of all, he uses his religion as an excuse for it all. Am I angry? Of course. I'm furious! But what makes me angrier is that this multi-millionaire, this untouchable celebrity, is still too spineless to take responsibility for his hatred, ignorance, and arrogance by not taking the plunge and saying, "I am homophobic, sexist and racist". My anger would still be there, but I'd at least respect his honesty if he weren't trying to tear down his entire religion with him.

I will follow up shortly with part two! Thanks again for reading.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Save the Breast Cancer Patients

It's October, which means the air is crisp, leaves are changing colors, sweaters are flying off the shelves, Halloween decor is in full swing, everything consumable comes in pumpkin flavor, and retailers everywhere are setting up Christmas trees. It's also Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Here's the part where I make or break my own friendships.

I think cancer is awful. I think early detection is incredibly important, and I one million percent stand behind patients and survivors. I wish there were cures and surefire preventative measures so no one would ever have to suffer a cancer diagnosis or treatment again. And I fully believe funding for research in developing these treatments is crucial to taking the steps needed to wipe cancer off of the map entirely. That being said, I hate Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In this post, I'm going to focus on what I feel are the two most undeniable aspects of the exploitation and sexism used in Breast Cancer Awareness marketing. There are a lot of questions surrounding AstraZeneca and profits being swung by pharmaceutical companies at the expense and exploitation of breast cancer or how much profit Susan G. Komen for the Cure actually puts towards research funding, but I'm going to do my best to shy away from numbers and figures and speculation of intent. My focus is going to be on the sexism and fetishization of women during BCAM and pinkwashing.

First: Pinkwashing. How many times have you gone shopping and seen this?

Companies love to sell you pink stuff with the promise that "a portion of the proceeds" of the item will go to fund breast cancer research. But how much of your purchase is actually going where you want it to?

Though I said I was going to try to avoid too many numbers and figures, I am going to use Reebok as an example. They sponsor Avon Walk For Breast Cancer, and have offered a line of Pink Ribbon merchandise, saying if you buy it, proceeds will go to research. However right on Avon's site it states that Reebok's donation is a minimum of $300,000 and a maximum of $750,000. While I commend them for pledging at least $300,000, what happens if they make more than $750,000 worth of profit off of their Pink Ribbon line? It doesn't matter. What Reebok and other companies with "will donate up to x amount" fundraisers are doing is holding your donation hostage. They intend to donate a certain amount of money, but are essentially refusing to do so unless you buy their product, which not only makes money for them, but it gets their logo on your body, turning you into an active billboard for what they're selling under the guise of charity.

I'm not saying not to buy these items. Any and all research funding is a good thing, and I'm glad to see corporations who can afford to are giving money to good causes. However, if you want to help donate to a good cause, don't go out and buy a $50 pair of sneakers because a dollar or two of it is going to fund it (unless they've already hit their donation cap). Take that $50, Google "breast cancer research donation", and pick any one of the charities that come up and give them that money directly. But if you like the look of the item and just want, say, some badass pink boxing gloves, get 'em (I seriously love my boxing gloves, because boxing and pink are two things I personally like and enjoy). But don't fool yourself into thinking you're doing it to help find a cure. Chances are, the manufacturer is seeing more of your money than the scientists.

Speaking of holding donation money hostage, have you heard about these guys? They raised $2,080 for breast cancer research by donating $20 for every woman who would let them motorboat her. Clearly they had the money to donate (who just has $2k lying around?), but they instead went around with a camera and put bikini-clad women on the spot, saying they'd donate money to a worthy cause IF they were allowed to put their face and hands on their breasts. If the women said yes, they got to have a strange man fondling them and nuzzling their breasts. If they said no, they were saying, "I'm not willing to help you raise money for cancer research". Which brings me to arguably the bigger bone I have to pick with BCAM: sexism.

Here's another visual for you:

Clockwise from the top, here are the slogans pictured:
Save the Humps
Save the Boobies
Save the Rack
Big or small save them all - save the tatas
Don't let cancer steal second base
I love boobies/Keep a breast

What is the common theme throughout all of these? It's that breast cancer kills tits, and that we need to fund cancer research so that there are still boobies.

And that pisses me off. Breast cancer kills people. An estimated 39,620 women will die this year alone from breast cancer. Not 79,240 boobs, but almost 40,000 living, breathing women with dreams, hopes, fears, and goals that will be taken from them. Women with families and friends. Women who may or may not have breasts anymore due to mastectomies. And what about the estimated 2,240 new breast cancer cases and 410 breast cancer deaths this year that will be men? Male breast cancer patients are often brushed under the rug, as there are no aesthetic incentives or cutesy catchphrases to acknowledge that they, too, can be diagnosed with breast cancer. Did you know that the third week of October (which begins tomorrow) is Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week? Probably not, because while BCAM has been going on since 1985, MBCAW started in only 2009.

The fetishization and objectification of women's bodies has lead to research and fundraising for breast cancer research being treated as something that needs to be done to preserve the female body for its aesthetics rather than for the sake of saving lives.
If every breast cancer patient who loses their battle this year has only one person in their life that will mourn their death, we will have over 40,000 people shedding tears, hurting and burying a loved one before their time because a disease took a human being's life.

Our society is one that is burdened with sexism and rape culture. There is no month dedicated to Testicular Cancer Awareness, for example (however the first week of April is, though many don't realize it). We don't see rivers dyed orchid or wrestlers and football players decked out in pale purple calling on people to donate to research to "save the nuts/balls/sacs/scrotes" etc. Women aren't going to the beach with a camera, asking men to teabag them in exchange for a $20 donation to Livestrong. (Not that objectifying and hypersexualizing men is any better. I am not advocating it by any means.) The sad fact is, people only care about women's health when they have something to gain from it. Companies make money off of pinkwashing, and the open objectification of the female body is encouraged under the guise of "awareness raising" during the month of October. We need a culture shift. We need to stop treating breast cancer as an aesthetic assailant and go back to caring more about people and less about how women's bodies can be objectified for profit.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Some first-person experience from this weekend.

I spent some time with my younger sisters this weekend. My middle sister is 20, and my youngest (a half sister, through our father) is 15. We hadn't hung out with our youngest sister since our dad passed away in 1999, when she was not quite 2. Needless to say, it was very exciting. There were a few moments that stood out, however, that troubled me, and looking back I wish I'd done more to drop what I was doing and talk to them about how deeply rooted sexism and homophobia is in our society, and how they can help stop it when they see it.

My middle sister at one point said, "A friend of mine posted this thing on Facebook that was funny. It said, 'There's a name for men without beards. Women'." I like a good beard (my husband has a pretty nice one that I find myself scratching now and then), so she probably thought I'd find it amusing. She and our other sister laughed, but I just sort of sat there dumbfounded, not laughing. She gave me a funny look but promptly changed the subject.

This tune is one I've sung before in a previous post about gender roles in children: We live in a society that treats "woman" as an insult. A man without a beard? That's not a woman. That's a man...without a beard. Why call him a woman, as if being a woman is bad? My guess is it has something to do with a full beard being indicative of higher levels of testosterone, which some would associate with being a sign of "manliness". Your masculinity is what you make it; it isn't based on your hormones, your facial hair, or even your sex. Furthermore, being a woman is not a detriment or an insult. Telling people to "man up" when things get rough, telling a man to "change his tampon" if he's irritable, or telling men to stop "throwing like a girl" are horrible low blows to all genders. Not only are you telling men that they aren't good enough, but you're implying that "manliness" is what defines them as male-identifying human and that being a woman is a sign of weakness.

Later, my sisters, husband and I decided to order pizza. I asked my youngest if she wanted a lava crunch cake (because they're delightful!), and she said she'd never had one. I explained that they're like little slices of perfection, and if she liked chocolate cake, she'd probably love it. My middle sister then said, "It's chocolate. You're a woman. You'll like it." I looked at her and said, "That's not necessarily true". She said, "No, I mean... Women like chocolate more than men". Again I said, "Not necessarily". She was getting frustrated at this point and said, "I mean, women like chocolate!" I decided to drop it, because I didn't feel like getting into an argument over it (and I know my sister well enough to know that's where it was headed). But this is another perfect example of sexism and stereotypes at play. Why do we assume women love chocolate (and romantic comedies and wine and pajama pants)? It seems to be rooted in the idea that women crave chocolate when they are experiencing PMS, and that we turn into rage-filled she beasts because we don't know how to handle natural, monthly functions of our bodies without a Dove bar at the ready at all times.

Do I love chocolate? Hell yeah I love chocolate. But my vagina has never craved it, nor have I ever craved it and immediately thought, "My gender identity is to blame for this!" It's no better than talking about how "real men" love bacon. I know plenty of women who don't eat chocolate. I also know plenty of vegetarian men who don't eat bacon. Are they suddenly less of a human being because their eating habits don't fit a silly stereotype about what they're "supposed" to eat? Absolutely not. Chocolate cravings and "real men eat meat" mentalities are no more than unfortunate cultural phenomenons.

We eventually sat down to play the game of Life. We all picked our cars, and I put a little peg in each one (before apologizing for assuming my sisters wanted pink and my husband wanted blue). Eventually we all ended up "married". I added a blue peg to my car which represented a man (I'm pansexual), as did my youngest sister. My (straight) husband opted for a blue peg as well, and my middle sister -who is also pansexual- opted for a pink "wife" peg. The game rolled on a couple more turns, and my youngest sister asked me, "What color is your car?" When I told her I had the green one, she looked at it and said, "So we're the only normal ones!", regarding our "marriages". My middle sister, husband and I all had a record-scratch moment and went "WOAH woah woah!" simultaneously before all babbling similar versions of "straight doesn't mean normal any more than gay means abnormal". I was flabbergasted to say the least. I added, "I know gay couples that are more 'normal' (with air quotes) and happy in their relationships than some of the straight couples I know. It has nothing to do with orientation".

My husband said, "My game marriage is normal. His name is Zach. We have a lovely son who takes MMA lessons, and we let him wear skirts when he wants to." He then turned to his laptop, pulled up the below video on YouTube, and in doing so, had handled the situation with such grace that it took me a moment to realize that it was smoothed over and my youngest sister seemed to get where we were coming from.

"Spring Break Anthem" - The Lonely Island

Five things newlyweds are tired of hearing.

I've been married for a month now. I have an excellent, supportive husband and only minimal wedding debt, primarily due to the cost of dresses. I found almost immediately (as I went back to work 2 days after the wedding), however, that people ask the same exhausting, often heteronormative questions over and over. So here's a friendly guide to things that newlyweds are tired of you asking them.

1. "How's married life?"

This one is probably the least heteronormative and possibly least irritating, but hearing it over and over again does wear on one's nerves. It also tends to be rooted in the belief that all couples wait until marriage to move in together (and that if they don't, they're up to immoral premarital shenanigans). My fiance and I lived together for 8 months before getting married. We were engaged two months before we even moved in (as he was living in Chicago at the time). When I'm asked, "How's married life?" (and during engagement, "Where are you guys going to live?"), it feels like it's expected of us to have not cohabitated prior to marriage. I had one older lady at work ask where we were going to live a couple months prior to us getting married; when I said, "We've been living together since the end of November" her face fell and she just said, "Oh...". She didn't say anything more, but I could tell from her expression and her sudden disinterest what she was thinking.

I know couples that waited until their wedding day to move in together. I know couples that lived together years before marriage. I know couples that cohabitate and have no intention of EVER marrying. I even know of couples who lived together prior to marriage but still abstained from sex, because they wanted to wait until marriage to do so. And none of these options are wrong. The right thing to do as a couple is what is right for you, your partner and your relationship. The right thing to do in talking to a couple is not to make assumptions about their living situation or anything they may do in their own home. Not everyone has the same views on marriage or premarital relations between partners. The less you assume about them, the less awkward and more sincere your conversations will be.

2. "It gets old./Give it ten years."

Yes, I have heard this a LOT. People will ask how married life is, I'll say that it's going well, and they'll snap back with a biting, nasty comment like this. I had a coworker give me the "Give it ten years" response only to get a dumbfounded look from me. He then added, "I just had my ten year anniversary a couple days ago". I said congratulations, and he said, "Is it, though?" I don't know. I don't know your marriage. I don't know how things are going between you and your wife. But neither did he know how my marriage was, outside of me telling him it was going well. Not every couple is the same, so not every marriage will get boring or stale after a few years. Not to mention, can you think of a more rude, damning thing to say to someone who is happily married?

3. "When are you having kids?"

This is my least favorite question by far, simply because the heteronormativity and sexism of it makes my skin crawl.

[A] To assume a couple will be having kids at all is heteronormative and uncalled for, because you're implying that their marriage isn't valid or that they aren't a real family until children come into play. Children are not an option for every couple. Maybe they don't want kids. Maybe they can't have kids due to disease or sterility. Maybe -as with my husband and I- they want kids but have planned to wait until it's more financially feasible (in our case, when he finishes grad school). Some couples want to adopt in lieu of having a child through pregnancy (the latter of which almost always brings a scoff and "That's so expensive and takes so long, though", as if pregnancy and family planning isn't and doesn't).

[B] Women should not be expected to have children just because they are of child bearing age and married. Sure, my husband has been asked a few times when we're having kids, but I guarantee I have been asked as often as him tenfold. Since marriage, I haven't been able to have so much as a stomach ache without someone excitedly asking if I'm pregnant. I've even had people tell me I HAVE to get pregnant now ("You know what comes after marriage!" or "You're almost 30, you should start as soon as possible"). The nice thing about being an adult human being of sound mind is that I'm the one that gets to make decisions about my body. Unfortunately, as a woman, I'm seen as more of a baby factory than my own person. Not every woman has a "maternal instinct" or desire to have children, so stop assuming they do.

4. "If you wait til you're financially ready [to have kids], you'll never be ready."

This statement also makes me absolutely cringe, probably even more than "When are you having kids?". I once had a coworker who is in her forties, never married, and has no children (all her choice, which as I said before, is absolutely fine) tell me this, and I about lost it. How can someone who has never had or planned for a child tell me (someone whose financial situation is a mystery to her) how my husband and I should plan for a family? I've heard it dozens of times from men and women of all walks of life, though the common thread in all of them seems to be that they are older than me (usually by at least ten years) or new parents themselves. This definitely gives off the impression of ageism (or at least a wildly condescending tone), and it's incredibly offensive. We're young, yes (he just turned 28, and I'm a month shy of 27), but we're adults and have been handling our own finances long enough to know where we stand financially. To laugh and say, "If you wait til you're financially ready, you'll never be ready" sounds like, "You're so young and naive, and it's precious. When you're a big girl/boy, you'll understand. *pats head*". When my husband is in school for his doctorate, we'll be lucky to feed ourselves on a daily basis, let alone care for a child (especially since we'll both be working, myself full time, just to get by). Yet somehow, the sexism of believing a woman HAS to have a baby upon marriage trumps the well-being of the child itself, and women are basically told to suck it up and just have a baby, because that's what they're "supposed to do".

5. "How did he propose?"

While it's not a majority, did you know that 9% of proposals (in male/female engagements of course) are by women? Furthermore, 44% of British men surveyed said they would say yes if their girlfriend proposed. The same study showed that 27% of men felt the idea of men "having" to do the proposing is outdated. So why do we still assume that every engagement involves balloons and flowers and tears and is a big to-do?
When my husband and I got engaged, we were sitting in his bed in Chicago discussing our relationship. He said that he could "see us becoming engaged soon". I playfully asked, "Does that mean you want to marry me?" He asked "Why? Are you asking?", so I proposed. He said yes, we kissed, and then we started calling our families to tell them. I had to put on pants so we could Skype my family and tell them, because I'd been sitting around in a torn up t-shirt and underwear.

Assuming the man has proposed, however, isn't the most sexist aspect of "traditional" proposals in my book, though (because there's nothing wrong with a man proposing). What makes me cringe the most is when men ask their girlfriend's father permission to marry her. If my husband had asked my stepdad (my dad passed away several years ago) if he could marry me, I'd have said no. I do not belong to one man until another man comes along to accept responsibility for me. The fact that people feel this is "romantic" and "tradition" is a stain on womens rights, and any man who feels they get to "give their daughter away" (I walked down the aisle by myself at my wedding, but did have a picture of my dad on my shoe) to another man that they pick (by telling him he may or may not marry her) is absolutely putrid with chauvinism. I'm not opposed to women having their fathers walk them down the aisle by any means. As I said, I had a picture of my dad on my shoe so he could "walk me down the aisle" despite having passed away 13 years ago. I think a parent's love is very important to celebrate, and to have your parents involved in your wedding because they love you and your spouse is awesome. My issue lies with people feeling it MUST be done that way. Women are not objects to be given away by men. We are not baby factories, commodities, or prizes. Marriage is about love being shared and celebrated, and that is what we need to be focused on.